Talent and class are attributes one has learnt to associate with Indian batters over many years. Add power to the mix, and you have a lethal combination fit for the T20 age. Given the surfeit of riches produced in recent years, it seems the Indian team will not run short of finding world-class batters for many more years to come. Even players with formidable numbers and proven credentials, such as Shikhar Dhawan, are finding it hard to nail down a spot. With three centuries in four innings in One-Day Internationals, including a double, Shubman Gill is now the man under the spotlight, and it won’t be surprising if Dhawan’s opening slot permanently becomes his in the months to come.
Gill, Shreyas Iyer, Ishan Kishan, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Prithvi Shaw, and Sanju Samson have all been in the periphery of the Indian team — and in the team, on occasions — for the last few years. And they have all made their presence felt since their teenage years.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) will always be a barometer of pedigree, but it was back in 2018 that one got a sense of who could shepherd the Indian team in the next decade or so — at least in white-ball cricket. Gill, always seen as a prodigy, struck a strokeful ton as a 19-year-old for India ‘C’ in the Deodhar Trophy. Entertaining tons were scored, too, by Iyer, who had already debuted for India, and Kishan for their respective teams, while Gaikwad scored a half-ton. Shaw flopped, but he had by then established himself as a prodigy, fetching a price of INR 1.2 crore in the IPL the same year. Just a month after this Deodhar Trophy, he struck a century on Test debut, becoming the youngest Indian — at 18 — to do so.
ALSO READ - Manoj Tiwary, an indomitable spirit, keeps Bengal’s Ranji Trophy title hopes burning
Samson had a quiet domestic season but had, that year, registered his then highest tally of runs — 441 — in a single season of the IPL.
While Gill was crafty and elegant, unhurried in his strokeplay, the diminutive Shaw and Iyer, both from Mumbai, were clinical and pugnacious if not as elegant. Power and lust were the attractive features of the batting styles of both Kishan and Samson. And a no-frills approach the hallmark of Gaikwad. Nurtured and groomed in the years to follow, they have by now become the crème de la crème of the next generation of Indian batters.
Former India batter and women’s team coach W. V. Raman believes that India is reaping the benefits of a large talent pool, opportunities on offer, and good coaching and facilities. “More than anything else you have a situation where the boys get to play a lot more matches than players from the earlier generation,” he tells Sportstar.
“Now it’s almost difficult for a cricketer to sit at home, because there are so many things happening at all the levels which makes cricketers get a lot more opportunities if he is reasonably good. And if you’re getting opportunities on a regular basis, it’s very difficult to not make a mark. For example, you’re talking about 30-40 innings in a year as against 10-12 innings for the batters of the earlier generations.
“All these things add to it: The NCA, the coaching, the support staff, and the various facilities that they get. But you need a platform or a stage. You’ve had the U-19 tours, these days you have the India ‘A’ level and then you have a prolonged Ranji Trophy. Of course, IPL is also another opportunity.”
The IPL, born in 2008, adds a new dimension to Indian cricket. Though a boon in many ways for India, the league could be seen by some as a double-edged sword as it thrusts to the surface numerous India cricketers who fizzle out after a season or two. Gill, Shaw & Co. have had to cut their teeth in the T20 league to become household names, and one gets a sense that IPL success is important for a player to come into the Indian team. M. S. K. Prasad, who was chairman of the selection committee of the Indian team from 2016 to 2020, believes India call-ups based on IPL success are a recognition of the ability to stand out among superstars.
ALSO READ - Saurashtra’s success story built on stability and trust
“The IPL is a wonderful platform for players. Yes, players have come from IPL — like a [Jasprit] Bumrah or a Hardik [Pandya], when they started out from the T20 format to progress into one-day cricket and then smoothly into Test cricket. [However,] using IPL performances for a longer format is not a fair thing to do,” Prasad says. “There are many other things that one has to learn to succeed at the international level.”
Cricket, just like the world at large, is speeding up uninhibitedly in the neoliberal era. Strike-rates nowadays are as important — if not more important — than the runs scored. What this generation of batters have learnt to do — thanks to the IPL and domestic and bilateral T20Is — is to learn how to hit the big shots in high-pressure scenarios. Gill, taught from an early age to keep the ball on the ground to play a long innings, now retains his ethos but also hits the bowlers all around the park when needed. A glimpse of his adaptability can be seen in the fact that his strike rate in the middle overs (overs 7-16) spiked in the IPL last year, jumping from 114.97 to 147.82 as the beneficiary Gujarat Titans romped to the title.
Earlier, Gill seemed suited mainly for the longer formats, notwithstanding the occasional splash in the IPL. But now it seems there is no major flaw in his game: he can attack both spinners and fast bowlers, both in the Powerplay and in the middle overs. And as he showed during his unbeaten knock of 126 in a T20 international against New Zesland in Ahmedabad, he can rip apart the bowling towards the business end.
Prasad, who was the India selector when Gill made his international debut in 2019, says what impressed him about the young boy was his attitude along with his skills with the bat.
