Ruturaj’s transformation: from back bencher to leading light hitting seven sixes in one skip

When Ruturaj Gaikwad dons the Chennai Super Kings jersey, he enjoys spending time with Mike Hussey. For a player who calls himself an introvert and has a very tight circle of friends, it’s not surprising that he uses Hussey as a sounding board. Gaikwad liked the way Hussey played – both technique and game plan.

Over the seasons, as Gaikwad transformed from a back bencher to an Orange Cap winning opener with the Super Kings, the bond has grown stronger. There are similarities between the two. On Monday, Gaikwad scored his personal best, an unbeaten 220 in Maharashtra’s quarter-final victory over Uttar Pradesh in the Vijay Hazare Trophy at Narendra Modi Stadium in Gujarat.

And as he hit seven sixes in an over-off left arm spinner Shiva Singh along the way, there were shadows of Hussey beating Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal in the World T20 semi-final in the Caribbean in 2010.

None of Gaikwad’s sixes were hit with force, instead they were all simply hoisted over the boundary rope, relying on timing.

Gaikwad’s explosive strike came in the 49th over of Maharashtra’s innings as he took the attack to the left arm spinner to plunder 43 runs in the over. The over consisted of seven deliveries, one of which was a no-ball. Each of them was sent over the rope. It is now the Indian List A record, going past 35 goals conceded in an over by Hyderabad’s DB Ravi Teja in 2009-10, while bowling to Kerala’s Raiphi Gomes. There has only been one other instance of a bowler conceding 43 runs in an over, when Willem Ludjck of Central Districts was taken to the dry cleaners by batsmen from Northern Districts in New Zealand.

And none of Gaikwad’s shots were crossed. They were hit between mid-off and mid-wicket as suggested in the coaching manual. There was no anger at being left out of India’s white-ball tours. There were no fist pumping at the end or any room for swearing.

There was only a smile and a hug for his partner on the other end of the line.

Now Gaikwad has not had to wait as long as Hussey to be chosen for the national team. The left-handed Australian waited nearly a decade since his First Class debut to even get an ODI cap. Gaikwad has already received its T20I and ODI caps and even a Test cap remains a distinct possibility when one considers the transition in store in a year’s time.

Consider these numbers. Since the last edition of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, Gaikwad scored in eight innings 136 (112 balls), 154 no (143), 124 (129), 21 (18), 168 (132), 124 (123), 40 (42) and 220 no (159).

“Score karna padega, Saar (gotta score, sir),” said Mohan Jadhav, Gaikwad’s personal coach. “Consistency has always been his strength since age group cricket. If you take 10 turns, he performs well in 6-7 turns. The only consistency he needs now is a handful of matches if he makes the national team. Not a single match here or there. Players need to be picked consistently and that’s how they will perform. There’s no point in complaining or being sad because you don’t get a chance. Every match is an opportunity to score, only the level varies. And if you get desperate, there’s a chance you’ll move further away from it. And the boy is humble and doesn’t complicate things,” says Jadhav.

Leadership material

Among his Maharashtra teammates, they are starting to see a different Gaikwad this season. Whether it’s determining their practice schedule or game plan, the 25-year-old is the one who plans everything, so much so that some players even see him doubling as coach at times.

Instead of regular practice sessions, taking into account the early start of the matches, Gaikwad changed the timing. Morning sessions would start at 7:00 am with warm-ups for match simulations from 8:30 am, which will last three hours. There will be an hour and a half break before the usual internet sessions begin. It’s an aspect that players are starting to like.

“He has become our everything,” says Azim Kazi, Maharashtra’s all-rounder. “We are always learning new things. He changed the total setup and how we prepare. We are together as a team, even in the hotel. For example, he has always left his hotel room open and we can come to him for everything. If a player is struggling, he is the first to point him off the field and tell him how to fix it. What’s even more impressive is his game plan and how he identified a role for everyone and used us judiciously,” Kazi added.

This trait of Gaikwad has led those at Chennai Super Kings to rate him highly. There are whispers in the Super Kings camp after Ravindra Jadeja’s failed stint as captain last season that MS Dhoni Gaikwad is grooming as the heir to the throne.

And among the Maharashtra players, there is a certain amount of belief that today they are seeing a lot of Dhoni characteristics in the way Gaikwad works. Whether it’s staying calm under pressure, delivering the message silently or supporting players who are struggling, there are players who walk on fire when asked by Gaikwad. During their group stage played in Ranchi, Gaikwad Dhoni even visited several times along with Mukesh Choudary and Kedar Jadhav. The former India captain even met the entire team during their stay in his hometown.

“When Dhoni Bhai spoke, it literally felt like it was Gaikwad. The things he said were similar to what Rutu has told us. Since he’s part of CSK, he can communicate with Dhoni bhai and he crosses over to us, but there are definitely some similarities. We have all read and heard how Dhoni Bhai runs the team and that is what Gaikwad is doing here,” Kazi added.

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