Prior to his 29-ball 37 against Delhi Daredevils on Friday night, Shubman Gill had faced eight, five and nine balls during his previous three knocks for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in this debut season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Batting in the lower middle-order, the 18-year-old came out in ‘hit out or get out’ situations and scored 14, six and three runs respectively in those three innings.
However, Gill, the second highest scorer in the last Under-19 World Cup (372 from five innings at an average of 124), is capable of taking a far more responsible role for KKR with bat, only if the team management utilises him in the top-three. If he gets a bit of time at the crease, the right-hander can actually dictate terms. The kind of strokes he played on Friday against that in-form Delhi bowling attack, is testament to that.
Chasing 220 to win, KKR were tottering at 46 for 3 in the sixth over, when Gill joined his skipper Dinesh Karthik at the crease. As mentioned earlier, before this innings, the youngster had hardly got any chance to showcase his talent. At Kotla, he found that much-awaited opportunity and put up a fairly impressive show. Gill’s 64-run sixth-wicket stand with Andre Russell was the main reason why KKR were in the hunt until the 16th over.
The right-hander looked quite comfortable against pace and dominant against spin. Delhi bowlers, especially the likes of Avesh Khan and Liam Plunkett, were hitting the deck hard. But Gill showed a compact gameplan against the rising ball, which is the sign of natural top-order batsman.
Yes, being a modern-day cricketer, the youngster needs to be flexible about his batting position, but certainly, he is not someone whom you can fit in at No 7 in a T20 game. He cannot just come out and set the stage on fire, right from ball one. Unfortunately, the KKR team management expects him to do that, at least at this point in time.
In a recent press conference, Karthik was asked to explain this bizarre strategy, which has potentially robbed Gill off a chance to prove his mettle. At that point, the skipper justified the decision by talking about the so-called ‘dynamics of the team’.
"Look as a team we understand he is a top-order batsman. But you got to understand the dynamics of the team as well. With Robin (Uthappa), Nitish (Rana) and myself there… we thought we'll send him in a middle-order role where he doesn't need to go and build an innings.
"He can just go and express himself. That was the whole logic behind sending him (at No 7). It is going to be a little hard at this stage to send him to bat higher up the order. He is happy to bat at this spot where he did," he said.
I believe, following Gill’s knock on Friday night, Karthik and the team management need to rethink this strategy.
Whether for his state team, Punjab, or in India’s Under-19 set-up, for the most part of his career, Gill has batted at the top. In fact, in First-Class and List A cricket, he opens the innings. Earlier this year, during India Under-19’s victorious campaign in New Zealand, performing at No 3, Gill emerged as a spearhead of the batting line-up with four successive 50-plus scores, including a match-winning century in the semi-final against Pakistan. His dominating presence and command over strokeplay earned special praise from the coach Rahul Dravid.
Yes, compared to that age-group event, IPL is a far superior stage. However, with his ability to play the lofted shots when the field restrictions are on, the KKR team management can actually ask him to open the innings alongside Chris Lynn. Or else, if the think-tank wants to continue to take the Sunil Narine gamble at the top, Gill can be sent at No 3 if a wicket goes down early. The youngster will add a bit of solidity at the top, which can actually complement the flamboyance of Lynn, Narine and Uthappa.
And to be honest, this is the need of the hour for this misfiring KKR batting.
In this season, apart from a few odd occasions both Lynn and Narine haven’t provided the starts, which is expected from this destructive pair. Hence, there is no harm trying a new strategy. Gill can certainly play the role which Prithvi Shaw is playing for Delhi or Ishan Kishan is for Mumbai.
With just three victories in seven matches, KKR’s campaign in IPL 11 is in a disarray right now. The think-tank needs to take some tough calls in order to keep things back on track. And for me, putting Gill in the top-three has to be the first and foremost change, which KKR should bring about in their next fixture.