“Gill picked himself in the Indian team [by showing] his attitude along with his talent. Fortunately, he fell under our eyes, and we were there at the right time. That’s the only thing we have done. He has abundant talent along with the right attitude,” Prasad says.
“To graduate to the next level, you are required to graduate from the U-19 levels to the national level. Fortunately, we had those India ‘A’ tours at that time. He’s done well. I remember in one of the India ‘A’ tours, he scored a double-hundred (vs West Indies ‘A’ in an unofficial ‘Test’ in 2019). It’s a natural process of evolution from one category to another category.”
ALSO READ - After a promising start, yet another underwhelming season for Karnataka
Gill may be riding the crest of a wave, but it is worth briefly mentioning the accomplishments of his peers. Iyer struck a century on Test debut in 2021 and is now a regular member of both of India’s white-ball teams. Gaikwad hit a purple patch in 2021 and in 2022, scoring a bucketful of runs in domestic cricket — for Maharashtra — and the IPL — for Chennai Super Kings. Kishan covered himself in glory by hitting a double ton against Bangladesh in Chattogram in December. Samson, although quieter with the bat, has been impressive, too. Shaw, now going through the grind of domestic cricket, made everyone sit up and take notice by hitting a record-breaking 379 in the Ranji Trophy. And then there’s Sarfaraz Khan, scoring century after century and nurturing a Bradmanesque first-class average (79.65) but not being able to make it to the Indian team.
It’s been thrilling to watch them, but a question pops up when marvelling at the talent on offer: why doesn’t it translate into trophies? India’s last victory in a major tournament was in 2013. It seems there are always some hindrances or the other. The absence of Bumrah due to injury in the 2022 T20 World Cup and Hardik’s inability to bowl in the 2020 edition of the tournament were setbacks, but strategic or execution-related errors could be pointed out as well.
“I was very disappointed [by the approach of the Indian batters in Australia last year]. Our approach could have been a bit more aggressive (India was routinely slow off the blocks). Definitely, we could have been a little more aggressive. That was very evident from the results we had had, and except for the exceptional knock from Virat Kohli, we didn’t play our best cricket. I’m sure everybody would have realised we had made those mistakes, and I think they need to plug it quickly and sort this out because [you need to be aggressive] when you’re playing in the Powerplay,” says Prasad.
Whether or not Gill & Co. hand India some trophies in the future depends on many factors, one of them being the lack of depth in bowling. But the custodians of a team which stunned Australia in its own backyard with a team full of unknowns (in the Test series 2020-21) must be doing something right.
“The pool of talent that we have, the kind of players that we have in this country, we needed to have a proper system to look after them. This is very, very important. Even U-19 and U-16 level players are directly getting access to [Rahul Dravid and V. V. S. Laxman],” Prasad says.
And then there are the ‘A’ tours that are now the finishing school for players on the fringes of the national team.
“I think a bit of credit should be given to our selection committee [for the ‘A’ tours]. Earlier, we did have ‘A’ tours, but we ensured that we had shadow tours. This concept of shadow tours started during our committee times,” Prasad says.
“That is actually taking shape now. That is how players like Mayank Agarwal, Mohammad Siraj, K. S. Bharat, Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill, Prithvi Shaw, Shreyas Iyer, all these players have been groomed. They were groomed for the last two-three years. That has hugely bridged the gap. A simple example: Mayank Agarwal is in New Zealand. He comes from New Zealand to Australia for the Melbourne game (Boxing Day Test in 2018).
First ball, he scores a boundary, and in the first Test match he plays he gets some 70-odd (76). First ball he faces from Nathan Lyon, it goes out of the park. That’s the confidence that India ‘A’ cricketers have.
“All three of us (Dravid, Shastri and Prasad) sat together and we ensured the smooth transition of players from U-19s to India ‘A’s and India ‘A’s to senior cricket. So that has really [benefited] Indian cricket. Whatever names you just spoke — Ishan Kishan, Shubman Gill, Sanju Samson — all these people were evolved from that system,” concludes Prasad.
|Age||Matches (T20Is)||Innings||Runs||Centuries||Average||Strike Rate||Highest Score|
|Shubman Gill||23||6||6||202||1||40.40||165.57||126 n.o.|
|Shreyas Iyer||28||49||45||1043||0||30.67||135.98||74 n.o.|
|Age||Matches (ODIs)||Innings||Runs||Centuries||Average||Strike Rate||Highest|
|Sanju Samson||28||11||10||330||0||66.00||104.76||86 n.o.|
|Age||Matches (Tests)||Innings||Runs||Centuries||Average||Strike Rate||Highest|
Latest on Sportstar
- Jabeur overcomes slow start to reach French Open fourth round
- Cerundolo downs Fritz to reach second week of slam for first time
- Nuggets coach says ‘We haven’t done a damn thing’ in NBA Finals
- Haddad Maia becomes first Brazilian woman to reach French Open last 16 in 44 years
- Fan arrested for ‘97’ slogan on shirt