Ruturaj Gaikwad has not set the international stage alight in his brief appearances for India. However, he is too good a talent to not be given more opportunities to find his feet, writes Shashwat Kumar.
Around this time last year, Ruturaj Gaikwad scored four centuries in the Vijay Hazare Trophy in a six-day window. He was also selected in India’s ODI squad that toured South Africa in January 2022. With Rohit Sharma not part of the side, and the youngster in pristine touch, all signs pointed towards a debut.
The only thing was that it did not happen.
KL Rahul, captain of that side, opened in each of those games alongside Shikhar Dhawan. Gaikwad then endured an indifferent IPL 2022 campaign, meaning that when he was handed his maiden ODI cap – against South Africa in the home series before the T20 World Cup, he had plenty on his mind. That he was not batting as well as he was a year ago, only made things tougher.
His ODI debut came on a sluggish surface at Lucknow. He crawled to 19 off 42 deliveries and has not played for India since. In that time, Shubman Gill has surged ahead in the pecking order. Dhawan and Rohit are still around. Hence, Gaikwad, at this point, is only India’s fourth-choice opener, at best.
If you watched him against Uttar Pradesh in the Vijay Hazare Trophy quarter-final on Monday, though, you would not be incorrect in asking why he is still only on the fringes of the side. He ended with an unbeaten 220, which included 16 sixes. Seven of those came in the penultimate over off Shiva Singh, meaning that Gaikwad now holds the record for most sixes hit in a List A over.
The impressive bit about that knock was that there was a phase at the start when the ball was hooping around and he was battling. At no moment, however, did he look flustered. He knew the going was tough but he was willing to bide his time, understanding that opportunities would open up later in the innings.
And they did.
Courtesy of that double ton, he now averages a century every 5.3 List A innings, having mustered 13 tons in 69 innings. He also has 16 fifties, roughly equating to a fifty-plus score every 2.3 innings. Gaikwad currently averages 58.71 in List A cricket, with those runs coming at a strike rate of just over 100. No batter to have played a minimum of 50 List A innings, not even Virat Kohli, has a better average than Gaikwad.
What makes Gaikwad so consistent is that he does not try to be too funky. He acknowledges his limitations, especially at the start of his innings when he is prone to fiddling outside off stump. Thus, he does not attack a lot in that phase. But once he is set, he can do everything you would want from a white-ball batter.
He can take on the spinners, he can slash the ball over point for six, he can hit sixes into the sightscreen, he can sweep fast bowlers and his lofted drives over extra cover and long off are a thing of beauty. The best part is he makes all of this look very easy and routine, almost as if he has come out on a stroll with his pals and is just knocking about.
The obvious question then, is why he has not featured for India more often. There are a variety of reasons. India currently have an embarrassment of riches and it always seems that someone deserving has missed out. The other, more important aspect, though, is that he has, so far, been tried in roles that he is not accustomed to. And he has been discarded upon failing.
Cast your mind back to the T20I series against South Africa in June. He opened alongside Ishan Kishan but the onus seemed to be on Gaikwad to do the early heavy lifting. In the IPL, Gaikwad never does that. So, it was completely natural for him to not be as successful as he is for the Chennai Super Kings.
He batted at No.3 on ODI debut, despite most of his List A success coming at the top of the order. He likes starting off against pace and then dominates spin. Beginning against spin for him, thus, is a different proposition, especially on tacky tracks such as the one he encountered on debut.
Ideally, any batter playing in the Indian side should be flexible and versatile enough to step out of his comfort zone. So, those frustrated with Gaikwad not capitalizing on the limited opportunities he has received, have some locus too. But look at it from his perspective. He has had to wait a lot longer than some of the others for chances that should have come his way earlier, whether it be a bout of COVID-19 before what was supposed to be a breakout IPL 2020 campaign. Or, his golden white-ball run in late 2021 not being rewarded. His ODI debut, too, came a lot later than his numbers warranted.
Thus, there is bound to be a bit of restlessness whenever he gets that chance. There is bound to be an urge to prove himself instantly, and to do something out of the box, just to illustrate that he can do everything India want from him. This is not an excuse. However, it explains the discrepancy between his international statistics and stellar domestic record.
For a player as talented as him, and for a run-scorer as consistent as him, the number of opportunities accorded so far, seem too less. But he has been here before, usually providing a run-laden riposte. So, he knows his way around these terrains, although he would hope he does not find himself at these crossroads too often.
The going, as far as an India call-up is concerned, is tough. Like he did against Uttar Pradesh, though, he must keep telling himself that opportunities will open up later. That is perhaps the only thing he can do at the moment. Apart from scoring runs, of course.