'Right now, the Indian team needs an opener and if you see Shubman's graph right from junior cricket to senior cricket, he has scored runs consistently.'
Shubman Gill is one of the brightest young talents to have emerged in Indian cricket in recent years. Before he has even made his Test debut, he is being spoken highly of in Indian cricketing circles.
The 20 year old Punjab opener hit the headlines when he captained India to the Under-19 World Cup last year before racking up impressive numbers in every format he has turned out in.
Gill averages an impressive 69 in 15 first class games, with a tally of 1535 runs, including four centuries and nine fifties. He recently became the youngest Indian cricketer to hit a first class double century when he stroked an unbeaten 204 from 250 balls for India 'A' in the West Indies.
His consistent performances earned him a maiden call-up to the Indian Test team for the upcoming three-match series against South Africa, having replaced the struggling KL Rahul in the squad.
Not one to be left behind, he warmed up to the task quite nicely with two fluent innings against South Africa 'A' -- 90 from 153 balls and 92 from 137 balls -- in the two unofficial Tests earlier this month.
Former India wicketkeeper Ajay Ratra, who was Punjab’s coach when Gill made his Ranji Trophy debut in 2017, believes the time is right to blood the youngster into the India's Test team.
Asked whether it is the right time to give Gill his Test debut, Ratra replied: "Yes, we can say so. The way he has performed, whether it is Ranji Trophy or India 'A' or Under-19 or IPL, he has consistently scored runs across all formats.
“If you see the Indian team, it is struggling to find good openers. Rahul was recently dropped from the squad, so there is no regular partner for Mayank Agarwal, and there is talk of Rohit Sharma being asked to open. The time is right for someone like Shubman because there is a place in the Test team at the moment.
"So, if you see, sometimes the timing of your selection proves to be perfect, you are scoring runs at the domestic level and there is a place available in the team. If India had settled openers, then we would have said it is not right to disturb a settled opening pair and Shubman should wait for his turn. But, right now, the Indian team needs an opener and if you see Shubman's graph right from junior cricket to senior cricket, he has scored runs consistently," he told Rediff.com.
Ratra believes Gill is ready to make his mark in international cricket and his age or experience or the lack of it should not count against him.
"If he is in form and there is an opportunity then why make him wait? And when he goes to the highest level, his game will improve that much more. Just being around some of the world's best players in the Indian dressing room will give him so much confidence."
Ratra recalled how he saw Gill as a young 16-year-old at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, and was blown away after he saw him bat at that young age.
"As far as his development is concerned, the potential and talent was always there. Before he came into the Punjab Ranji team in 2017, I had seen him at the NCA in 2014, when I also started my coaching career. He was there with the India Under-16 team for a six-week camp and I was impressed what I saw the first time around.
"You could make out even back then that he was a special talent. He has that extra time when it comes to batting. He did well at the Under-16 and was then called up to the NCA before he was selected for the India Under-19 team and then he made it to the Punjab team."
Following Gill's consistent showing in age group cricket, even India internationals like Harbhajan Singh and Yuvraj Singh felt confident to play Gill for Punjab in 2017 as they all believed he was a 'special talent'.
The right-hander grabbed his opportunities with both hands and he hit a fifty on debut and then played another good knock in the next game, recalls Ratra.
"He made his debut against Bengal in Amristrar in 2017 and I remember his batting in that match. He started off with a half-century opening the innings and the conditions were not that easy; it was in November at the start of winter in North India. Bengal had good bowling, led by Ashok Dinda, and they even had another good fast bowler in Ishan Porel, but Shubman batted really, really well in that innings.
"And the next match was against Services, in that match he was very close to creating the record of scoring a century before lunch; he was 90-odd and that pitch was even more difficult because it was quite green and damp. He reached lunch on 97 in those tough conditions and from those early knocks you could make out he has a lot of potential. He continued to score runs on a consistent basis and he was also picked in the IPL also."
Gill's first tryst with international cricket didn't go off well. He played two One-Day Internationals in New Zealand earlier this year but aggregated just 16 runs in two games. However, Ratra believes that was a minor blip but there is a lot more to come.
"I have seen his career since his Under-16 days and he has done well at every level of cricket he has played. Overall, I would say he has got a lot of talent and he is using it well by scoring lots of runs," he said.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Ratra, who played 6 Tests and 12 ODIs for India, says what makes Gill special is his ability to score runs off good deliveries and maintain a good run rate.
"His skill level is quite good, he can score runs off good deliveries too and doesn't let the opposition bowlers build the pressure. That's what makes him so special. When he bats out in the middle, the run-rate is always good.
"If you see the recent his performances for India 'A' against South Africa 'A', who had a good bowling attack, he made 90-odd in both four-day matches and his strike rate was quite good for the longer format games."
While India are also toying with the idea of opening with Rohit Sharma, who has a good record as the opener in limited-overs’ cricket, Ratra pointed out that even Gill is flexible and is capable of batting in the middle order too.
"He has been an opener right through but whenever he has been played in the middle order; he has done well there also. He has played at No 3 for India 'A', India Under-19 and also in the IPL (for Kolkata Knight Riders), and there also he has adjusted well. So that is an added advantage because, if need be, he can be shuffled in the batting order."
Ratra said Gill has so much time when batting out in the middle -- a quality associated with some of the top batsmen in world cricket.
"He has so much time in his batting. Even if the bowler is bowling quite fast, you won't feel that Shubman is being hurried into his shots, which means he has got time in batting. He has got a good balance as a batsman and he can convert good deliveries into runs too. He is no doubt very special."