The slow weight shift problem with Shubman Gil’s punching technique

Shubman Gill only has one problem with his shots: slow weight transfer to the front foot. Twice in this ODI series he has paid for this mistake by Kagiso Rabada. In the past, again in Indian conditions, Kyle Jamieson (twice), James Anderson and Mohammed Shami (in the IPL) have penalized Shubman Gill for the same mistake and cleaned the sticks.

It’s fascinating how this seemingly minor issue hasn’t been fixed for a number of years. Gill has such nice all-round play, so adept against bounce and so excellent against spin – R. Ashwin considers him one of the toughest hitters in bowling – that many commentators become wishy-washy when they bring up the issue. It seems like a small thing to get it on the air or in print, but it’s there, staring at us all. It still doesn’t seem like a big deal, not an insurmountable problem, but it’s also fascinating to watch a talented young batsman deal with it. It’s kind of a problem that once you see it as an observer, it becomes difficult to miss.

Shubman Gil Shubman Gil during IPL. (IPL)

It’s been written before on these pages, but here’s a quick reminder. It comes from his childhood training on cement slopes. On cement, the rearfoot becomes an instinctive play and the forefoot becomes something to work on. Hitting is all about transferring weight and staying calm while hitting. At the highest level you need to be strong in the back but still have the balance and ability to play under your eyes and be able to shift weight forward.

Gill’s first movement is to step backwards, then the front foot sidesteps to the right, often opening up a bit before pushing into his stance, crouching a bit – for balance, ready to jump up. Even when the ball is relatively full, it doesn’t move that far forward. He can occasionally press down on the ball with his hands without actually shifting his weight forward, especially against pacers. It’s a potential weak spot that good bowlers will target on less bouncy surfaces. The key is to pull him forward as he likes to lean back on the back foot. It helps him on bouncing pitches, as we saw in Australia where he unleashed some dreamy shots.

There seems to be a reluctance in him, or rather a decision made after much thought, that the status quo is better. This is how he recently put it to this newspaper.

“There are one or two important elements. Just as your shoulder should be aligned with the ball, you should be a little sideways when playing, you should be in a good position even if your feet don’t move that well. If you’re positioned well in terms of the ball, you’ll make it… When we play in India, there’s not that much bounce. Most supplies remain low. That (reducing the shuffle) was an adjustment I made after speaking to our hitting coach. I felt like I should limit my initial movement a bit. The ball doesn’t swing much in India either, so the less movement in your body the better for you.”

Vulnerable to incoming shipments

The important part of that for our context is, “You should be in a good position, even if your feet don’t move that well. If you’re positioned well in relation to the ball, you’ll make it…” And he tries to make it by running his hands through the ball or by potting the ball. If the ball comes into contact, it becomes a problem.

Just as Rabada had you sneaking in through the club-and-pad gap in the first ODI, and then in the second, Gill’s hands came through well in front of the body with no upper body leaning and, unsurprisingly, the ball flew into the air back to the bowler.

Indian cricketer Shubman Gill c Shubman Gill checks the pitch during a training session ahead of the second one-day international cricket match against South Africa in Ranchi, India, Saturday, October 8, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

It’s a compromise hitters accept when they change things up. The things they are good at may not be easy to achieve if they change their way of moving in the fold. Is it worth disrupting the built-in technique? Would this – let’s say bend over or take out a first move – throw off the whole balance and affect all other areas of the game? Isn’t it better to do it with your hands?

In theory, good batsmen talk about how they try to push forward, as this gives an opportunity to also push backwards with a good pace of foot movement. Gill has certainly shortened his back and forth movement, but perhaps the next step would be to limit the depth of that movement: shorter and faster, as this can still push the springboard forward quickly.

From now on, the fast pacers chasing the ball challenge him because of his slowness in his movement. As a result, he can occasionally press down on the ball with his hands without actually shifting his weight forward. The main focus is staying calm so he doesn’t upset that balance by leaning on his front foot, and he trusts his hands to do the prison break for him.

By most accounts from people who know him well like his Kolkata Knight Riders mentor Abhishek Nayar, Gill is a very confident hitter who has perfected his technique to the last detail and is also a problem solver. “As a player, you should know what you need to work on and where the opponent is trying to get you out. Knowing that makes it easier to tackle,” Gill had said. “I don’t make any major changes to my technique without talking to my father… There is no technique in cricket that can be described as ‘out-proof’.”

He obviously sees weight transfer as a problem as he has tried to compensate by reducing his initial rearfoot movement. In addition, for a short time in the past he stood with a noticeable inclination of the front shoulder. So he tinkered around.

It may not pose a problem when the pitches are belts and he’s seeing the new ball, but it’s a problem that surrounds him. Not a big problem, as you might say, but it’s alright and it should be interesting to see how the talented youngster overcomes this problem in the near future.

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