Ruturaj Gaikwad is only 10 matches into his IPL career, but it has nearly come full circle for him already with some aid from MS Dhoni, writes Rohit Sankar.
Being a bench player in the Chennai Super Kings squad is far from easy. The persistent backing of the trusted first XI often mean the rest are often merely warming the bench through the season. Ask Monu Kumar, who carried drinks for two complete seasons before finally getting a solitary game in 2020, where he bowled two overs.
It could easily have been Ruturaj Gaikwad‘s story too. The opening batsman, who had caught the attention of fans with his aesthetically pleasing batting for India A and in domestic cricket, endured a wretched start to his IPL career when he was dismissed for 0, 5 and 0 in his first three games.
After the second of those, MS Dhoni, controversially, stated that the franchise “didn’t see the spark” in the youngsters trying to break into the XI. He did not mention Gaikwad’s name, but at 23, and still playing his first few games for the franchise, it was clear that he was part of the singled out batch.
Under pressure after the third of those failures against Mumbai Indians and low on confidence as he himself said then, Gaikwad got a shot in the arm when Dhoni walked up to him and confirmed his selection for the next three games.
“Dhoni walked up to me and asked me if I was under pressure,” Gaikwad said last year, recalling his chat with Dhoni at that time. “He said, ‘We don’t want to pressurise you, but we have expectations from you. All I want to tell you is you are going to play the next three games without any doubt, whether you score a run or not. Try and enjoy these games and not think about performance.'”
The youngster went on to make a hat-trick of half-centuries in the next three matches to finish the season on a high. By then, CSK had seen enough of the youngster to trust him further.
Breaking into CSK’s first XI might be hard work, but once you get there and make a telling contribution, you get the backing to keep performing. It’s part of the success mantra that has seen the franchise lift three IPL titles.
Heading into the 2021 IPL season, Gaikwad, despite his terrific contribution at the end of last season, was under pressure to retain his spot ahead of the experienced Robin Uthappa, who was added to the CSK squad at the auction. The veteran opener had not only made some stellar batting performances in the domestic circuit; he had revealed that if given a choice, he would like to open the batting.
Gaikwad started the season with scores of 5, 5 and 10 and the voices backing Uthappa’s inclusion over the incumbent opener grew louder. On Wednesday, Gaikwad, persisted with yet again by CSK, went on to make a stellar half-century in the company of Faf du Plessis, his fourth in 10 IPL matches.
In the post-match presentation ceremony, Dhoni revealed why CSK had backed Gaikwad despite his three failures at the start of the season.
“Rutu [Gaikwad] is somebody who has shown his class in the last IPL. You always need to assess where he is mentally. Once when he was off guard, I just asked him how are you feeling today. When you put a question like that, you wait for the reactions, you see what’s in his eyes. There was enough in his reactions to suggest he wasn’t rattled,” Dhoni said.
Stephen Fleming, the head coach, backed up Dhoni by confirming that there was “no doubt” from the management about Gaikwad’s talent and what he is capable of.
Externally, though, there are still doubts lingering over Gaikwad and his ability to perform under pressure, but for now, the voices have been shut and the youngster, despite all the scrutiny, has been in sparkling touch. With relentless backing from the CSK camp now, the onus is on Gaikwad to make full use of the opportunity.
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