Ruturaj Gaikwad had to wait over a year to make his Indian T20 League debut for Chennai and when he did, his stay at the crease lasted for only one delivery. A first-ball duck is all he could muster on his debut as he was stumped while trying to step out of the crease to Rahul Tewatia.
He didn't bat at his usual position though. Gaikwad is mainly an opener but he walked out to bat at number five in that match in a run-chase of over 200. Clearly, he was not quite accustomed to that role. The 23-year-old got another chance in the middle-order in the very next match and he returned with a miserly score of just five once again.
He wasn't allowed to bat at the top even in this match but such is the competitive nature of the tournament that you have to make an impression in whatever opportunity you get.
MS Dhoni, Chennai's skipper, had also commented that the management hasn't seen enough spark in the youngsters to push them into responsible roles in the team. “You don’t want to chop and change. Insecurity is something you don’t want to prevail in the dressing room. Also, the youngsters, we didn’t see the spark to push the guys,” Dhoni had said at the presentation ceremony after Chennai's loss against Rajasthan on September 22.
Ruturaj's failures also made it look like so and he was dropped from the side for the next set of matches as well.
However, a series of losses after that put Chennai out of playoff contention and that's when Dhoni decided to give the youngsters some consistent chances in the remaining matches.
This time though, Gaikwad was slotted right at the top of the order. But another failure followed as he was trapped lbw for a duck once again by Trent Boult in the match against Mumbai. It looked like he won't be getting any more chances but Chennai had nothing to lose. So they persisted with him and the move paid off.
Since then, Ruturaj has registered scores of 65 and 72 against Bangalore and Kolkata respectively. Both of these knocks came in winning causes as the stability he provided at the top of the order helped Chennai chase down targets of 146 and 173 in the two matches convincingly.
The main highlight of both of his knocks was his ability to construct the innings at a steady pace. Gaikwad is an excellent rotator of strike and he has the timing and range to hit the big shots from time to time as well.
In these two innings combined, Gaikwad hit a total of 10 fours and five sixes. So he scored almost an equal percentage of runs in boundaries (51.1%) as he did with strike rotation (48.9%). That sums up the immense balance and hold that he has over his batting approach.
The Maharashtra batsman has looked comfortable against both pace and spin in these matches. His temperament and confidence in particular, even after those first three failures, has been tremendous to watch.
Even Dhoni went on to admit later that they had not quite realised Gaikwad's potential earlier.
"He's one of the most talented players going around. What makes it difficult is he's not somebody who speaks a lot! So sometimes, it becomes difficult for the management to gauge a player. Once he started going in the innings, you could see that he was hitting the ball the way he wants to and he was planning," Dhoni said after their win over Kolkata.
"When we made him play the first game, he got out, stepped out. It becomes difficult to tell whether it was the pressure that made him step out or whether that's his natural game. One ball isn't enough," he added.
Yes, one ball is never enough to gauge a player. But now that they have seen him playing hundreds of those, his retention next season looks pretty much certain.
Feature image courtesy: Twitter.com / Indian T20 League