Debutant opener says practising against India’s bowlers in the nets made him better prepared for Test cricket
On debut, Shubman Gill‘s first two overs at the wicket were the kind that made Geoff Boycott ask his team-mates to thank him for not getting out before the last ball from Michael Holding’s first in Jamaica.
First Gill saw from the non-striker’s end Mitchell Starc spear in high-pace accurate inswinging missiles just short of driving length but full enough to trap a batsman lbw. Gill saw Mayank Agarwal couldn’t keep the last of those out.
Then he himself faced Pat Cummins for the first time in a Test. Cummins with the red new ball on a spicy pitch is quite a different proposition to Cummins in Kolkata Knight Riders. In one over, Gill saw swing, seam, pace, bounce and accuracy as if Test cricket wanted to tell him with alacrity how difficult it can get. On the first 17 balls that Gill faced, his response was not in control eight times. On one occasion he was dropped. And that had nothing to do with his skill or inexperience.
It is natural to imagine Gill might have been awestruck, but if he was, it wasn’t for long. He said having been with the Test team for a few series before getting his eventual debut meant facing this attack – arguably the best in the world – did not feel like a big jump to him.
“I have been doing all my net sessions and practice sessions and to be able to play someone like Boom, Shami bhai, Umesh bhai and Ishant bhai in the nets, it’s a huge confidence booster for a youngster.”
“I have been travelling with the team for the last four-five Test series, and being with the team has helped me a lot,” Gill said. “To be able to settle in the team. I have been doing all my net sessions and practice sessions and to be able to play someone like Boom [Jasprit Bumrah], [Mohammed] Shami bhai, Umesh [Yadav] bhai and Ishant [Sharma] bhai in the nets, it’s a huge confidence booster for a youngster. To be playing a top bowling attack in the nets. When you go out in a match, like when I went out to bat today, I didn’t feel like I am in a whole new place. It didn’t feel like a completely different level.”
Gill soon showed he belonged at Test level with his defence tightening and his natural stroke-play coming to the fore. His control percentage off the remaining 48 balls of his innings was 83, which made his overall control percentage just about acceptable on such a pitch. He did need some luck, as you do in such conditions, but a couple of his off-drives might already have become GIFs. The first one was to get off the mark, getting a stride in and meeting Cummins with a straight bat. The second was to the third ball of spin he faced. He skipped down to all three of them without any intention to hit Nathan Lyon hard. He caressed the first one through covers for two, defended the next time, and then just played a slightly forceful off-drive to gather four runs. If you end the day on such a note, it is no wonder you feel like you belong when you come out for day two.
“When I came into bat, there was something in the pitch and the pitch was lively,” Gill said. “The only thing that I told myself was that no matter what is happening on the pitch, or what is happening around me, I should play my game and should express myself and I should play with intent. That was my whole thought process.”
In the two warm-up games before the Tests, Gill had shown a tendency that was of slight concern. After getting himself in, he tended to, at times, play away from the body with just his hands. That is what Gill did after he and Cheteshwar Pujara had done all the hard work for close to an hour. This was the last ball of the sixth over of Cummins’ spell. It is quite possible Cummins wouldn’t have bowled another over had he not got the wicket. In that other over, he dismissed Pujara too.
“The way I got out,” Gill said. “I am not satisfied with my effort. That was the last ball of Cummins’ spell. I should have kept it out. It was a loose shot to play at that moment. Overall, my goal was to play with intent and put together partnerships. I did that to an extent but the way I got out made me feel very bad.”
However, a part of his job was done as the batsmen after him faced slightly less menacing bowling with an older ball bowled by bowlers who were not as fresh. India ended the day with a lead of 82 with five wickets in hand, and Gill said they needed to make sure they didn’t relent and score all their runs in this innings rather than in the fourth.
“I think in the fourth innings there is going to be… like you could see even on the first day there was a bit of turn for Ash bhai [R Ashwin] and Jaddu [Ravindra Jadeja] bhai. And today also you could see there was turn for Nathan [Lyon]. As time goes on, the wicket is going to get more challenging for the batsmen. So it is really important for us to capitalise on the lead we have and get them all out as quickly as possible.”
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo