Before the start of India’s ODI series against Sri Lanka, captain Rohit Sharma categorically said that Shubman Gill would get the nod for the opening slot, ahead of Ishan Kishan, the double-hundred scorer against Bangladesh. Not everyone was convinced though. And over these three matches, Gill has repaid the faith the team management showed in him and ended any needling doubt around his selection with scores of 70, 21 and 116 (97 balls, 14×4, 2×6).
The early part of his innings Sunday was littered with square drives and cover drives from the Gill staple; no fuss, all timing, a batter who has all the time in the world to play his shots just standing tall and punching the ball leaning into effortless pushes through the gaps. He could have been playing these shots on the morning of a Test match.
He was aggressive without doing anything violent and took Lahiru Kumara to the cleaners. In the sixth over, he hit the Sri Lankan pacer for four fours in a row to signal his intentions. At no point did the Sri Lankan seamers pose any threat to him. He brought up his fifty in 52 balls and then opened his shoulders to up the run rate.
When the spinners came on, he was equally effective against them. He slog-swept Vandersay over deep midwicket and lofted Nuwandinu Fernando over long-off to show he has the power game to put the slow bowlers under pressure too. He reached his century in just 89 balls and tore into Vandersay by hitting him for three fours in an over. An off-cutter from Rajitha that kept a bit low finally accounted for him. But Gill had already made his mark and sealed the debate over the opening slot.
“Always feels good to convert a start into a big one. We were not looking at any target and were just trying to see how the pitch plays. The odd ball was keeping low and there was not much spin. When you are batting with Rohit or Virat, you don’t have to do much. We were talking about targeting the bowlers and looked to score after the first three overs,” said Gill to the broadcaster after India’s innings Sunday.
Gill also said it was a learning experience to watch Virat Kohli, who scored a masterful 166, play and the way he converts hundreds to daddy hundreds. “It is amazing to see what he does. I watched him growing up and it is incredible to see what he does. Once you get a start, how to convert it into a hundred and how to convert those hundreds into 150-160 is a lesson we learn,” he said.
The debate around Gill as an opener itself, in the first place, was not fair to the batter as he was, except for Shreyas Iyer, the most consistent Indian batter last year. He was unfortunate not to have brought up his maiden century against West Indies in Port of Spain in July as rain played spoilsport when he was batting on 98. He, however, got to the three-figure mark next month against Zimbabwe in Harare, batting at No. 3 as Shikhar Dhawan and K L Rahul opened for India in that game.
After the first match in Guwahati, Gill acknowledged the backing he had received from the captain and the coach. “Feels good when your captain backs you. This was the conversation we had during practice as well. He (Rohit) told me that I will be playing and Rahul (Dravid) bhai told me to play my natural game – whatever I have been doing in the one-dayers, just look to continue doing that,” he had said.
“I was disappointed when I got out at 70. I did all the hard work and it was time to get going and get a big one for the team. After seeing off the new ball, I got out in the 20th over, so I had almost 30 overs to bat,” he had said. Gill has more than made up for that disappointment with his second ODI century and enhanced his reputation as a dependable opener whom India can trust across all formats.
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