IPL: Did early captaincy hurt Shubman Gill’s chances for a World T20 berth?

The pent-up emotions revealed the Titans captain wanted to prove a point

Shubman Gill (left) & Sai Sudarshan on field (photo: BCCI)
Shubman Gill (left) & Sai Sudarshan on field (photo: BCCI)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

A release of the pent-up emotions and almost David Warner-like leap replaced Shubman Gill’s customary bow on reaching his first century in this IPL against Chennai Super Kings on Friday, 10 May. No prizes for guessing, the relegation to a reserves’ spot for the upcoming T20 World Cup has not gone down well with the batter considered to be the heir apparent to Virat Kohli’s throne.

It’s still early to say whether the Gujarat Titans captain would eventually turn out to a tragic hero by missing the bus but as the last 10 days or so have showed ever since BCCI has named the provisional squad, there had been a hue-and-cry raised at finisher Rinku Singh missing out but not about Gill. While Gill is at least a travelling reserve, no tears were shed for senior pro KL Rahul either.

Well, how fair has been the decision to give Yashasvi Jaiswal the precedence as the first choice opener with Rohit Sharma? There is no doubt that Yashasvi’s rise in the T20 and Test formats in the past year since IPL 2023 had been nothing short of phenomenal and the Indian team management wants him to extract more out of the powerplay rather than a conventional start – not to speak of the right-left combination.

However, there been very little to choose between Shubman and Yashasvi in the ongoing IPL where the former is now 10th in the race for the Orange Cap (426 runs at a strike rate of 147 from 12 matches) while the latter is 23rd in the list (an aggregate of 320 with a strike rate of 157). This year, India have just played three T20Is against Afghanistan in preparation for the World T20 and hence, the IPL performance of last season must have weighed heavy on the selectors’ minds.

‘’When my selection is being discussed, I think if even scoring 900 runs in the last IPL is not enough to get picked, I will cheer for the players who make it into the team and wish them the best,’’ Shubman said in an interview about a week ahead of the selection. The selectors have taken a hard call here but questions remain whether the drop-down pitches in the US and the slower West Indies tracks can offer the leeway for stroke makers as seen in some of the IPL venues.

The 210-run opening partnership between Subhman and the gifted Sai Sudarshan was, in this context, a technically superior one to some of the mayhem once has witnessed so far. The Ahmedabad wicket was a sticky one in the first half and the Chennai bowlers tried to play on the patience of the pair by taking the pace off the ball along with the spin of Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali, but both were excellent in manipulating the field and often going for the big ones. Not too many fans would even care to notice that Sudarshan has now crept up to fourth position in the top rungetters’ list in the IPL, but then that’s the depth of talent that makes the job of the selectors such a tough one.

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s an educated guess that the pressures of IPL captaincy had certainly cast a shadow on Gill the batter’s form. While there is nothing wrong in blooding a young captain in the demanding conditions of IPL, it does take the bump and grind of at least one reason to separate the two roles and perform as per expectations. Once he was hurriedly named as the incumbent after Hardik Pandya was traded to Mumbai Indians, there was some apprehension (even from a team member like Mohammed Shami) if the reticent Shubman had been the right choice.

However, the profile and brand value of a cricketer is very much the calling card for being named a IPL captain – and there was perhaps no better choice than Shubman. However, one can only hope that he will come back older and wiser after the mega auction in 2025!