Shubman Gill must have known that he owed his team a few runs. Since the team management obliged his request to drop down the order to No. 3 from the tour of the Caribbean last summer, Gill has struggled for form and fluency. His highest score at the one-drop position, occupied famously for a long time by Cheteshwar Pujara and immediately before that by current head coach Rahul Dravid, is 36 from ten innings and he hasn’t looked at home, surprisingly so because he has all the tools that go into the making of a successful Test batter.
On day one of the Visakhapatnam Test, Gill looked quite assured, only occasionally troubled by the scrambled seam that James Anderson has been using as his ally in the last few years. Unlike in the first innings in Hyderabad when he was keen merely on survival, he played with positivity and ‘intent’, his footwork crisp and decisive as he looked to keep the scoreboard moving.
Having breezed to an aesthetically appealing 34, Gill allowed himself to be sucked into a ball from Anderson that jagged away a little, if at all, Ben Foakes safely pouching the outside edge behind the stumps. A promising beginning had been cut short, Gill’s run of failures beginning to burgeon even if the think-tank might not publicly acknowledge so.
In his 22-Test career, Gill has been dismissed caught behind the stumps – either by the wicketkeeper or in the slips and gully, both to pace and spin – 13 times. That’s bound to happen when one bats up the order, because the ball is at its newest, the faster bowlers at their freshest. There will be some swing on offer in most parts of the world, and being dismissed early, caught behind, is an occupational hazard.
A pattern of dimissals
But in Gill’s case, there is also a pattern to the dismissals, especially against the faster bowlers. A new-age batter who isn’t comfortable letting the ball go and likes the feel of the cherry on willow, Gill has been culpable of pushing with his hands even though prudence has dictated that he leave the ball alone. Because he likes to stay a little leg-side of the ball so that he can access his favourite off-side – he produces the creamiest punches when the ball comes nicely on to the bat on the hard decks in Australia and England – he often goes with his hands and upper body, the feet an almost afterthought. Compact batsmanship dictates that the head and feet lead the way and the rest of the body follows, but because he is sometimes all hands, Gill will be susceptible to the nibble outside off. And because he goes with hard hands, it’s almost guaranteed that the edges will comfortably carry to the wicketkeeper or the slip cordon and gully.
Most of these dismissals are to deliveries leaving him – either the awayswinger or leg-cutter from the right-arm quick, or the one that goes on with the angle when a left-armer such as Neil Wagner or Trent Boult is in operation. But Gill has also been bowled seven times and trapped leg before a further six times, which would indicate that he isn’t immune to the ball that comes into him either.
In a long career, it is inevitable that a batter will court all forms of dismissals numerous times. Gill has been out 40 times in Test cricket, so he will have a fair few entries in the common modes of dismissals. But these will stand amplified when the runs start to come in a trickle. Currently, his Test average is languishing in the late 20s (29.64), a legacy of having made just 176 runs in his last ten innings. That’s a far cry from the impressive early form he had displayed when his first six Test scores in Australia in 2020-21 read 45 and 35 not out (Melbourne), 50 and 31 (Sydney), and 7 and a magnificent 91 (Brisbane).
It’s not as if Gill is allowing the grass to grow under his feet. After his passivity in Hyderabad – he pottered around for 66 deliveries in making 23 in the first knock and fell for a second-ball blob in the second – he hit the nets in Visakhapatnam and batted with greater freedom, his use of the feet against the spinners particularly impressive. He has one of the most technically accomplished batters the game has seen to turn to, his own head coach, for wisdom and sagacity, and he has showcased quick learning skills in the past. Now’s the time to bring all those into play, for obvious reasons.