(Image Credit: http://www.mykhel.com)
At 11.00 P.M on a pleasant Chinese New Year night, the skyline of Kuala Lumpur erupted into a dazzling kaleidoscope of colours. Fireworks egregiously streaked up towards the heavens before exploding into million points of blinding light and reflecting against my windows. At the exact moment, 2,406 miles away, at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Gujarat, Shubman Gill, as though in perfect harmony with the occasion, lifted his bat to acknowledge a raucous crowd before proceeding to execute his trademark ‘bow’. The 23-year-old had become only the fifth Indian to notch up centuries in all formats of the game.
In the T20 series decider – with the hosts and the visitors from New Zealand having shared the spoils – India elected to bat first. What followed the toss was pure mayhem. Shubman Gill carted the Kiwi attack to every corner of the field, and beyond. 12 boundaries and 7 sixers flowed from his imperial blade as the elegant opener flayed the bowling attack to end up unbeaten on 126 off only 63 deliveries. Gill, of late has been in the form of his life and this golden patch was given unabashed and unrestrained expression in one of the grandest stages of them all.
Exploiting the entire ‘V” around the wicket, Gill put on a batting masterclass for the ages. Full length deliveries were driven through the cover region with an elegance that can only be described as genteel. Standing tall and waiting like a patient predator for deliveries pitching just outside the line of off stump, Gill got inside the line of those errant balls and with an exquisite balance, pierced the offside cordon. The punished bowler, when overcompensating with balls straying down leg, was either imperiously flicked up and over the deep backward square leg region, or nonchalantly flicked through deep midwicket. Spotting the length of a ball in a jiffy, Gill rocked back onto his back foot and pulled short, pitched deliveries across and over the square leg region. These shots executed both off the front and back foot were an exercise in glorious batsmanship. The searing raw speed of Lockie Ferguson, the unknown element of the debutant Benjamin Lister, and the change of pace of Blair Tickner all turned out to be cannon fodder for a blade that killed with a thousand cuts.
The spinners did not fare any different from their pacy counterparts. Displaying the nuance of a ballet dancer, Gill sashayed down the track to Santner and Sodhi, and with connections as clear as a phone boasting a 5G network, dispatched balls straight over the duo’s heads. These forays down the track were admirably supplemented with deft deflections, and savage square cuts. Gill got a lucky reprieve when on seventy-nine he was dropped off the bowling of the Lister when a mistimed skier was dropped in the third man region.
Throughout the New Zealand series, Shubman Gill has been in lambent form. The more he has stayed at the crease, the more he has looked assured and unflappable. And boy isn’t the lad pleasing on the eye! A silken grace that reminds the watcher of an Ian Bell or a Damien Martyn or a Mark Waugh, Gill essays every stroke with the minimum of fuss. It is as though he is using his willow to convey a message gently and soothingly to the ball. Even when he is sending deliveries way into the stands, there is no exercise of brutal muscle power. Steely wrists assert themselves as regal flicks substitute raw hoicks and savage slogs. Even the pull shot, when played in all its ferocity, is just a short arm jab or its reluctant extension. Not for Gill, the pistol shot sounding pulls of an angry Ricky Ponting or the studied horizontal strokes played by his own team coach, Rahul Dravid. It is more the muted version of the incomparable swagger of the greatest of them all – King Viv! When the dust settled, and the hapless New Zealnders were bundled out for a measly 66 in their reply, they had lost to Shubman Gill by 60 runs, and to India by 168 runs.
The immortal Bruce Lee once exhorted his disciples to be like water. “Be Water, My Friend. Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless, like water. You put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow, or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” Shubman Gill currently is exactly what Bruce Lee wanted us all to be. He is in a zone of transcendence that the famous Hungarian American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described as “flow,” a heightened and focused mental state conducive to productivity. One of key traits of being in a flow state is losing self-conscious rumination as action mergers with awareness. Shubman Gill at the moment is incapable of distinguishing action from awareness. In his effortlessness and ease there is a balance that enables the meeting of a challenge with the requisite skill. Such a flow state is not just desirable from India’s standpoint, but absolutely inevitable if we are to covet the ensuing World Cup.
Oh, I am jumping too far, because in a few days’ time, it would be the turn of the Kangaroos to get a ringside lesson in the techniques of “Flow.”