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NZ vs IND: Gill making every performance count in bid to secure spot in next year’s ODI World Cup at home

Gill has been a consistent performer in ODIs this year, and two eye-catching innings in NZ should further boost his credentials ahead of 2023 World Cup.   

As India go about narrowing down the names for next year’s 50-over World Cup, Gill’s name will feature prominently in the discussions. (Photo: BCCI/Twitter)

Before we get down to the analysis, here is a question. Which Indian batter has an average of 72.12 in ODIs this year but hasn’t been picked for the upcoming series against Bangladesh? Any batter with such eye-popping numbers will be a mainstay in the squad. Instead, some inconsistency in selection calls – which have become way too frequent in Indian cricket off late – sees Shubman Gill, the batter in question, miss the flight to Dhaka.

In a year when T20I cricket took precedence, ODIs were mostly used to rotate and manage the workload of the first-choice XI. And after the second ODI against New Zealand in Hamilton, a game that was washed out on Sunday, India have played 20 50-over games this year with Gill playing 11 of those, making 625 runs at a strike rate of 104.16. Only Shikhar Dhawan, who is stand-in captain for the series and the only one to feature in 18 ODIs this year, has scored and averaged more in 2022, with 642 runs at a strike rate of 75.79.

As India go about narrowing down the names for next year’s 50-over World Cup, Gill’s name will feature prominently in the discussions. Not just going by the two ODIs that he has played on the tour of New Zealand so far, but over the past 12 months, the Punjab opener has looked a class apart. Over the course of the two innings on the tour where he has scored 50 and an unbeaten 45, Gill’s assurance has been hard to miss. Be it setting the tempo at the start or asserting the authority later in the innings, he has made it look effortless.

There was a word of support from former India head coach Ravi Shastri, on air as Gill’s fluid innings was stopped by a heavy drizzle on Sunday. “His emphasis today (Sunday) was on timing the ball. Sometimes when you are out of your depth, you want to get on with it by trying to hit the ball hard. He was in good control with good footwork. It is great to watch him play. There is something regal about him,” Shastri said.

Gill’s talent has never been in doubt. Enough has been spoken about it and no doubt there will be more to write and speak about this soft-spoken Punjabi lad who hails from an agricultural background. Right from the Under-19 level to the Border-Gavaskar Trophy triumph in 2020/21, to his exploits with the Punjab team in the domestic arena, and to the IPL this year, Gill has set the tone for whichever team he has opened for. And right now, the right-hander is doing it in ODIs, which is bound to keep the likes of Dhawan and KL Rahul on their toes.

Grace and confidence

In an age where power-hitting is the norm among top-order batters worldwide, Gill is different. It isn’t that he doesn’t go for big hits, but he does so with minimal effort, relying on timing rather than looking to whack the ball. So far in his brief international career, the real struggle Gill has shown is in maintaining intent for a long period. Watch him bat in full flow. For a youngster who looks calm and composed, there is plenty to admire about his confidence in even playing a forward-defence or just leaving the ball. At times, he even takes those casual walks to punch the ball and ends up with a high-elbow pose that looks so pleasing on the eye. But there are also times when that same intent goes missing and he ends up looking ordinary, like in the one-off Test against England at Edgbaston this year.

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There is still plenty to learn, but for now Gill seems to have locked the back-up opener’s slot at the World Cup all for himself. With a new selection panel to come, it is hard to second-guess who will be Rohit Sharma’s partner at the top. As the numbers show, there is Dhawan who would be hard to dislodge. If one goes by performance alone, there is no reason to look past him as by virtue of being a left-hander, he brings something different to the table.

And then there is Rahul. Primarily played in the middle order in recent times, where he has made a strong case for himself, it remains to be seen if India will slot him at the top. Out of the 7 ODIs Rahul played this year, six have come as an opener, but none of them came in a XI that included Dhawan and Rohit. The upcoming three-match series against Bangladesh and ones at home against New Zealand and Bangladesh should show whether Rahul fits in the scheme or not.

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But in case the selectors make Rahul compete with the rest for the three available middle-order slots, the team management has a reliable opener ready in Gill. Whether he is a first-choice or third-choice, time will tell, but as far as the right-hander goes, he is firmly staying in the present. “I’m not looking that far,” Gill said in Hamilton when asked if he was thinking about making the 50-over World Cup cut. “The main purpose and intention is to make the most of the opportunities I get. That is what I’m trying to do – to get more opportunities and score big for the team,” Gill added.

First published on: 27-11-2022 at 17:44 IST
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