During the first half of IPL 2021, there were several instances when Ruturaj Gaikwad flattered to deceive. A string of low scores piled up and it was assumed that the opener, who had enjoyed a breakthrough 2020 IPL campaign, was probably a one-trick pony and a half-season wonder.
At that juncture, the Chennai Super Kings were keeping Robin Uthappa out of the side – a batter who had set the domestic stage alight with Kerala and looked in much better touch than Gaikwad.
CSK, though, put their foot down and placed their faith in Gaikwad. While the rest of the world saw an inexperienced batter struggling for form and runs, the franchise saw someone whose quality would eventually come through.
Then, the UAE leg of the IPL came around. CSK were looked upon as a side that would huff and puff because several of their cricketers weren’t playing competitive cricket. A year ago in those very confines, CSK failed to punch their weight, meaning that another underwhelming season wasn’t as ludicrous as it sounded.
In the first game, they played the Mumbai Indians and immediately found themselves under strife. They lost four wickets in the Power Play alone and almost all of their top and middle order batters were back in the shed – barring Gaikwad, of course.
Courtesy of that knock, Gaikwad illustrated to the cricketing community why he has been regarded so highly – ever since he shot to the limelight with stupendous white-ball performances for the India A team.
This, though, was a notch higher. Not just because there are a lot more people watching the IPL but also because the competition is often viewed as the final frontier before a domestic cricketer gets his international due.
Unfortunately, India’s embarrassment of riches in the opening department, coupled with their reluctance to try something new, meant that Gaikwad missed out on the T20 World Cup squad. He didn’t even make the stand-by players list, which considering his record-breaking IPL season was a considerable dampener.
However, that hasn’t deterred Gaikwad (at least so far). He has gone back to domestic cricket and has dealt in the only currency that will keep him earmarked for greatness – runs.
Ruturaj Gaikwad has been in stunning form lately
In the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the opener didn’t play many games, owing to being selected in India’s squad to face New Zealand. He didn’t feature for the Men In Blue but when he did play for Maharashtra, he creamed 259 runs in 5 innings – at an average of 51.8 and a strike rate in excess of 149.
More recently, Gaikwad has been distinguishing himself in the Vijay Hazare Trophy (50-over format). He has only participated in a couple of matches so far but has piled up 290 runs, including a couple of centuries. Both, by the way, have come in winning run-chases, with one of those being an unbeaten 154-run knock.
Gaikwad has, over the course of these essays, looked a class above the rest of the batters on display. He has treated pace and spin with equal disdain and has seemed to have a shot for every ball the bowlers have bowled. He has also built these innings beautifully, illustrating the maturity he has attained.
As far as an India call-up is concerned, it seems that it might not be far away. Prima facie, it would seem absurd to suggest that India have a vacancy at the top of the order in T20I cricket. But if Rishabh Pant and Virat Kohli’s strike rate keeps dipping against spin, Gaikwad might fancy his chances.
At first glance, a nexus of Gaikwad and Suryakumar Yadav seems irresistible. Both have shots all around the park and both know how to dominate spin bowling – something that India have struggled with lately. And if there is a mini-collapse at the top, both also understand the nuances of grafting.
Gaikwad might have more of a chance in the ODI setup. Shikhar Dhawan isn’t getting any younger and KL Rahul has been seen as a middle-order enforcer. The 50-over format, for those unaware, is perhaps Gaikwad’s strongest suit too.
Before the 2020 iteration of the IPL, not many knew what the opener could bring to the table. That, though, seems astonishing considering he averages a tick over 52 (52.12) and strikes at 98.96 in List A cricket. He also has nine hundreds and 16 half-centuries, indicating that his conversion rate isn’t shabby either.
To place things into further context, among India’s current top six in ODI cricket, only Kohli has a better List A average than Gaikwad. Pant, meanwhile, is the only batter to have a better strike rate than the CSK opener. Not bad, is it?
Thus, a case could really be made that Gaikwad is actually breaking down India’s white-ball doors. Whether a call-up is on the horizon is another matter altogether but he is at least keeping his end of the bargain.
During his stint at CSK, the opener has talked about the support he has almost always received from the team management, whether it be from skipper MS Dhoni or head coach Stephen Fleming.
The support has largely come about because these individuals see something special in Gaikwad – something that a majority of the population isn’t blessed with. He seems blessed with incredible talent and most crucially, a mindset that enables him to maintain equanimity in adverse circumstances.
Back in September, Gaikwad found himself under pressure against MI. He bided his time and finished his innings with an audacious sweep off Jasprit Bumrah. Against the Delhi Capitals in the Qualifier, he acted as the glue around whom the CSK unit pulled off a remarkable run-chase. Both, by the way, were extremely tense situations.
Months later, not a lot has changed. He is recreating that kind of form in the quieter confines of domestic cricket, hoping that his banging on the Indian white-ball door can be heard louder than ever.
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On early evidence, you feel he is making a pretty decent case for himself too. Perhaps it is time for India to also see the quality that CSK and the rest of the world witnessed first-hand during the 2020 and 2021 IPL seasons.
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