IPL captaincy an acid test for Gill

Shubman Gill for GT in IPL 2023
Shubman Gill for GT in IPL 2023 (PC: GT/X)

This time last year, few would have imagined Shubman Gill, eventual Orange Cap winner in IPL 2023, taking charge as captain of Gujarat Titans (GT). After Hardik Pandya’s move to Mumbai Indians (MI), Gill finds himself in the hot seat.

Just 24 years old, Gill has limited experience in leading teams, having captained Punjab only twice in the domestic T20 competition about four years ago. When he takes the field against MI on March 24, Gill will become the fourth Indian full-time IPL captain under the age of 25, after Virat Kohli, Shreyas Iyer and Rishabh Pant.

Gill’s job is not going to be easy. GT are without Pandya and Mohammed Shami, while Rashid Khan is returning from an injury. All three played key roles in 2022 when GT won the IPL and in 2023, when they lost the final off the last ball. Who’ll fill the voids created in their absence? That will be the first question in the mind of the new skipper ahead of their first match against MI on Sunday (March 24).

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Hardik Pandya hugging Shubman Gill
Hardik Pandya hugging Shubman Gill (PC: GT/X)

The seam-bowling all-rounders GT have are Vijay Shankar and Azmatullah Omarzai. Of the two, Omarzai is more of a like-for-like replacement for Pandya. But that involves tinkering with the overseas combination. Umesh Yadav, who has been bought for Rs 5.8 crore, is likely to be given a run in Shami’s place since he’s the most experienced seamer in the squad.

Spencer Johnson is an exciting young talent, but then the overseas combination becomes a factor against his selection too. The fact that GT are somewhat handicapped in the bowling department is a worry for Gill and the team management.

Gill also has a few newcomers to manage. Omarzai, Johnson and Sushant Mishra are uncapped in the IPL. The young skipper also has to deal with the pressure of expectations. In just two years, GT have raised the bar by playing a positive brand of cricket and reaching the finals. Leading a team with this kind of background can be additional pressure.

Kane Williamson and Shubman Gill
Kane Williamson and Shubman Gill (PC: GT/X)

Encouragingly for Gill, there is plenty of leadership experience in the dressing room. He will get the support of Kane Williamson, who has been leading New Zealand for eight years and has also led SunRisers Hyderabad to the final of IPL 2018. Even David Miller (SA20), Matthew Wade (BBL) and Rashid have the experience of leading teams. This should help Gill in pressure situations. Head coach Ashish Nehra will also do his bit to not put Gill under additional stress in his first stint as captain.

This edition of the IPL will evaluate Gill’s capabilities as a captain. If he is successful, he could emerge as one of India’s potential future leaders. However, this is unfamiliar territory for Gill, and this being such a high-octane tournament makes his task tougher. It will be essential for him and the team management to make sure that his batting doesn’t suffer because of the additional responsibility.

This year’s IPL is also an audition for the T20 World Cup 2024. As things stand, Yashasvi Jaiswal looks set to open with Rohit Sharma, which makes Gill the reserve opener. But for him to even travel as one of the 15 squad members, he will have to perform with the bat, like he did last year. This is going to be a fresh test for Gill, and he must prepare himself to counter the challenges.

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