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Analysis

Shubman Gill shows his worth as a modern, classic Test batter

Delayed Test hundred only asserts cricket's unhealthy obsession with numbers but Gill is here to stay

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
16-Dec-2022
It's folly to try to sum up an innings through one shot, but Shubman Gill's reverse-sweep on 95 might come pretty close. Not quite the innings, but the situation Gill's career was in, and his attitude towards batting.
This was the first time Gill had been on 95 in Test cricket. Despite looking at home in Test cricket, Gill came into the game with only 11 matches and an average of 30.47 to his name. The other time he reached the 90s was an under-rated innings that set up India's historic chase at the Gabba 2020-21.
There has since been realisation that Gill's best station might be the middle order, but India haven't yet been able to accommodate him there. The one time he might have played in the middle order, an opener got injured and he had to open again. Shreyas Iyer grabbed the middle-order slot with both hands.
Teams try to if they can, but they generally don't exist to accommodate players. It is players who have to make themselves useful for teams. And you get rare chances to make yourself useful to this Indian team if you are a batter. For one, India play only five of them. They also like to give incumbents a decent run. That is where Gill would have known this Test - thanks probably to the injury to Rohit Sharma - could perhaps be that one last opening for a while.
India won the toss, got off to a good start, Gill again looked a million dollars, but then ended up top-edging a paddle sweep - a shot he plays well. It wasn't quite a loose shot or anything, but it was still his 11th score of 20 or more without a hundred.
Gill was conscious of the missing big scores. He told the host broadcaster he was talking to Virat Kohli before the match about how he hasn't yet scored a Test hundred. It seemed like he might have missed out on that chance but the Bangladesh tail hung in long enough into the third morning to discourage India from enforcing the follow-on.
After he came good in some really testing conditions in Australia in his first series, you wouldn't probably begrudge Gill a chance to get one on the board against a dispirited attack who are 254 behind already and are carrying two injured bowlers.
Still, no hundred is an easy hundred. Every Test innings deserves some respect. Gill accorded this one the required respect by starting off watchfully. He was 17 off 54 when he hit his first boundary. Once the runs started coming, though, they flowed. He scored 93 off the next 98 balls.
"When lunch happened, my first 50 balls I was batting at around 13," Gill said. "By the time I had faced 100 balls, I was about 70. It was all about pacing the innings and knowing when to attack. Because the bowlers are going to get tired after a particular period of time. As a batter you have to know when is the right time to attack."
The 90s wasn't probably the time to attack. Watchfully he took five singles to move from 90 to 95 in 14 balls. This is when probably Bangladesh sensed some nerves or signs of play that went against Gill's nature. So Mehidy Hasan Miraz went round the wicket to see if he could draw a mistake. Immediately Gill pulled the reverse-sweep, the first of his innings, because of the big gap at point. It is a shot he has played only eight times in all his T20 cricket, only three times in Tests.
Gill is a classic batter, but he is also a modern batter. You can't tie him down for long by bowling one side of the wicket. It didn't look like a reverse-sweep of a reluctant reverse-sweeper. It went clean through point for four to take him to 99.
"There weren't too many different thoughts [in the 90s]," Gill said. "It was all about how I can get to my hundred. For me it was all about how I can play according to the field. See where they are trying to bowl to me, and to be able to score runs from there.
"It was very instinctive when the bowler went round the wicket, and I saw a gap between point and third man. And I went for the reverse sweep, which was quite unconventional. I didn't play a reverse-sweep in the whole innings and then I thought I will play the reverse sweep because the fielders weren't there.
"And then once the field was up, I knew a ball in my area, I will hit it over the top."
Now that Gill has got his first Test hundred - always a matter of when and not if - it is time to acknowledge cricket's unhealthy obsession with hundreds. It should not be such a big psychological barrier for talented young batters. If Gill had got there in Brisbane and had followed up with similar numbers, would the estimation of his batting prowess change? Or if he hadn't got the hundred in Chattogram and had got out on 95, would it have been any easier to decide who will make way if Rohit returns for the second Test?

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo