Gaikwad’s success is driven by a free-spirited mindset and intention. Cricket

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 and never got a decent run in the playing XI. The 26-year-old opener could have gone down that route too after scores of 0, 5 and 0 in his first three games for the franchise in 2020, but a run of three half-centuries to end that dismal campaign turned his fortunes. Gave. Since then, Gaekwad’s place at the top of the order has been set in stone.

Ruturaj Gaikwad (Chennai Super Kings Twitter)

In this period, he has made decisive contributions in taking CSK to two finals. In 2021, in a season where he scored 635 runs at an average of 45.35, he scored 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 took him past the Gujarat Titans and into another final. Gaikwad managed only 368 runs at 26.29 in 2022, perhaps affecting CSK’s second-from-bottom finish.

Just as CSK have mended their ways and recovered from heartbreak, so has Gaikwad. In 2023, an upgraded version of the Gaikwad has been on clear display. He is scoring a lot of runs but at a much better strike rate. In the last three seasons, his strike rate was 120.71, 136.26 and 126.46 respectively. This year, he is striking at 146.88. Gaikwad credits the reliability of opening partner Devon Conway for the change in his approach.

“I know when I am doing well, Conway will take the innings till at least the 12th or 14th over. I have that belief,” Gaikwad told reporters after the 15-run win. “It works both ways. It can’t be that both the openers go at the same pace. One has to rise and one has to descend. Conway has been batting really well this year and is leading the innings. It’s really easy for me to maintain that free mindset and intention.”

After being relieved on a no ball on Tuesday, he put up a fine display of T20 batting on a slow surface. While most of the batsmen struggled for timing on a track reminiscent of years past at Chepauk, Gaikwad was able to successfully maintain his shape while notching the big hits. It was a home game, but Gaikwad had never played for CSK at Chepauk before this season. CSK’s camp in Chennai ahead of the season was helpful in getting a feel for the conditions, according to the Pune man.

“Very important because a new surface was being laid in Chennai,” he said of his pre-season camp. He said, ‘Everyone was not sure how the wicket would play. Sometimes when you play on a flat pitch, you don’t need to think too much about your shot and bowling. But in Chennai, it is a bit different. You have to change your game according to the pitch being given on that day. Sometimes, it is slow and sometimes it is good (for batting). So, it was good to have an idea of ​​how this is going to play out. It definitely helped me a lot personally.”

As Gaikwad grows in stature at the franchise, so do his chances of taking up the coveted responsibility of captaincy following the impending retirement of MS Dhoni. From head coach Stephen Fleming and batting coach Mike Hussey to Dhoni himself, Gaikwad has been recognized for this role within the franchise.

“(Being senior or junior) is never about the number of matches you play or your age. It’s all about taking responsibility whenever you play. It is about how I can contribute in each game,” Gaikwad said.

Any talk of leadership, however, can wait for the time being. For the time being, his focus will be solely on the final to be held in Ahmedabad on Sunday. Gaikwad has the chance to win his second IPL title in three years and add to an already impressive track record.

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