Shaw or Gill: Who’s Leading the Test Opener Race for India?

"Both of us have done well in our positions. It's up to the team management, who they will play. It's not as if there is a fight."

Shubman Gill may have played down the tension ahead of the warm-up game against New Zealand XI, but no fight? Really?

With Mayank Agarwal, Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill being the three opening options for Team India in the Test squad for the upcoming series against New Zealand, what is the scenario if not a competition between the two youngsters?

Agarwal has all but sealed his spot by being India’s top run-scorer in the ongoing World Test Championship cycle.

It’s not easy to choose between Shaw and Gill. Both are quality batsmen with strong technical skill sets and although Shaw has an impressive First-Class average of 61.73, Gill pips him at 73.55.

After a shoulder injury had kept him out of action for a while, Shaw scored 66, 202, 12, 23 and 29 in the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy season before joining the India A side in New Zealand. He also scored a strokeful 100-ball 150 in a 50-over List A game to continue his purple patch.

Meanwhile, Gill's tally in this season of the Ranji Trophy reads: 1, 36*, 0, 100, 23 and 4, after which he flew down to New Zealand as well. And in the island nation, Gill’s scores of 204*, 83 and 136 in red-ball games against NZ A helped him get a nod for the Indian Test squad.

In the official warm-up matches, the team management showed their faith in Shaw to open the batting along with Agarwal while Gill came in at No 4.

However, neither Shaw nor Gill managed to score a run in the first innings while the former scored 39 in the second essay with the latter faltering on eight.

In the windy conditions in New Zealand, the Kookaburra is expected to move around for the first hour. And, for an opener, technique against the new ball remains of utmost importance.

Shaw, while the more flamboyant of the two, has a problem in this regard. He does pack a punch but his fluid bat flow comes from his high back-lift. Apart from the third ODI in which he was run-out, his dismissals in the first two matches in Hamilton and Auckland showcased his troubles against the moving ball.

Shaw usually backs his natural ability rather than shying away from balls that move away from the body.

In the first ODI, Shaw attempted to drive one outside off and only managed to edge one at slip while Kyle Jamieson set him up in the 2nd ODI by nipping one back in after hurling out-swingers for quite some time.

Throwing his hands at the ball is a technique that serves the youngster well in limited-overs cricket, as it did on his Test debut on a flat Rajkot pitch against a hapless Windies bowling attack. But it might be a headache for places conducive for seam and swing bowling.

Gill has a more compact technique and plays closer to his body. As opposed to Shaw who flashes his bat at anything that can get one runs, Gill has a tendency to hold himself back for a while, settle down and rely on percentage cricket.

Shaw has played two Tests while Gill toured as the third opening option for India in their last two Test assignments against Bangladesh and South Africa - games Shaw missed due to his doping ban.

In New Zealand, Gill has had a better taste of the red ball among the two having played the two practice matches against New Zealand A. However, his twin failures in the official warm-up match may have pushed him down the pecking order.

Therefore it might be Shaw who partners Agarwal on Friday, 21 February.

Given he walked out to open in both the innings of the warm-up match while Gill batted at No 4 in the second innings, the Indian think-tank may have already zeroed in on Shaw.

(Saksham Mishra is a freelance sports journalist, justifying hours of watching sports by scribbling down a few logical lines that might just about hold your interest. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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