A year ago, Ruturaj Gaikwad was undergoing the toughest few weeks of his life.
His maiden IPL stint began with him testing positive for COVID-19, shortly after arriving in the UAE with the Chennai Super Kings. Having contracted the virus in late August, the young batter missed the start of the season as he continued to return positive tests, and only resumed training after a period of 27 days in isolation.
Two days later, on IPL debut, he fell for a first-ball duck. The next outing, three days on, saw him run-out for five off 10 balls. It’s important to note that Gaikwad was sent to bat at number five and number four, respectively, in these games – having never previously batted outside the top-three in his T20 career.
Suffice to say, September 2020 was a forgettable month for Gaikwad.
One year on, life has taken a 180-degree turn for the 24-year-old. He ended IPL 2020 on the high of becoming the first uncapped Indian to hit three consecutive half-centuries (the first two of those fifties coming at the same venue as Sunday’s game, Dubai), got rewarded with the permanent opener’s spot for IPL 2021, impressed enough to get rewarded with his maiden India call-up, and won his first India cap in Sri Lanka in July.
And now, he’s played a knock that led CSK to win against Mumbai Indians after batting first for the first time since 2013. That too, after being 24/4 (effectively 24/5) at the end of the powerplay.
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The hat-trick of half-centuries to wrap IPL 2020 not only helped CSK avert the ignominy of a bottom-placed finish, but also showed a team not known for its youthfulness a potential future plan – Gaikwad, apart from having age on his side, displayed the temperament and the technique that could enable those batting alongside him to take a more explosive approach.
It was evidenced in the first leg of IPL 2021, which saw opening partner Faf du Plessis score at nearly nine runs per over in the powerplay, up from 8.16 per over in the same phase last season. CSK, on the whole, increased their powerplay run-rate from 7.13 to 7.50.
Gaikwad himself showed promising levers in upping the ante after starting cautiously. In the first leg of this season, he was among the slowest batters in the powerplay (5.49 rpo) – but among the fastest in the middle overs (11.38 rpo).
On Sunday evening in Dubai, ‘both’ the Gaikwads came together in perfect cohesion.
While seeing half his team return to the dugout in the first six overs, Gaikwad had scored 15 of the 24 runs that CSK accrued in the powerplay. At the end of 10 overs, with CSK 44/4, Gaikwad was on 23 off 27 balls. With five overs to go, he had moved to 46 off 39, and then he took off – CSK took 69 off the last five, and Gaikwad was responsible for 42 of those runs.
In the penultimate game of the India leg of this season, against Sunrisers Hyderabad at Delhi, Gaikwad had shown an astonishing range of spin-hitting as he smashed 54 runs off the 24 balls he faced from SRH’s spinners – including 21 off 11 against the indomitable Rashid Khan.
On Sunday, he began cranking up the gears against the spin of Krunal Pandya in the 12th over of the innings, lofting him down the ground for six before reverse-sweeping over the off-side in-field for four. All told, Gaikwad took 27 runs from 18 deliveries of spin bowled to him. His handling of the MI pace battery was even more impressive.
The 19th over of the innings – where Gaikwad and Dwayne Bravo took apart Trent Boult, scoring 24 runs – will stand out on the scorecard, but arguably the most pleasing aspect of the death overs onslaught was Gaikwad’s success against the gun bowler of this format.
The CSK opener took Jasprit Bumrah for 21 runs off 10 balls, featuring three shots that he won’t forget any time soon. In the 17th over, Gaikwad picked a slower one, bowled full and wide, well enough to time it crisply enough for the ball to go well into the stands over long-off. The final over of the innings saw him go down on one knee to hit an exquisite drive through the covers for four, before the shot of the night: an audacious, ABD-esque flick-sweep over square leg for six, off a ball delivered full and wide outside off. Quite the way to put the lid on a sensational knock.
From 24/4 in six overs and 44/4 in ten, CSK had finished up on 156/6 – and it was down, majorly, to the exploits of Ruturaj Gaikwad.
It was an outstanding innings even without any context, but add the various back-drops to it and you see why this was a classic: half the team gone in the powerplay, against an on-song pace attack, with four overs still to come from one of the world’s best bowlers, playing a team that hadn’t lost while chasing in their last 11 games, a team that hadn’t lost while chasing against this opposition in eight years.
Then factor in how massive a boost this result provides to his team’s hopes of a top-two finish – three wins in their last six games will, in all probability, be enough for CSK to get two shots at making the final. Additionally – and this could be even more vital given the recent history between the teams – MI will now (in all likelihood) need to win five of their six remaining games to stand a chance of finishing in the top-two.
One year ago, when this same fixture played out to another CSK win to kickstart IPL 2020, Gaikwad was locked in quarantine. A week and two outings later, with all of five runs to his name, he probably hoped to be woken up when September ended. How the tables turn!
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