Ruturaj Gaikwad alters reputation in rollicking style
Gaikwad smacked a 50-ball 92 in the 2023 IPL opener against Gujarat Titans in a losing cause.
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That Ruturaj Gaikwad can make the game obey his command is no secret. He is technically accomplished, nimble against spin, nimbler against pace, possesses a calm head on his shoulders and never plays a shot in anger. But what he also has is a reputation, that of a slow starter - both as a top-order player as well as an IPL participant in general.
This could well be evidenced by Gaikwad’s powerplay strike rate in the IPL, which is an unimpressive 112.80, while his scores in the first three games in the seasons he has played read: 0, 5, 0 (in 2020); 5, 5, 10 (in 2021); 0, 1, 1 (in 2022). Gaikwad had not played any competitive cricket for two months in the build-up to IPL 2023. He linked up with the Chennai Super Kings straight after the injury layoff and an extended rehab at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru.
In this backdrop, one would not have bet on Gaikwad on Friday (March 31), when he altered the narrative rather stylishly with a stroke-filled, drool-worthy 50-ball 92 in the tournament opener against the Gujarat Titans in what shall long be remembered as one of the finest hands in a losing cause.
“We were finding it difficult on what area we should bowl at Ruturaj. I genuinely felt that today we could not get him out at all,” Titans skipper Hardik Pandya admitted after his side’s five-wicket triumph. “Some of the shots that he played were not bad balls; he was punishing the good balls as well. Full credit to him, if he continues batting like this, he is going to do wonders for Indian cricket. I'm sure he has the game, when the time comes, I'm sure the Indian cricket team will also back him enough.”
Pandya’s encomiums were indeed called for: on a night Gaikwad amassed 92, the second-highest score from his team was Moeen Ali’s 23. Gaikwad hit the ground running with his first boundary off Pandya in the second over, when he bisected midwicket and mid-on with an authoritative punch. The second one came in the same over, when he dispatched one through the covers.
At the other end, Mohammed Shami rattled Devon Conway’s stumps to make it a century of wickets in the tournament, but Gaikwad stood unperturbed. He punished Josh Little in the very next over, whacking him for a six over square leg followed by a boundary through point in the powerplay before picking back-to-back sixes off Pandya over extra cover and long off after the end of the powerplay.
Gaikwad was particularly severe on Alzarri Joseph, consigning him to an 18-run over with three sixes, the second of which brought up his half-century, off just 23 balls. While it was marvellous how Gaikwad toyed with the pacers and made them pay each time they went short, his assured play against Rashid Khan was just as good as he kept picking him and the variations without fuss.
CSK had raced off to 90 by the end of the 9th over, with Gaikwad chugging along nicely and looking set for a three-digit score. However, the Titans had them in a chokehold, with Joseph and Little strangling both Ambati Rayudu and Shivam Dube in the middle overs to nullify Gaikwad’s scathe. Gaikwad was eventually dismissed eight short of a well-deserved century as he mistimed a dipping Joseph full-toss to Shubman Gill at long-on.
"Another 15-20 runs would have been good… we could have batted properly in the middle overs as opposed to trying to muscle the ball,” MS Dhoni told broadcasters. Dhoni was razor-sharp in his assessment: Gaikwad faced 31 of his 50 deliveries in overs 7-16, scoring 58 runs with seven sixes and a four; the corresponding numbers in the same period for other CSK batters combined were 27 off 29 with only a solitary six and four.
It was here where CSK squandered the start, and to an extent so grave that even the 38 they scored off the last four overs could not take them past even 180 when 200 seemed a given at the halfway mark.
The Titans are remarkable chasers, having lost only once in 10 games while chasing. Against a side with a reputation of that kind, on an Ahmedabad surface that was tailor-made for shot-making, what CSK could not have afforded was any bowling indiscipline. But they did exactly that in parts, something that the Titans exploited well enough to kill the chase with four balls left in the bank to end Gaikwad’s blitz in vain.
Gaikwad would be disappointed with the result, sure, but he would be happy to have altered his reputation.