Class, elegance and composure – these three qualities sum up Shubman Gill as a batsman. Still a teenager, Gill is known for his penchant for big scores and it was evident when he produced an absolute masterclass at Mohali on Friday night (May 3) to take his team home in a do or die encounter.
With maturity beyond his age, the youngster has been a revelation for the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) franchise in the 2019 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), ever since the think-tank has thrust him with the responsibility of opening the innings. Barring a lone failure against Rajasthan Royals at Eden Gardens, as an opener in IPL 12, Gill has scored three half-centuries in four innings – 65 against Delhi at Kotla, 76 against Mumbai in Kolkata and the latest, unbeaten 65 against Kings XI Punjab at Mohali.
Having made his India debut just prior to the start if IPL 2019, Gill came into this tournament with a lot of expectations and hype. He was tagged as one of the young talents to watch out for during this season. However, for the major part of the competition, the KKR think-tank was unable to accommodate him at the top due to the presence of their tried and tested opening pair of Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine. As a result, Gill mostly batted at No 7 in the initial games and hardly got enough time at the crease.
KKR were wasting his talent.
Unfortunately, even the team management was adamant regarding Gill's batting position in this power-packed KKR line-up. Whenever skipper Dinesh Karthik was asked by the media regarding the youngster's non-utilisation up the order, he used to pass the buck citing some bizarre team strategy.
However, with pinch-hitter Narine's continuous failure at the top and the team's extended losing streak forced the think-tank to change their strategy. Thankfully, they have now realised that rather than gambling on a quick-fire start, the 'Men in Purple' need some solidity at the top.
And this much-awaited change in management's thought process opened the door for Gill, who grabbed this opportunity with both hands. Within just four knocks as an opener, the 19-year-old has managed to create his own space in star-studded line-up. He has moulded his game brilliantly according to the situations and has got the job done for his team without much fuss.
During the chase of 184 against at Mohali, when Lynn got Kolkata off to a quick start, Gill played second fiddle. Later when Robin Uthappa was timing ball crisply against spinners, he kept turning over the strike.
At times while batting alongside Andre Russell, Gill took the advantage of the lack of attention of bowlers on him. When the entire focus of the opposition was on stopping Russell's onslaughts, out of the blue the youngster decided to up the ante. Gill went after Ravichandran Ashwin and took 18 from the 13th over. From 34 off 31 at the start of the over, he scored his half-century on 36 deliveries.
Even in the previous fixture against Mumbai, he implemented similar strategies to allow KKR's most destructive batsman some breathing space after he was promoted at No 3.
Meanwhile, against Punjab, when Russell got out, the asking rate was less than seven runs per over. Thereon, Gill took over and finished the chase in 18 overs to keep Kolkata's Playoff hopes alive.
With this unbeaten 65, Gill has once again justified his place in the opening slot ahead of an inconsistent option like Narine. Yes, unlike the West Indian, Gill doesn't go after the bowlers right from the first ball. Instead, he is much more conventional in his approach and provides steady starts to his team.
But that doesn't mean, he gets bogged down.
Gill's career strike-rate in T20s is 135.65 and if required, the Punjab boy can produce those big shots as well. He is a sweet timer of a cricket ball and can find those gaps in the field on a consistent basis to get the boundaries and keep the scoreboard moving.
Gill is young and oozing with talent. And this is the ideal time for KKR to invest on him, exactly like the Royal Challengers Bangalore did with Virat Kohli early in his career. Nurture this boy properly, give him the necessary exposure and in future, he has the potential to be a marquee face of this franchise.