Ruturaj Gaikwad's success driven by a free mindset and intent
CSK always gives its players very clear plans but the opener has taken the responsibility to make them work.
It was only in 2021 that Ruturaj Gaikwad became a Chennai Super Kings regular. That tag doesn’t come easily – just ask N Jagadeesan or B Aparajith who spent years in the CSK dugout without ever getting a decent run in the playing eleven. The 26-year-old opener may have also gone down that path after scores of 0, 5 and 0 in his first three games for the franchise in 2020, but a run of three fifties to end that disappointing campaign transformed his fortunes. Ever since then, Gaikwad’s place at the top of the order has been set in stone.
In this period, he’s made defining contributions to CSK entering two finals. In 2021, a season where he returned 635 runs at an average of 45.35, he hit a 50-ball 70 to help CSK chase down 173 against Delhi Capitals in Qualifier 1 and eventually win their fourth title. On Tuesday evening, his 60 off 44 balls guided them past Gujarat Titans and to yet another final. That Gaikwad made only 368 runs at 26.29 in 2022 perhaps had a telling effect on CSK finishing second from the bottom.
Just as CSK have fine-tuned their methods and rebounded from heartbreaks, so has Gaikwad. In 2023, an improved version of Gaikwad has been on clear display. He’s making a truckload of runs but at a significantly better strike rate. In the preceding three seasons, his strike rates were 120.71, 136.26 and 126.46 respectively. This year, he’s striking at 146.88. Gaikwad credits opening partner Devon Conway’s reliability for the alteration in his approach.
“I know that when I am going well, Conway would carry the innings till at least the 12th or 14th over. I have that confidence,” Gaikwad told reporters after their 15-run win. “It works both ways. It cannot be that both openers go at the same pace. Someone has to step up and someone has to step down. This year, Conway has been batting really well and carrying the innings. For me, it is really easy to have that free mindset and keep up the intent.”
On Tuesday, once he had a reprieve off a no-ball, he went on to provide an exquisite exhibition of T20 batting on a slow surface. While most batters struggled for timing on a track reminiscent of previous years at Chepauk, Gaikwad was able to successfully hold his shape while eyeing the big hits. It was a home game alright, but Gaikwad had never played for CSK at Chepauk before this season. CSK’s camp in Chennai before the season, according to the man from Pune, was instrumental in getting a feel of the conditions.
“Very vital because a new surface was being laid in Chennai,” he said of their pre-season camp. “Everyone wasn’t sure about how the wicket is going to play. Sometimes when you play on flat tracks, you need not have to think much about your shots and the bowling. But in Chennai, it’s slightly different. You have to alter your game according to the pitch that is given that day. Sometimes, it’s slower and sometimes it’s good (for batting). So, it was good to have an idea about how it was going to play. It definitely helped me a lot personally.”
As Gaikwad grows in stature at the franchise, so do his prospects of taking up the coveted responsibility of captaincy after MS Dhoni’s impending retirement. From head coach Stephen Fleming and batting coach Mike Hussey to Dhoni himself, there’s been a recognition within the franchise of Gaikwad having the attributes for the job.
“(Being) senior or junior is never about the number of matches you play or about the age. It is about taking responsibility whenever you play. It is about how I can contribute in each and every game,” said Gaikwad.
Any talk of leadership can wait for the time being though. For now, his focus will entirely be on that final in Ahmedabad on Sunday. It’s an opportunity for Gaikwad to claim a second IPL title in three years and add further heft to an already impressive track record.