Main focus was to be there for the team and score as many runs as possible: Shubman Gill

It’s no secret that of late, Shubman Gill has been a class act while opening the batting in ODIs. But against New Zealand at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad on Wednesday, Gill’s star in ODIs ascended even further in front of 31,187 spectators when he smashed a sensational 208 off 149 balls, propelling India to 349/8, which proved to be a winning total.

Since being Player of the Tournament in India’s victorious run at the 2018 U19 Men’s World Cup in New Zealand, Gill had already been talked about as the next backbone and future star of the senior men’s team batting line-up.

Despite justifying the talk through a consistent 2022, his place in the ODI side was being questioned because Ishan Kishan, who himself hit 210 while opening the batting against Bangladesh in Chattogram, was moved down the order to accommodate Gill.

But under the skies of Hyderabad, on a two-paced pitch, Gill dazzled in an opening masterclass where he was in complete control of his strokeplay and ran hard to leave fans mesmerised with his 208.

“It (the double-century against New Zealand) means a lot to me obviously. I think in the first ODI against Sri Lanka and in the third ODI, I was set, and I was looking to get a big score, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen for me. Once I was set here, the main focus for me was to obviously be there for the team and score as many runs as possible. And it feels good when it pays off,” said Gill in the post-match press conference.

Gill added that being consistent in ODIs is something he aspires to as a batter. “Consistency is the key to everything. It’s one of the things that I strive for. Being consistent as a batsman is very important in any format. It feels nice when you are doing things over a period of time repeatedly.”

One of the most thrilling moments of his knock came at the fag end of the Indian innings. Gill broke a run of four boundary-less overs by smashing sixes over leaping long-on and square leg off Blair Tickner in the 48th over.

Starting the 49th over at 182, Gill reached his double century by smacking a hat-trick of sixes over fine leg, long-off and straight down the ground in the 49th over off Lockie Ferguson. The loud roar had an element of joy and waving his bat in delight as the crowd chanted his name. He acknowledged the cheers by bowing gently after getting his hundred and on reaching the double century, the euphoria reached a crescendo in Uppal.

“First I decided to go hard in the last five overs. But with Washington (Sundar) getting out in the 44th over, then the message was to go hard in the last three overs. I think in the 46th or 47th over, I hit a couple of sixes and that’s when I decided to go hard because I thought that bowler was my match-up.”

“Not a conscious effort (to keep batting aggressively), I would say, but with an extra fielder inside the circle, we see other teams pushing in the middle overs. Even when wickets were falling, my main focus was to show some intent to the bowler because it becomes very easy for the bowler to be able to bowl dot balls if the batsman is not going to show any intent that he’s going to hit any boundaries — even if we have lost a wicket. So that was my intent — even when wickets were falling to show the bowler that I will hit you if you’re going to bowl bad balls.”

Amongst the many wishes pouring in from social media, the tweet from former India all-rounder Yuvraj Singh saying it was a proud moment for him and Gill’s father took the cake. “It feels very good. Yuvi paaji has been a mentor to me, like a big brother.”

“During the lockdown and even after that, he talks a lot about my batting and how we can work more on it. My dad has been my primary coach since I started playing cricket. Making Yuvi paaji and my dad proud is definitely a special feeling for me,” concluded Gill.

There is still a pretty long way to see if Gill becomes the next generational batting great from India. But for now, his 208 at Hyderabad showed that he is here to stay for a long time in ODIs.

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