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Analysis

Gill magic makes an unusual batting method look perfectly natural

His whole game is centered around his back foot, to the extent he plays some completely unique shots

Cricket is beautiful for an endless list of reasons. One of them is just how differently two batters will play the same ball, from the same bowler, landing on the same spot on the same pitch.
Take the fast bowler's good-length ball aiming to finish near the top of off stump. Some batters might typically play it off the back foot, and some off the front foot. Some might get right behind the line and punch to mid-on, some might stay leg-side of the ball and dab with soft hands towards gully, while some others might shuffle across their stumps and work it to square leg. Some batters can do any of these things, depending on the conditions, the quality of the bowling, and the match situation.
On Saturday, Mitchell Starc bowled one such ball to Shubman Gill, delivering from left-arm around and clocking 139kph. He'd been achieving a bit of reverse-swing from that angle, and he'd largely been attacking the stumps through this spell, bowling a length that was on the fuller side of good. There were two fielders back on the hook, though, so there was always the threat that a bouncer could be on its way.
Gill was perhaps shaping for the short ball when Starc delivered this one. It wasn't short, but perhaps on the shorter side of a good length. On this pitch in Ahmedabad, it was still ending up somewhere near the top of off stump.
Other Test-quality batters, facing that same Starc delivery, would have offered other responses to it. Gill played a shot that's all his own and no one else's. It wasn't a pull, and it wasn't a short-arm jab either. Gill plays the short-arm jab as well as anyone in the game, but that's an angled-bat shot.
No, this was a perfectly straight-bat shot, sort of like a back-foot straight drive finishing with left elbow high. It was a back-foot straight drive in every way other than orientation, because rather than running away down the ground, this shot beat short midwicket to his right and left deep square leg in futile pursuit to his left.
Gill moved from 51 to 55, and Starc, walking back to his mark, wore a grin that combined admiration, disbelief and resignation. How on earth do you play a shot like that?
In his press conference at the end of the day's play, Gill explained that he developed this shot as a byproduct of learning to pull and hook fast bowling in his formative years. "I used to practice playing bouncers with a plastic ball on cement, and the balls that were a little fuller, it just kind of developed, because I practiced it over and over and it was more instinctive than anything else."
Set up for the pull, play the straight-bat, wide-of-midwicket drive if it isn't quite short enough.
It's remarkable how much of Gill's batting revolves around the pull. He stands tall at the crease, holds his bat up with his hands by his back hip - he holds it incredibly still, without waggling it around like so many others do - and as the bowler releases his bat goes higher still, and wider, in a backlift that often takes his hands away from his body.
It's the perfect position from which to pull, with the bat going from high to low, allowing him to control the shot and hit it along the ground most times. And when the ball is fractionally short outside off stump, he can drop his bat down along the line of the ball and send it scudding through point or cover with minimal follow-through. It's another hugely fascinating Gill shot, neither a cut nor a punch, with his bat angle somewhere in between the horizontal of the former and the vertical of the latter, and he played it on multiple occasions on both Friday and Saturday in Ahmedabad.
Gill's set-up, basically, is built for attacking back-foot play against fast bowling, and if you're watching him for the first time you might wonder how he'll cope against bowling that's fuller, either in the corridor or attacking his stumps. He'll surely bring his bat down at an angle, you might think, and play across the line.
But if you've watched him enough, you'll know he's just one of those incredibly gifted players who make unusual methods work, and make it look entirely natural. Part of the secret is just how still his head is, and how good his balance is as a consequence: seldom does his head fall over and cause him problems.
Not long after that remarkable shot against Starc, Gill had an opportunity to show off this balance, as Cameron Green searched for lbw with a full ball angling into off and middle. Gill's bat came down perfectly straight, down the line of the ball, and it simply pinged away off the face of his bat between mid-on and midwicket.
"This is what I told myself again and again, that if I got another opportunity, I'd not put pressure on myself to convert when I got set, but remain free-flowing. It was more mental, and that's what I mostly focused on."
Shubman Gill
Green's hands, for seemingly no reason whatsoever, went up towards his head.
