Can Ruturaj Gaikwad’s sublime form propel him into the India team?
The batter strung together some brilliant hundreds at the Vijay Hazare Trophy but the lack of India slots has slowed his career graph
Ruturaj Gaikwad is in prolific form. Since September, he has scored six hundreds, including one against New Zealand A. Three consecutive hundreds for Maharashtra in the Vijay Hazare Trophy last week underscores a talent simmering with the maturity that not just converts starts but also keeps scoring. The 168 runs (in the semi-final) and an unbeaten 220—during which Gaikwad scored a record 43 runs in one over—are testament to that resolve.
Going back further and exactly this time last year, he had strung together three consecutive hundreds in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, not to forget the glut of runs in the IPL. He is, quite simply, one of the most consistent batters at the domestic level right now.
Yet there is an inkling Gaikwad’s career graph may have hit its ceiling. Ravichandran Ashwin recently addressed the quagmire Gaikwad finds himself in. “Since he is from India, who will he replace? Not even replace but look at who he is competing with,” Ashwin said on his YouTube channel. “Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, and we have Rishabh Pant opening as well. India is becoming a difficult country to genuinely play cricket. I mean, competition for one spot is heating up. And Ruturaj is not heating it up; he has taken the solar panel on his head and scored runs for fun. Amazing, very well done, Ruturaj Gaikwad.”
Gaikwad is an opener. Even if he is asked to bat down the order for India, it can only come on tours where at least the first side sits out as part of the team management’s well-documented but slightly vague rotational policy. The only ODI he has played so far, against South Africa in October, Gaikwad came at No 3 and found it really difficult to get going. He was ultimately dismissed on 19, at a strike rate of 45.23. It was almost assumed Gaikwad would be able to translate his IPL consistency into the international stage but barring a 44-ball 57 opening against South Africa in June, Gaikwad hasn’t been able to put up many impressive scores.
To be fair to Gaikwad, 10 matches is hardly a good sample size to gauge his temperament.
“You can’t make an assessment of him because he hasn’t got enough opportunities. The other thing is he isn't being given a run of chances,” said former India opener WV Raman. “I for one feel that Ruturaj is extremely talented. He has the numbers. Yes, not everybody will take off at the international level straightaway and carry on in the same vein. Some people may not have that start, some may take time to succeed. But that is where the handling of a cricketer comes into play. If he is handled well, if he is given the right breaks, I think he will be a very good performer at the international level.”
Gaikwad is doing whatever is required on his part to keep knocking on the selectors’ door after a spate of injuries and niggles kept him out of the game for a while. And he did that in style, following up a 114 against Kerala in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy with scores of 124* (v Railways), 220* (v UP), 168 (V Assam) and 108 (v Saurashtra) in the one-day tournament.
“I think it was important for me to get back. I was coming back from injury,” he said after Maharashtra lost the Vijay Hazare Trophy final to Saurashtra on December 2. “I had to lead from the front being the senior player and the responsible batter in the team. I am just trying to enjoy the game and just focussing on what is required for the team. Looking to get good starts and trying to convert them.”
Gaikwad is one of the calmer batters who subscribe to the theory that one doesn’t need to be reckless to be aggressive. The record barrage of sixes against Shiva Singh wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment act but a calculated assault based on the fuller lengths the left-arm slow bowler was hitting.
But when the chips were down against Saurashtra, Gaikwad strapped himself to the pitch knowing well Maharashtra stood the chance of a good score as long as he was batting.
“I was being challenged, so I had to enjoy it and I had to make sure that I was calm and staying till the 42-45th over,” he said.
Considering the paucity of India slots, he may feel hard done by but Gaikwad can’t be ignored if he continues in this vein of form.
“He is one who looks capable of playing all three formats. He has got a compact technique, the right attitude as well. He has definitely got the potential. There are no two ways about it,” said Raman.