(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) The T20 format is famous for giving batsmen the licence to thrill fans and kill bowlers' reputations. But when the pitches get slower and lower, giving bowlers of varying styles a level playing field, you need a batsman like Ruturaj Gaikwad.
A batsman who finds the gaps with exquisite timing to tilt the balance in your team's favour.
Gaikwad's classy approach to batting in T20 format has illuminated this year's Indian Premier League. While the Chennai Super Kings fans can point to several seasoned players and their astute leader MS Dhoni for their stunning turnaround in fortunes, it's the assured hands and precise footwork of Gaikwad, an unknown quantity until the start of last year's IPL, that have set the tone for the team's ascendency.
Dhoni's Yellow Army has feasted on Gaikwad's hunger for runs as the 24-year-old Chennai opener trails this season's top-scorer KL Rahul (626 runs) by only 23 runs going into Friday's final against Kolkata Knight Riders.
And the ease with which he scores on tricky surfaces reflects the talent this unassuming lad possesses.
It's that talent that first caught the eye of a legendary Indian batsman more than a decade ago.
When Dilip Vengsarkar first saw Gaikwad at his cricket academy in Pune, the former Indian captain realized instantly that the kid was a tad special.
“He came to our Pune academy when he was 10. We choose players for our academy (based on ability), we just don't get everybody. So he was one of those young players we chose because he had excellent skills,” Vengsarkar told Khaleej Times over the phone.
Former Indian captain Dilip Vengsarkar
“I also took him to England when he was around 16. I take my academy team to England every year to Lancashire. We play 10 matches every year. He scored hundreds in most of the games, and he scored big hundreds, the 160s, 170s.”
Vengsarkar was elated when Gaikwad scored his first IPL hundred (101 not out off 60 balls) in Abu Dhabi.
“He was scoring the half centuries, so I sent a message to him and asked him to play 20 overs. I said, 'you would score a hundred and the team would score 200 if you play 20 overs. And that's what he did against Rajasthan Royals. He played 20 overs and scored a brilliant hundred. Chennai lost the match because Rajasthan played very well that day,” Vengsarkar said.
A former chairman of the selection committee who fast-tracked a certain Virat Kohli into the Indian senior team in 2008, Vengsarkar believes Gaikwad, who recently made his T20I debut in Sri Lanka, is an all-format player for India.
“He has the game and he is mentally strong. The selectors must give him an opportunity. When you pick a guy who is in form, it helps. He is also young. If the selectors are convinced about his talent and temperament, then he should be picked straight away,” Vengsarkar said.
While Gaikwad has flourished as an opener in IPL, he started his journey in first-class cricket as a middle-order batsman.
Surendra Bhave, the head coach of the Punjab Ranji Trophy team, was coaching Maharashtra when Ruturaj made his first-class debut.
“We were struggling for an opening batsman. I had a lot of discussions with the selectors and we all felt that Ruturaj could be pushed to open the innings,” Bhave recalled while talking to Khaleej Times over the phone.
Surendra Bhave, the head coach of the Punjab Ranji Trophy team
“Across formats, he has batted in different positions, but he sort of redeemed himself when he started to open the innings. All of us supported the idea of playing Ruturaj as an opener because he was a supreme player of fast bowling," Bhave said.
"And if he gets a start, he can play a match-winning knock. If you check the records, whenever Ruturaj has scored big, more often than not, Maharashtra have won.”
Bhave then revealed the secret to Gaikwad's success on slow pitches in UAE.
“It's because his technique is so uncomplicated. You will never see him indecisive about his footwork. Ruturaj is playing a different game compared to the rest of the team because he gets into a great position to play those exquisite shots. It's one thing getting into a great position once in a while, and quite another to do it all the time.”
A prolific scorer during his first-class career, Bhave doesn't have a 'shadow of doubt' that Gaikwad will soon be an all-format player in international cricket.
“He has got this unbelievable gift of timing. And that's why you see sixes that Ruturaj hits are without any flourish. He would just step out to tap the ball and it would sail over the sightscreen. That's the kind of talent he has. And the way he shifts his gears through the innings, it cannot be done without timing and precision. He has both.”
Rituraj Borkakoty A big fan of the Argentina national football team, Rituraj generally writes on sports. But he deeply cherishes the time he spent with his favourite musician from Assam, India, for an interview. And he loves to bring human interest stories to Khaleej Times readers. Click/tap here to subscribe to Khaleej Times news alerts on Telegram.
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