With a gentle nudge off his pads behind square Shubman Gill took a single off the 132nd delivery he faced in the second innings of the 2nd India vs England Test in Vizag. That single helped Gill complete his third Test hundred, but more than jubilation at achieving the milestone, that single brought a big sigh of relief for the youngster. It was evident that the monkey was off his back as he trundled on for a few more steps after completing the run before taking off his helmet, raising his bat, and hugging his batting partner Axar Patel. In between he looked skywards, most probably thanking his stars.
And thank his stars he must, at least today.
For a batter under the pump trying to find form, walking into bat under overcast, hazy morning facing up to the ageless James Anderson – who had his tail up after removing the Indian skipper Rohit Sharma with a peach of a delivery – was going to be a tough, tough proposition.
Gill was coming into bat on the back of 12 innings without crossing the 50-run mark. For someone anointed the crown prince to King Kohli’s throne, for someone given the tall order to occupy the No.3 spot in the Indian Test team, an average of under 30 from 21 matches was quite underwhelming. As an opener, he averaged 32, but at No.3, which he started to bat recently, was 21 up until his knock today. It is not like Gill just did not know how to adapt at No.3, he had got starts going past the 30-run mark four times but was not able to build on it.
In Hyderabad, batting on 23, he looked to rotate the strike and wafted one to short mid and in the second innings prodded with hard hands first ball. In the first innings in Vizag, he was worked over by Anderson after a decent 34.
Today also, he was worked over by Anderson after Tom Hartley nearly had him packing for a mere four. Off the sixth delivery he faced, Gill employed the short arm jab he so successfully uses in white-ball cricket, but this one was as ugly as it could get – as if caught in two minds. He went instinctively, later realising he should not have – thankfully for him, he got a streaky boundary.
A ball later, there was a circumspect defence anticipating a turn from Hartley, but the delivery went through the with the angle. It looked plumb in real-time, the Umpire thought so, and so did Gill. It was as an afterthought only that he went up to Shreyas Iyer asking whether the ball hit him in line of the stumps. Eventually, the review was taken and by the barest of margins he was saved – there was the slightest of deflections from the bat before the ball thudded onto the stumps. Reprieve No.1
Eight balls later, Anderson got one to seam in after dragging Gill across the previous delivery. Gill was beaten all ends up, trapped in front. But this time the umpire thought the ball may have bounced over the stumps. The review would show the ball clipping the bails. The on-field umpire’s call stood. Reprieve No.2. By this point it looked like Gill was a walking wicket. He though showed some aggression dancing down the track to Shoaib Bashir walloping one over the bowler’s head for a six. But three balls later, Hartley got one to turn and grip and Gill played it away from the body. Edge. And it flew between the first slip and the keeper and went for a boundary. Reprieve No.3.
The next delivery drifted down the leg and he glanced it fine for another boundary. That shot would have made him feel good. Gill rode his luck throughout the morning session, and it was time for him to make the most of it. And he did.
The inexperienced England spinners started to err in length and Gill started pouncing on – anything short he rocked back to connect it well and anything full, he unfurled the most elegant of drives. He came down the track often, not just for the big shots, but to access the wide area between mid-off and deep midwicket. He swept the fuller ones towards deep backward square with authority and brought about his fifty drilling one through covers. Despite his early struggles, he got the milestone in quick time – off 62 deliveries.
He looked far more relaxed after that and even though there was still a lot of blocking and going for the big shot as his release shot, Gill was given the luxury to take the easy singles, often through the legside area by Ben Stokes; more importantly he looked to be getting back in form. He zoomed from the 60s to 80s in a matter of three deliveries, clobbering Ahmed for 6, 4, 4. And another 14 deliveries from the 90s to complete his hundred. He would eventually fall trying a reverse sweep – courtesy of a change in field by Stokes for 104 – but he will be satisfied with his knock today, even though he would know, he should have batted on for a bit long.
Nonetheless, he will thank his stars one more time today before going to bed.