Gill’s ton of class closes opener debate, steers India back into fourth Test
If there was any doubt over the identity of Rohit Sharma’s partner at the top of the Indian order for the foreseeable future, the case is surely closed now.
A masterful century from Shubman Gill in his second Test after returning at the expense of KL Rahul not only leaves India with more than half a chance of a stunning comeback against Australia in Ahmedabad – but in reaching three figures for the first time in a Test on home soil, emphatically answered any questions about his ability to score in Indian conditions.
Having excelled in India’s famous series win over Australia in 2020/21, the highlight a match-winning 91 in the crucial fourth innings at the Gabba, Gill’s second career century was the hosts’ bedrock on Day 3 as they reached 3/289 at stumps: still with a hefty deficit, but only a day’s good batting away from sending the visitors in on a deteriorating pitch on the fifth day.
That, of course, will depend on a surface so far utterly toothless breaking up, as well as Virat Kohli, unbeaten on 59, breaking his infamous three-year century drought on the fourth day. Australia will know they are perhaps only one or two wickets away from being able to send India themselves in on a wearing wicket, though they will also need to get through a deep tail featuring Axar Patel at number nine.
It was a day on which Australia copped precisely what they dished out across the first two days in Ahmedabad: with only the occasional ball turning and not a skerrick of movement for the quicks, all the visitors could do at times was keep the run rate down.
Attempting to squeeze Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara throughout their 113-run stand with leg side fields, at times with even a 2-7 setup and spinners instructed to bowl at the pads, it seemed only a batting mistake – like Rohit Sharma’s back-foot punch straight to Marnus Labuschagne at short cover for 35 – could bring about a wicket.
Pujara isn’t one to be frustrated into a mistake, however: the obdurate Indian was more than happy to occupy the crease, tick over the singles, and allow occasional flashes from Gill to punctuate the opening two sessions.
A pair of sumptuous cover drives from the latter off Cameron Green, ending a period of 16 overs without a boundary, were the perfect example as the 23-year old cruised into the 90s.
Bringing up the milestone with a deft lap sweep over short fine off Murphy, Gill celebrated like a man who knows his position is now secure: the off-spinner, however, would fight back in the same over, trapping Pujara in front and seeing India lose a review to boot as the veteran went for an optimistic challenge.
With Kohli at the crease, it was a cramping Gill’s turn to anchor as the former captain began to take off, a slow start exploding to life with a classic cover drive and flick off the pads within three Starc deliveries: the shots of Kohli in his prime.
Just as had befallen Usman Khawaja after his own marathon innings on Day 2, Gill’s end was sudden and surprising: finally missing a leg side flick and trapped in front by Lyon in his first over back – the opener walking back for a superb 128, taking a review with him after a second unsuccessful challenge.
While Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja looked mostly untroubled to start their partnership, runs slowed to a trickle as the Australians tightened the screws. With unerring accuracy, Lyon showed his chutzpah even in the most hostile of conditions: he’d conceded just 64 runs in nearly 32 overs before finally drifting down leg side to gift Kohli a flick for four.
Jadeja seemed content to play for stumps, the usually freewheeling all-rounder reaching 6 off just 42 balls before quickly doubling his tally with a lofted six down the ground off Matt Kuhnemann.
With Kohli reaching his 50 and looking unruffled before stumps, it is set to be a long day in the field for Australia on Sunday without an early breakthrough or two.