Gill barely moves - and barely seems to need to - against fast bowling, and sometimes, you wonder if he has the footwork to cope against quality spin. When you watch him from front-on, he doesn't seem to stride all that much when he defends spin off the front foot.
But at one point during his 113-run second-wicket stand with Cheteshwar Pujara, the TV commentators pulled up side-on footage of both batters defending off the front foot. Gill's stride, which had looked so effortless from front-on that it had seemed like no real stride at all, was massive, so much so that in this particular example he seemed to be over-striding and ending up with his head behind the ball. Pujara's stride, considerably shorter, put his head on top of the ball.
It was just one example of over-striding, of course, and in Ahmedabad, Gill was troubled by neither pace nor spin, to the extent that there were only ten false shots in his 235-ball innings.
The day had begun with Gill batting on 18, and on this surface, it felt as though he had a hundred for the taking if he batted through the first hour or so. Such has been his form, across formats, that the sight of good batting conditions immediately raises expectations of a big score. Gill is squarely to blame for this, having come into this series with scores of 116, 208, 40*, 112, 7, 11 and 126* in his last seven international innings.
He had to wait his turn, though, with the team management backing KL Rahul through a run of lean scores. Asked about this, Gill said not only that he was fine having to wait, but also that it was fair for India to have given Rahul a long run after he'd found a route back into the side on the back of an injury to Gill.
"I think I got out of the team when I got injured in 2021 after the World Test Championship [final] and then obviously KL bhai came in and he did really well for us," Gill said. "He scored a century in England, and at that period, to be honest with you, I don't think I had performed as well in Test cricket, up to that point, up to my expectations.
"[I was looking] just to be able to keep trying to get better at certain areas that I wanted to work on. If you're doing the right things, you'll get your chance, and then it's just about performing, and that's what I was trying to look [at]."
One of the areas Gill worked on was his mental approach after he'd failed to convert a series of starts, referring to a period during which he scored 52, 1, 44 and 47 in two Tests against New Zealand at home in late 2021, and then 17 and 4 in the one-off Test in Birmingham in July 2022.
"I felt that when I was getting set, I was getting over-defensive, I was getting too cautious, thinking 'I'm now set, I have to convert this [into a big one],' and putting myself under a lot of pressure. That's not my game. Once I'm set, I get into a rhythm, and that's my game.
"It was about understanding that I was fine if I got out playing my way rather than playing in a way that wasn't mine. I was getting set and getting out defending. I felt that I'd accept it if I was set and got out playing a shot - I'd know it was a shot I play well, and that I didn't execute it - but I got caught up trying to adapt my game into something it wasn't, and that wasn't acceptable. This is what I told myself again and again, that if I got another opportunity, I'd not put pressure on myself to convert when I got set, but remain free-flowing. It was more mental, and that's what I mostly focused on."
It's not that Gill can't defend, of course. You don't reel off hundreds like Gill has done at every level if you don't have a defence. Gill's advice to himself was more to do with staying in the moment and being himself.
Gill was himself right through his innings of 128 in Ahmedabad. He was himself when he stepped out and launched Nathan Lyon for a towering six in the last over of day two. He was himself while sauntering to his half-century off 90 balls. In the post-lunch session, when Steven Smith got his bowlers to dry up the runs by packing one side of the field, Gill went through a phase when he scored nine runs off 53 balls - he was resolutely himself then as well.
And soon enough, Green, bowling to a 6-3 leg-side field and reversing the ball into the stumps, bowled two balls that didn't quite reverse enough. Gill punched the first one through cover point without having to move his feet, and drove the second gloriously, with a small step forward to transfer his weight into the shot, between extra-cover and mid-off.
There is time in Test cricket, and entire days of it on pitches like this one in Ahmedabad. Gill is used to having time, even when it's just that extra millisecond he seems to have that most others don't while facing the fastest of bowlers. His batting style is utterly unique, but there's a timeless, willowy grace to it too, which he often accentuates, like he did in Ahmedabad, by batting in full sleeves.
Gill's batting is all about time, and Test cricket is the natural home for it. In Ahmedabad, a feeling that has gathered momentum over the past few months struck you once again, with even greater force. Gill's time is the here and the now and the foreseeable future.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo