Asia Cup 2023: In his assault of Shaheen Shah Afridi, Shubman Gill goes beyond the AB de Villiers manual of scoring

Among all the batters from the World Cup playing teams, Shubman Gill stands as the leading run scorer in the 50-overs format this year. Having nabbed 885 runs from 15 innings, averaging a staggering 68.07, his outing against Pakistan in the group stage of the Asia Cup would come as a shocker. His 32 ball stay in the middle would only yield 10 runs as Gill seemed to struggle against the Pakistan pace attack.

So when he came in to bat during a second meeting against Babar Azam and Co on Sunday, there were bubbles to burst for the 24-year-old with a World Cup right around the corner. His 58 off 52 were a welcome sight for India, who churned out 121 runs off 16.3 overs before losing a wicket. It was a second consecutive fifty for Gill at the ongoing tournament, in which he’d relay 10 fours. Six off which came in back-to-back overs from Shaheen Shah Afridi. The left-armer, who’s been a surge of reckoning for the Indian batters in recent past was dealt with ferocious shots. And in his assault of Pakistan’s new ball bowler, Gill would resort to ways even one AB de Villiers couldn’t comprehend.

Monikered as cricket’s Mr. 360 degree, de Villiers had recently shared how he would’ve tackled Afridi. “For me, with left handers bringing the ball in to me, I would always cover the ball coming in. Very similar to spin bowling as well. So, hit very straight in mid on and straight past him. Anything coming in, I would be ready for that. If he shapes it away, I would back my hands and my ability to either leave the ball late or play it through the covers. Unfortunately for the batters, he’s pretty quick as well. So you can’t come out of the crease because that’s another way to prevent the lbw and bowled dismissals. You can’t come out because he’s got that short ball as well,” de Villiers had said in his recent YouTube video. To sum it up, play it safe or in cricket vocab, play in the V. It says something of Afridi’s reputation as a left arm quick that even the batter known for moving outside the v-arc, wasn’t willing to do so against him.

Now, let’s revisit Gill’s knock from Sunday. Important context to his first face-off against Afridi in Super 4 was the last ball of the left-armer’s first over. Coming over the wicket, Afridi strays down the leg side with that much talked about inswinger of his, while the Indian captain Rohit Sharma stays rooted in his stance before fashioning a flick shot from outside the leg stump line. The pace which de Villiers asks batters to be vary of is in the offering, hence the ball travels behind the square on the on side and all the way over the ropes.

It sets up Gill for his very first ball vs Afridi – again down the leg stump – and the former has picked it. His trigger movement is to go inside the line of the stumps before flicking it even squarer than Rohit. It runs down fine leg for four. One neat picking for a boundary, one smooth connection with the ball, it’s all Gill needed to commit on the front foot for his next shot. This was one was by the books. It’s not the greatest of deliveries – a half volley on the leg stump – and Gill shimmies down a little before flicking it over mid wicket for four. To cap the over, there’s a gorgeous leaning-forward-punch down long off. 12 runs come off the over and Gill is all set to violate de Villiers’ suggestions once again.

Too quick to advance down the track? ‘Come again?’ one can picture Gill saying as he dances down the track to turn the angling in delivery into another half volley. A high elbow lift before he smothers it straight down the ground for four more runs. How glorious! He even follows it with a picturesque retained pose for the cameras.

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Now here’s a sight to behold, Afridi is forced to come round the wicket against a right hander in just his third over. How often do you see that these days? An angled in delivery that moves away from the right hander after pitching, maybe? Instead, it’s too full and coming right in the slot and the right-hander stabs it between mid off and extra cover for another four. Iftikhar Ahmed in the slips can’t believes his eyes. He rubs his chain and there’s a good slow motion lip reading assignment for those interested.

Right then, fine leg, mid wicket, straight down the ground, long off, covers, all traced for the boundaries. What was left now? Maybe, one left of the covers arc? Yep. This one was full, and wide. The two fielders were now stationed in front of square and so, a slice to the left of covers it was. Another four, six of them now in his account and India had only batted five overs.

A stat flashed on the broadcast, since 2021, Gill has churned out most of his boundaries via three shots: pull (23%), cover drive (22%) and square cut (11%). What he’d just played could best be described as a slice drive. A moment of dawning for the statisticians perhaps, as it may be for Mr. 360.

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