Updated: January 27, 2021 7:29:37 am
When Shubman Gill came to the dressing room during the final Test at lunch, unbeaten on 64, Vikram Rathour, the batting coach, went to him with a question: “What are your thoughts about the short ball?” The Australians had just started bowling bouncers at him and the coaching staff wanted to check with Gill on his plans.
“The clarity of his plans surprised me. If somebody bowls the short ball at this line and height, this is what I am going to do. If they bowl it from the end where the boundary was shorter, I will pull it for a six,” Rathour shared during a chat on R Ashwin’s Youtube channel. “He had all the answers, he knew what he was going to do. I had nothing to say to him. I said, ‘boss, just carry on, you are sorted.”
When Rathour walked back up to the coaches’ box to join Ravi Shastri, Bharat Arun, and where Ashwin was also sitting at that point, Shastri asked him, “Did you tell him about the short ball, this phase is very important for us to get through”.
Ashwin takes up the story further. “And you said, he said, if it’s below my height I will hit here – and I was blown away thinking somebody was able to pick length, height, line and then also have plans covered for it. That was unreal. I am a big fan of him but that was unreal to know,” Ashwin says.
During the second Test in Melbourne where India won, there was a Gill moment that stuck with Ashwin. When the Indians were on the field and trying to bowl the lower order out, Ashwin remembered Gill ran up to him. “Ash bhai, Jaldi khatam kar do yaar! 40-50 runs hoga toh, mein paanch over mey khatam karoonga! (Please wrap up quickly. If it’s 40-50 runs to chase, I will do it in five overs!). I was like, ‘wow, this is unreal man. We have a debutant who is walking up to say ‘khatam karo, finish it’ and I will finish in five overs and that too in a Test match!”
Despite the youngster’s confidence, Ashwin revealed how he stayed in the toilet during the Melbourne chase. “We were two down for 20-25 runs and I told Mayank [Agarwal] to call me when we reach 65. I didn’t come out; I was there at the toilet only!”
Rathour wasn’t surprised that Gill did well as he was clear with his plans even during the lockdown, way ahead of the tour. “I had called for discussions with all the batsmen during the lockdown. With other batters, we came up with plans, talked about what the bowlers might bowl at them, and worked out plans. But Gill had already sorted that out. The first thing he said was he was already practicing short ball as he was thinking about the Australian tour. He was telling me what he thought about Lyon, what are his plans going to be … That kind of clarity is unique when you know what you are going to do. He is a special player.”
PROMOTING PANT KOHLI’S IDEA
In the chat, Rathour also revealed that it was Virat Kohli’s idea to promote Rishabh Pant up the order. And the idea came at the post-match chat at Adelaide after India were bowled out for 36. Kohli had joined the coaches for a midnight discussion and then the group were joined by Ajinkya Rahane next morning.
“It came from Virat to be honest,” Rathour says. “He said, ‘in case we play both left-handers, it will be a good idea if we can send Pant at No. 5 so that we can have a left-right combination. We discussed it with Ajinkya also. Then during the match, in the first innings, we decided to let him go at No.6.”
Things turned around in the second innings at Sydney chase. “Irrespective of when we lose wickets, this is the last innings, and we were going for the runs. The intent was not to draw the Test. Till we can, we were going to go for the win. That was the right time to send him in,” Rathour shared. “Ravi Shastri is a great believer of left-right combination and thought for a long time that Australians don’t bowl that well to the left-handers. And Ajinkya agreed to send him at No.5”
There was no doubt about sending Pant ahead again during the last Test. “I was telling Ajinkya if we get a good start we can send him at No. 4 in the first innings but that didn’t happen,” Rathour said.
WILL SHAVE OFF HALF MOUSTACHE – Ashwin’s challenge to Pujara
The talk turned to Cheteshwar Pujara and Ashwin said in half-jest that if Pujara went down the track and hit any English spinner over the top in the upcoming Tests, he would play with half the mustache in that game.
“ I will take half the mustache out and come and play the game. It’s an open challenge! You think he will take it up?!” Ashwin asked and Rathour replied with a smile, “I don’t think he will take it up!”
Rathour detailed out Pujara’s logic. “I have asked him, why don’t you go over when every fielder is up so that they push the fielder back and you can take singles. And he said, ‘If I do that, I will get just one run. With all the fielders up, I can play the gap and get two-three runs’. I said that’s a great reason to keep it down, carry on!”
“I love his [Pujara’s] attitude, the way he bats, the way he prepares, he is a coach’s dream,” Rathour said. “No praise is enough for the way he batted in the last test match. The way he responded to all the short balls, the way he handled the injuries, he kept on batting. He played a massive, massive role.”