choppy waves

Ruturaj maneuvers effortlessly through rough seas.

Ruturaj Gaikwad was taking on another task a few weeks prior to the start of the 2024 Indian Premier League, before he was even formally named as the new captain of the Chennai Super Kings. On a calm evening, he took some swimming lessons in the team hotel that had views of the Bay of Bengal on one side. The attention he received was nothing compared to what his former predecessor would receive.

Given the interest the job has garnered, CSK has effectively “soft-launched” his takeover of the team by keeping things under wraps and even putting him behind a bubble wrap. After reaching the midway point, CSK has had a mixed record, winning more games than losing, but in the last few matches, they have seen their captain really step up and lead by example.

Marcus Stoinis’ game-winning hundred against the Lucknow Super Giants had knocked him down to second place. Ruturaj, nevertheless, was able to turn the spotlight back on himself by playing a similarly good innings against SRH. He had followed his strategy in every game rather than trying to outmuscle the opposition, as has recently become popular. His skill was in identifying the limits, and a certain level of successful foresight that led to limits. It was one of the reasons Michael Hussey, his CSK batting coach and a former player of a comparable caliber, referred to him as “my favourite.”

Delicious shots were being made throughout the innings; at one point, he was taking Shahbaz Ahmed deep and then playing with Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s lengths, hitting him for a six to punish him for being short and then lofting the next full ball for a boundary. Throughout, it enabled him to meet the demands of a pitch with some grip and score at a healthy strike-rate.

His other batting skills, when they were at their peak, more than made up for his lack of power. And as Hussey enumerated, there was plenty of that.

“He’s a brilliant batsman who possesses excellent timing, placement, and skill. He is aware of when to attack and when to maybe take a little strain. He is an excellent fast bowler and spin bowler who can score runs all over the field. He commented, “He’s wonderful to watch; he’s almost one step ahead of the bowler most of the time.”

The techniques are steeped in antiquated T20 batting knowledge, where the emphasis is placed equally on the length and speed of an innings. However, Hussey maintains that he intends to pass on this knowledge to the next in line. Some of the excellent work done there, however, runs the risk of being obscured by the exploits of explosiveness in the public eye.

“I’m overjoyed for him. In fact, I sit with several of our younger players who are watching from the sidelines and discuss what’s happening with Ruturaj with them. How does he put together an innings, and why has he been playing so well? Therefore, these are excellent opportunities for our younger players to learn about his methodology. Tonight was truly another masterclass, that’s for sure.”

Hussey opted to emphasize his opinions about Ruturaj by highlighting his aptitude at interpreting games.

He reads the situation so well, and I believe he is one of the brightest players out there. He even expressed to me how unfortunate it was that we wouldn’t be playing in Delhi or Kolkata. If he evaluates the conditions in that specific grounds, he might consider taking off early. But maybe if he takes a little while to get used to the surface, he can improve his strike rate later on. It has been observed on a few occasions that when the ball is brand-new, it sticks to the surface a little bit. However, as the dew sets in, the seam softens and allows the ball to skid.

“But first, you have to occasionally exercise caution and make some excellent ground strokes. And that’s why his strikeout rate and placement have both been excellent. He is very knowledgeable about his game, and that should serve as advice for our younger people as well: identify your game. Shaik Rasheed’s attempt to bat like MS Dhoni is pointless. He needs to improve his batting technique because he plays more like Ruturaj. And by seeing Rutu play, we can attempt to expedite some of these individuals as well,” Hussey added.

Although Hussey was willing to acknowledge that there was a fair amount of bias in the overwhelming praise, Ruturaj continues to lead his squad despite the odds, so few would argue otherwise.