Gill’s class closes opener debate and steers India back into fourth test

If there was any doubt about the identity of Rohit Sharma’s partner at the head of the Indian order for the foreseeable future, the case is surely closed now.

A masterful century by Shubman Gill in his second Test after returning at the expense of KL Rahul not only leaves India with more than half the chance of a stunning comeback against Australia in Ahmedabad – but also hits triple digits on home soil for the first time in a Test, emphatically answered any questions about his ability to score in Indian conditions.

After excelling in India’s famous 2020/21 streak win over Australia, culminating in a 91-match win in the crucial fourth innings at the Gabba, Gill’s second career century laid the hosts’ foundation on Day 3 as they stumped 3/ 289 scored : still a hefty deficit, but just a good batting day away from sending the visitors onto a deteriorating pitch on day five.

That is of course dependent on a hitherto completely toothless surface breaking up and Virat Kohli, unbeaten at 59, breaks his infamous three-year century drought on the fourth day. Australia will know they are perhaps just a wicket or two away from sending India themselves in with a well-worn wicket, although they also need to come through a deep tail with Axar Patel in ninth place.

It was a day when Australia delivered exactly what they had dished up the first two days in Ahmedabad: with only the occasional ball spin and no skerrick of movement for the Quicks, the visitors could only keep the running rate low at times.

Attempting to squeeze Gill and Cheteshwar Pujara through their 113-run streak with legside fields, sometimes even with a 2-7 setup and spinners instructed to roll onto the pads, seemed like just a batting mistake — like Rohit Sharma’s rearfoot shot straight to Marnus Labuschagne from close coverage for 35 – could result in a wicket.

Pujara isn’t one to be frustrated by a blunder, however: the tenacious Indian was more than happy to occupy the crease, crossing over the singles and allowing occasional flashes from Gill to punctuate the first two sessions.

Two luscious cover drives from the latter in front of Cameron Green, ending a period of 16 overs without a limit, was the perfect example as the 23-year-old drove into the 90s.

Gill brought the milestone up with a skillful round sweep over the tight-footed Murphy, celebrating like a man who knows his position is now secure: however, the off-spinner would fight back in the same over, catching Pujara up front and looking India lost a rating as the veteran embarked on an upbeat challenge.

With Kohli on the crease, it was Gill’s turn to drop anchor as the former captain lifted off, a slow start that burst into life with a classic cover drive and snapped off the pads within three Starc deliveries: the shots of Kohli in his prim.

Just like Usman Khawaja after his own marathon innings on Day 2, Gill’s end was sudden and surprising: Eventually he missed a lateral kick and was pinched up front by Lyon in his first overback – the opener falling back to post an excellent 128, and took a check with him after a second unsuccessful challenge.

While Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja started their partnership largely light-hearted, runs slowed to a trickle as the Australians tightened the screws. With unerring accuracy, Lyon displayed his chutzpah in even the most hostile conditions: he had conceded just 64 carries in nearly 32 overs before eventually drifting down the leg side to hand Kohli a shot for four.

Jadeja appeared content to play for stumps, the normally free-running all-rounder, reaching 6 balls from just 42 before quickly doubling his tally with a lofted six across the floor from Matt Kuhnemann.

With Kohli reaching 50 and looking unperturbed by stumps, it’s going to be a long day on the field for Australia on Sunday without an early breakthrough or two. Gill's class closes opener debate and steers India back into fourth test

Russell Falcon

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