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India vs England: Shubman Gill’s game may not be bulletproof, but he’s aware of his deficiencies and working hard to overcome them

His technique against spin isn’t infallible, but the Punjab batsman is determined to overcome whatever challenge is thrown in his direction.

The silk of Shubman Gill was ever-evident. The angular grace when he drove on the rise, the sound akin to the crisp roll of a drum, the insouciance when he short-arm jabbed or pulled, and the warm smile that spread over his face when he winked in a milestone, India’s latest batting scion exuded an irresistible charm.

In the ongoing series against England, the steel of Gill too became ever-evident. It was a series that could have broken him, instead ended up defining his understated virtues, the grit and resolve, that make him.

So much so that the images that define him are not the usual ones. It’s not so much about his flowing strokes, as it is about the dirt on his shirt, or the sweat on his brow, or a four-less half-century. He came into the series with question marks on his game against spin bowling. Eight innings later, he would admit he is not yet flawless against spinners even on semi-turners. But by registering a hundred and two half-centuries of immeasurable value, Gill has displayed that he has the flexibility of mind and technique to subdue them.

Shubman Gill delivers a masterclass! 🫡

His fighting fifty paved the way for #TeamIndia‘s triumphant 3️⃣-1️⃣ series victory. 🌟#INDvsENG #IDFCFirstBankTestSeries #BazBowled #JioCinemaSports

— JioCinema (@JioCinema) February 26, 2024

He is not invulnerable against seamers either — the sturdiness of his technique would be tested in chilly Dharamsala and could be a precursor to the series Down Under later this year — but he would stride out with the belief that he can conquer any glitch or adversity if he sets his mind on it. Such a mindset often makes a good player a great one.

In that vein, this has been a series wherein Gill’s problem-solving traits surfaced. He wouldn’t miss even an optional practice session, on the eve of the game, when most regulars stay at the hotel and conserve themselves for the rigours of the next five days. But Gill is constantly working on some crack in his technique or the other. Much of the attention is shed on his often leaden front foot. For someone of his height, he doesn’t have a pronounced stride. The front foot doesn’t flow into the drive. Naturally, he struggles to transfer his weight onto the shots when driving on the front foot. It’s an unusual quandary for an Indian batsman, who often tends to struggle when switching the weight onto the back foot.

To smoothen the weight-transfer, he could be seen adopting a variety of methods. One of them he tried in the nets, under the watchful eye of coach Rahul Dravid, was shortening the length of his first stride and then adding a second one. A short forward press and then depending on the length, a longer second step. He would practice this till his teammates were almost inside the bus. He would then inspect the exact spot of the front foot when he played the shot. He would then advise the throw-downer to pull the length back a bit, and see if he could get his front foot further forward.

Work in progress

In Rajkot too, Gill was spotted working on his forward stride. If not this, he could be seen chewing the ears of batting coach Vikram Rathour. Or doing sprint drills on his homeground, the PCA Stadium in Mohali, when he is on a break.

His muscles have not yet internalised those movements. So he has not tried them in Tests. But this series, his footwork against spinners has been more fluid and precise. From a minimised trigger movement, he has been stepping out of the crease more frequently to work the ball through the on-side if it’s the off-spinner Shoaib Bashir, and bunt them on the off-side with the turn against left-arm spinner Tom Hartley.

The Gill, on the evidence of this series, was not the all-conquering batting virtuoso he could be, but a mortal batsman ploughing his path to greatness, conscious of his strengths and weaknesses and aware of how to overcome the deficiencies.

Maturity belies his words too. “I don’t read the newspapers, I don’t really go on social media to try and look for what people are saying there. If you are not doing well, I don’t expect someone to tell me I’m not doing well. I know myself if I’m not doing well. More than anything else, it was my own personal disappointment,” he would say after his hundred in Visakhapatnam.

Gill would know all too well that there would always be some challenge or the other in his eye-line. So far this series, he has negotiated the spinning ball. In gloomy Dharamsala, the hooping ball could interrogate him. Whether or not his technique is ready for it, his mind certainly would be. If he tames the moving ball, the next big question would be if he could douse the bounce Down Under. He has already produced a coming-of-age knock in Brisbane, at a watershed moment in Indian cricket. But can he do it again? So and so forth, like a passenger train, one question will follow another. It’s the burden of being touted a great in the nascence of a career, an inheritor of a rich batting legacy. Gill would know this, and in this series he has demonstrated he has the inner steel to ride his flaws, soak the inhuman pressure and ploughing the path to greatness.

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