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Match Analysis

Crafty Gill serves timely reminder of his 50-over credentials in testing conditions

In three months' time begins the road to the ODI World Cup in India and Gill might already be on it

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
The last three runs felt like they would take forever to get. A heart-stopping lbw appeal where a faint inside edge saved him but his partner Ishan Kishan ran himself out. Then an inside edge that missed the stumps and brought him a single. Then Deepak Hooda got out to a beauty from Brad Evans. The hundred finally came up serenely with a single through the covers, in the third ODI.
Sweet relief for Shubman Gill, but not as though he was getting desperate for it. In fact, he sent back his good bat when he reached 50 in order to ration it. The remaining 80 runs came with a bat that was a little less special although in the 90s Gill did get conscious that he had been there twice before in international cricket without actually getting to a hundred.
Hard as it is to believe but at the age of 22, a maiden international hundred for Gill has been a long time coming. It is a testament to Gill's skill and potential that it has seemed to observers that it has been too long to get to three figures even though it has been just 11 Tests (where he is yet to get the role he is best suited for: middle order) and nine ODIs. He is after all a batter who left Virat Kohli in awe: "I was not even 10% as good as he is at this age."
Almost every time he has played an ODI, though, Gill has looked like he can get one. This one has brought him his second-consecutive Player-of-the-Series award. The quality of bowling he has faced is what it is but there are early unmistakable trends in how Gill has batted.
Just like with Kohli, 50 overs is the format that comes the most naturally to Gill. So it is fitting that his first international century has come in an ODI. He is a traditionalist in that he seeks to eliminate risk from his batting. As he told the host broadcaster, "I was just trying to minimise the dot-ball percentage. If you look at my innings, I didn't try to hit the ball. I just tried to time and tried to pick the gaps as much as possible."
This risk aversion sometimes keeps him from realising his potential in T20 cricket, but Gill is not your typical top-order batter who will score hundreds at an even pace in ODIs. Even in T20s, his least strong format, Gill doesn't let spinners bowl. In ODIs, his strike rate in the middle overs is 112.22 as opposed to just 85.95 in the powerplay.
If Gill keeps this up against better attacks - there's every indication he will albeit at a lesser frequency - he will just be the natural evolution of the India ODI run machine: similar efficiency with added dynamism. As Axar Patel said at the post-match press conference, Gill sweeps, reverse-sweeps and doesn't mind the odd big hit in the middle overs.
"The way he plays, ones and twos keep coming," Axar said of Gill. "He doesn't play many dot balls. That is his biggest positive. He keeps taking ones and twos and then converts the bad balls into boundaries. He plays spin very well. When there are five fielders in the circle in the middle overs, he uses sweep and reverse-sweep well to keep getting boundaries."
Zimbabwe's attack might not be the toughest India will face but the conditions were not the easiest. Early-morning starts in this series have given the chasing teams a huge advantage. India won all three tosses and decided to challenge themselves by batting first in the dead rubber.
Just take a look at what happened at the other end. Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, and Ishan Kishan all struggled to time the ball because of the moisture-induced tackiness in the pitch. While Gill scored 130 off 97 balls, the other batters managed just 149 in 204 balls.
In three months' time begins the road to the ODI World Cup in India. Gill might already be on it.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo