New Delhi: Batting great Sunil Gavaskar has backed young opener Shubman Gill and wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant for the opening Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy that starts on 17 December in Adelaide. With Mayank Agarwal certain to open the batting, the team management has to choose between the under-19 World Cup-winning teammates Gill and Prithvi Shaw in what will be visitors’ first overseas day-night Test.
Shaw, whose Test career got off to a rollicking start with a century on debut against the West Indies, has been found wanting against the moving ball as well as the short ball. A woeful IPL – that further exposed his aforementioned weaknesses – has been followed by scores of 0, 19, 40, 3 in the two side games in Sydney.
Gill, meanwhile, impressed in his 33-run knock in the third ODI in Canberra, besides returning with scores of 0, 29, 43, and 65 in the two practice matches, the last two substantial scores coming in the pink-ball game.
Speaking at a virtual media conference, Gavaskar and former Australia skipper Allan Border threw their weight behind Gill. Border, in fact, was more emphatic in his backing of the young Punjab batsman, calling him a “seriously good player.”
“I have seen Gill in practice matches and I am really impressed with him. I really think he has got something about it. He has a good technique. He is very young, so obviously he will play a few rash shots, but he looks a seriously good player. He will be my pick for the first Test.
“Shaw, for me, plays a lot of shots early in his innings. It looks good on flat tracks but on pitches that have something, you need better shot selection. If I am an Indian selector, I would be looking very closely at Shubman Gill,” the Aussie legend said.
Gavaskar agreed. “I think Gill should open with Mayank in the first Test because he has shown good form. He also impressed Allan Border who was at those practice games, so yeah, I think he should get a go.”
T-4 days.. get your popcorn ready! 🇮🇳 pic.twitter.com/xq3e434zsY
— Shubman Gill (@RealShubmanGill) December 13, 2020
The former India skipper also called Mayank Agarwal as one of the players to watch out for in the series. Agarwal made his Test debut in the Boxing Day Test of the 2018-19 series in Melbourne, and impressed with his positive and assured batting. He ended the series with 195 runs from three innings, following which he scored three Test hundreds at home, including two double tons. He also featured in two ODIs on the current tour, returning with scores of 22 and 28.
“My Indian player to watch out for will be Mayank Agarwal, because he came to Australia for the last couple of matches two years ago and he showed the way,” recalled Gavaskar. “Till then, India were not getting any starts, and he showed how to tackle Nathan Lyon. He used his feet to loft Lyon straight. Call it the freshness of youth or whatever, but since then he has only gone from strength-to-strength. Look at the season he had last year where he got a double ton against South Africa. He is the guy I am looking forward to in this series,” said the first batsman to scale the 10,000-run summit in international cricket.
Gavaskar also backed Rishabh Pant for the wicketkeeper’s role going into the first Test. Pant had a woeful IPL for Delhi Capitals and consequently lost his place in the limited-overs’ side, but the selectors maintained their faith in his red-ball skills. Pant was India’s second-highest scorer in their last Test series Down Under, where he scored 350 runs in seven innings, including an unbeaten 189-ball 159 in Sydney. The left-hander played the day-night practice match, and staked his claim for the wicketkeeper’s spot with an unbeaten 103 in the second innings. On the other hand, Pant’s competitor, Wriddhiman Saha, scored two ducks and an unbeaten half-century in two practice matches.
“It is going to be a tough one for the tour selection committee. Rishabh Pant played in all four Tests on India's last tour to Australia and also got a hundred. He also seemed to have got under the skin of some of the Australians with his chirping behind the stumps. So I guess the team would like to start with him. Also, since he is coming off a hundred a few days earlier, he would be the choice of the management,” said Gavaskar.
While Saha is considered the best gloveman in the country by a fair margin, Gavaskar believes that bouncy Australian pitches that are not expected to offer much turn to the spinners would mean that Pant can get the job done behind the stumps.
“As a wicketkeeper, when you are standing 15 yards back against fast bowlers, that gives you extra time to move for a catch. If you are standing up to the stumps and the ball is turning, then you need your best keeper in the side, in which case Wriddhiman Saha becomes a natural selection.
“But, in Australia, I think India should go with Pant. Also, India are a little uncertain with regards to their opening combination. Mayank Agarwal is a certainty, but we don't know who will he open with...will it be Shubman Gill or Prithvi Shaw? So, with that uncertainty around, I think India should look to strengthen their batting and get Pant in. I'd want Pant to bat at No 6 to accommodate five bowlers to get 20 Australian wickets,” Gavaskar, a veteran of 125 Tests, said.
‘Forward press causing problems against short ball’
Further, Gavaskar dissected the technical issues that invariably afflict a number of modern-day batsmen when it comes to facing short-pitch bowling. This has resulted in them not only getting out, but also coping blows on the bodies and helmets.
In the recent T20I series between India and Australia, Ravindra Jadeja was hit on the helmet off his top-edge. India fielded Yuzvendra Chahal as a concussion substitute and Jadeja was ruled out of the remaining two matches of the series. He also suffered a hamstring tear in the same match which combined to rule him out of the first Test. Australia’s Will Pucovski, primed for a Test debut against India in Adelaide, has been ruled out due to concussion, the ninth of his career. The Victoria batsman was hit on the head in one of the practice games against India.
Gavaskar, renowned for his compact technique, said the spike in the incidents of concussion or batsmen getting hit on the helmet may have its genesis in modern batsmen’s tendency to get on the front foot early. This, Gavaskar reckoned, makes weight transfer difficult, resulting in batsmen getting caught on the crease in awkward positions.
“I think it (batsmen getting hit on the head) is more to do with the fact that everybody today has got a forward movement. This is a reason why batsmen struggle on bouncy pitches. Even the English players struggled against the short ball, because back in England, they moved forward to try and narrow the swing. So when they travelled to Australia, they struggled,” the former opener said.
The solution, he believes, lies in riding the bounce and having a slight back and across movement.
“In Australia, you'd want to ride the bounce, and for that, you should be able to get on to the back foot. So what happens with forward press is that you are not able to transfer your weight on the backfoot and get out of the way of a bouncer. As a batsman, you tend to get a little bit locked.
“Virat Kohli plays the bouncer so well because he has that back and across movement, so he is waiting on the backfoot for the short ball. Same with Rahul Dravid... he would wait on the backfoot. Sachin Tendulkar had a minimal front press, so he was still balanced when he played the short ball. I think it is a little technical thing which is why more and more batsmen are getting hit on the head these days.
“You'll find that when the batsmen get hit on the head, most of the time they are in between the crease, which means their front foot would be out of the crease while their backfoot will be inside the crease. Very seldom will you find a batsman getting hit on the head when he is next to the stumps, on the backfoot with both his feet inside the crease. This is because going deep in the crease gives you that much of an extra time to either duck under the ball or sway out of the way,” Gavaskar concluded.
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