Confession time: we’re all queueing up to write about Shubman Gill. The Aussies will be at our throats from Thursday, in newer, apparently less gross-sledgy way, even as their usual baggy green grizzlies resume their nonsense chatter.
In India, however, the multitudes can’t get enough of Gill, opening batter extraordinaire. We have gone, as Kishore Kumar would say, a bit Gilli-gilli-akkha. Akkha India it appears wants Gill to play in the first Test in Nagpur against Australia, regardless of where on earth and how the hell, because the whys nots demanding his selection have become far too dominant.
Prime reason – Gill is in form and so should feed off that form. Since the middle of January, he has peppered grounds, television sets and imaginations with his scrumptious shot-making and given India a glimpse of a Shubman soaked future. He is batting like he’s in a video game: four centuries in fifteen days, including an ODI double century and a T20I hundred. For any non-cricket readers still here at this point, those are not impossible anymore but not so common.
Four Indians before him are tri-format centurions, but given recency bias, short-term memory and what he brings to the crease, the Shubman Show just looks shinier. He has been anointed a true successor of Tendulkar-Kohli lineage, compared with the young Roger Federer , given qualifying degrees of GOATness and his IPL franchise Sunrisers naturally had to put him in a Superman costume.
Okay, deep breaths here.
KL Rahul, our vice-captain and the other opener with captain Rohit Sharma, was actually the fastest to tri-format centuries across only 20 international innings between January 2015 and August 2016. It’s taken Shubman 40 innings for India but four centuries in fifteen days is hard to forget and seems highly reckless to ignore. Even the Chennai Knowledgeables would agree, that top billing in cricket today would be Shubman vs Anyone.
Yes, yes there’s the small matter of his batting spot but given that India’s regular No. 5 Shreyas Iyer is out injured, most likely to miss Nagpur, there you go. Easy for Gill to step in plus no shoving aside Rahul. (Pssst, Sunil Gavaskar had once said on commentary Gill should bat at no. 5, so there.) Except the other candidate for No. 5 is Surya Kumar Yadav, who not so long ago was the most loved flavour of our cricket season. Until January 15 that is. It takes something mighty fantastic to distract the mind from SKY’s eternal sunshine but that’s what Gill has done.
His two-week tango in blue pyjamas also brought much relief to older cricket watchers, who were as grumpy about Gill as his own father. After a string of double-figure scores, Lakhwinder Gill asked his son: “Shubman, are you only going to show us drizzles or are you actually going to show us some rain and some thunderstorms?” In reply, he rained runs everywhere across India, became a darling of the crowds and also helped dissolve a generation gap.
There are many of a particular dotage, good self included, who want to see Gill in whites. Who want him to play in Nagpur regardless of any and all logic or that now-now team balance business or SKY’s first-class ability against spinners. Because that is how we first saw Gill, in the improbable, talismanic 2020-21 Border-Gavaskar Trophy (BGT) series. Walking out to open at the MCG on Test debut, manifesting directly it seemed off a Daguerreotype photograph.
Gill in whites reminded us of a previous century’s cricket, even though he can bat at a rate of T20 knots. Tall, upright, sans stubble or visible tattoo, a younger cousin of VVS Laxman, all backfoot aplomb, gorgeous drives, flicks and dismissive pulls, angular, fluid, pristine, devoid of any creases we imagined, not even of creases in shirtsleeves after two sessions of batting.
Along with the rest of his terrific mates’ injury-depletion-heroics in that BGT series, Gill’s batting after the horrors of 36-9, became balm. His scores in Australia read 45, 35*, 50, 31, 7, 91. That last innings mind you at the Gabba, when chasing 328 to win.
Historian-writer Mukul Kesavan described this unreal business as the “sight of a young Cary Grant opening for India.” Post-Australia, Gill had paled and was clumped along with general next gen varieties. But post January, the faith is restored and in my cricket-mad friends’ Signal group, he is now officially nicknamed ‘Cary Grant.’
Naturally we want to see Cary Grant in whites laying waste to the Aussies, that too at home. On turners or burners or paatas or sporting wickets, whatever, wherever. We will strenuously ignore data points of release-stroke choices or low-control-percentage areas. Or the fact that Aussie captain Pat Cummins has got him three times in his seven innings. On the eve of an series versus the Aussies, surely everyone is allowed to wish or dream.
This is because batters like Gill turn cricket-watching into a multi-level exploration. Of batting as an expression of physics and geometry in motion. Of an athletic aesthetic that can even still the clamour of the crowd and of the route through which the right brain scores a victory over the judgemental left.
In the real world, of course Gill occupies no such ephemeral space. He is a modern-day batter building his zeitgeist brand. He appeals to gazillions around his age, a social media fave and also the rare generator of Tinder adverts on Nagpur billboards . His Twitter identity of 929k is today an Instagram following of 3.4 million. Online he preens and he poses like kids his age do.
Yet, irrespective of image and imagery, it is Gill’s cricket that has got him here and it is what will take him further. Cary Grant or Tinder model, doesn’t matter how you see Shubman Gill. Just give the guy a bat and let him out the door.