India are 86 without loss in 8.2 overs chasing 179 in the fourth T20I. Yashasvi Jaiswal is on 38 off 25. If he wishes to, he can tick a landmark off, saunter to a half-century and then pick up pace again. But Jaiswal is wired differently.
The next ball he faces is a slower one from Romario Shephard. Jaiswal initially makes room to try and loft over cover, but doesn’t quite get under it, so he tries to open the face of the bat to bisect point and short third. It’s a very late adjustment and it pays off as the ball eludes the fielder and dribbles away to the boundary. But more than the runs, it’s his intent to take the bowling on that stands out.
It’s a refreshing change that only comes from knowing your methods have the confidence of the team management. And even then, with a milestone approaching, so soon after a failure, there would’ve been a temptation to protect his wicket.
Five nights ago, on T20I debut in Georgetown, Jaiswal slogged his second delivery straight to mid-on in a middling chase, where he could’ve taken time to ease in. As he walked off, he shrieked in disappointment, but clearly it did not have anything to do with his thought process because he came out in this game and did the same thing. He attacked from the get-go.
As a kid growing up in Mumbai, it’s entirely possible Jaiswal was coached to play straight, in the ‘V’ and along the ground. But it’s as much credit to his maturity that he looks at it differently. He could be one of India’s biggest gains from the T20I series which will be decided on Sunday with the scoreline delicately poised at 2-2.
Jaiswal’s approach isn’t just about being gung-ho though. Earlier this tour, he was happy to go through the grind and treat himself to a century Test on debut. He has both gears and he switches between them like no big deal. One minute he’s orthodox, the next he’s inventive. This can throw bowlers off the rails, as it did in Lauderhill on Saturday.
You saw this when he walked across, exposing all three stumps, to scoop Shephard over fine leg for four. He did it again, to a free-hit ball, a wide yorker from Rovman Powell, to bring up a maiden T20I half-century off 33 balls. And yet, these weren’t his most audacious attempts as they was reserved for left-arm spinner Akeal Hosein. Jaiswal reverse-swept a perfectly acceptable length ball that drifted in from wide of the crease for six over deep midwicket.
One batter in this kind of form can be intimidating enough. Unfortunately for West Indies, they had to contend with Shubman Gill showing similar intent from the other end as well. The opener roared back to his run-scoring ways with a sparkling half-century to break a sequence of 6, 7 and 3 in the T20Is prior to this.
Gill hasn’t done much wrong this year, across formats, having brought up a maiden ton in T20Is and ODIs, along with his first Test hundred on home soil. That form hit a crescendo at the IPL when he hit a chart-topping 890 runs in 17 innings at a strike rate of 158. He could do no wrong. But on some sluggish surfaces here in this tour, he seemed to have hit a rough patch, eliciting a comparison of his batting records in Ahmedabad, the home ground of his IPL franchise Gujarat Titans where the ball typically comes onto the bat, to elsewhere.
This year, he’d made 698 runs in ten innings in Ahmedabad at a strike rate of 177.15, as against the 410 he’d made in 16 innings elsewhere at 128. Out of these, 104 came in one innings alone in Bengaluru. Wasim Jaffer, the former India opener, felt his tendency of pushing at deliveries even when they weren’t quite coming on played a part.
On Saturday, on a better batting deck, Gill returned to his scintillating ways, almost as if he was taking a cue from Jaiswal. There are shots a batter plays that reassure them that all is well. For Gill, that came soon enough when he played a nonchalant short-arm jab for six off Obed McCoy in the fourth over. And that led to a flick of his wrists to pick a length ball for six behind square. And he was off.
Those two shots told you very early on that Gill was in his element, and it put the pressure right back on West Indies as India unleashed carnage in the powerplay. It is not often that they amass 66 runs in the first six overs. Gill got to his half-century off 30 balls and in the process, ensured there was no respite for the bowlers. He did not look like a player who had made only one score above 34 on this entire trip. It was another ringing endorsement of head coach Rahul Dravid’s words from earlier, where he said he sees certain players at training and knows immediately there’s no reason to worry. This was the kind of innings Dravid knew was coming.
There’s competition for Gill and Jaiswal in Ruturaj Gaikwad, who will probably open the batting in all three games against Ireland in Dublin later this week. This could potentially foster healthy competition among the openers, which for a change is a headache the selectors will be happy to embrace as they slowly begin to look at India’s combination for the 2024 T20 World Cup.