“Hardik would be quite happy with the position his team is in. As long as Shubman Gill is out there it should be a walk in the park”, Graeme Swann cooed on air when Gujarat Titans were 53 shy of the target, with six overs at their disposal. The English commentator, prone to hyperbole, was justified in his assertion, as Gill was batting in the same beauteous vein he had hitherto in the calendar year.
The upcoming overs proved Swann right, obversely. Chennai Super Kings’ impact player Tushar Deshpande balanced the scales with the wicket of Gill after conceding 29 runs in his two overs in the PowerPlay. Mitchell Santner and Deepak Chahar gave just 11 between them in the next couple to winch up the asking rate to ten. Pressure told on Vijay Shankar, leaving Hardik not so happy with the position his team was in.
While Rahul Tewatia stayed true to his reputation of a nervous starter who goes on to flick the switch, Rashid Khan walloped his first ball out of the park to ensure their title defence begins with a bang. “We were slightly short,” MS Dhoni said. ‘’Another 15-20 runs would have been good.’’
The losing captain was echoing the sentiments of Moeen Ali, who pointed out during the innings break that Chennai underachieved as a batting unit. ‘’Little disappointed. Should’ve got 15-20 more. Ruturaj was outstanding. It was a decent pitch once you went through your first 5-6 balls,’’ Mooen highlighted, implying that there was scope for supporting acts to the individual brilliance of Ruturaj Gaikwad, and the lack thereof kept Chennai from touching the ceiling.
The opener caressed 92 off 50 deliveries, but the rest of the team managed a measly 78 off 71. The difference between Gaikwad and others on the night was best exemplified at the halfway mark, when Ambati Rayudu struggled to get the ball off the square despite extravagant movements around the crease and his partner dealt in sixes standing still. Rayudu found the elusive big hit by flexing the front knee and creating the leverage required to hack a length ball from Yash Dayal over mid-wicket, his muscular method on that occasion in stark contrast to the minimally aesthetic ways of Gaikwad.
Take, for instance, the not-so-warm welcome he afforded to Joshua Little. The Irishman banged his first ball of the IPL into the surface, and out came the swivel pull, a harbinger of the resplendent rampage to follow. Gaikwad produced as many as 8 sixes in his first 36 balls, having never fetched more than three in that juncture ever before. Backward square leg was a productive region, given his rope-clearing capabilities hinge on utilization of pace rather than brute force.
Alzarri Joseph is a beanpole quick who hits the deck and extracts steep bounce as a result. A prompt judge of length, Gaikwad was able to get underneath his lifters and help them on their way, consigning the West Indian to a 18-run opening over. The hard lengths were rendered ineffective by Gaikwad, but Joseph stuck to his guns to keep Shivam Dubey quiet. Chennai freezed in overs 12-17 due to the run-a-ball knocks by him and Rayudu, collecting a mere 37 to squander the advantage.
The slowdown put Ravindra Jadeja under the pump, and if not for Dhoni’s vintage finish Chennai could’ve ended up with a below-par total. Entrusting IPL debutant Little with the last over against a swashbuckler of that pedigree was a bold call, and Hardik Pandya would consider himself lucky that a six and a four was all Dhoni uncorked. On the flipside, he’d be proud of his attack for showing the stomach for a fight even as Gaikwad played in a league of his own.
‘’Obviously very happy,’’ Hardik said. ‘’We did put ourselves in a difficult situation but Rahul and Rashid did very well. We were happy at the mid-innings because at one point they looked like getting 200, but we got those couple of wickets to pull things back. Having this Impact Player rule makes my job difficult. I have too many options, and because of this someone will bowl less. Having Rashid is a real asset, he will get you wickets and get you some runs late down the order as well. But today my shot and Shubman’s shot wasn’t the best, we need to do better to ensure we don’t put the responsibility on these guys lower down.’’
Hardik was effusive in his praise of Gaikwad, whose 92 is the third highest individual score in IPL season openers and the best against Gujarat Titans. ‘’We all know the kind of player he is. At one point, it looked like Chennai are going to score 220-230. We were finding it difficult to ascertain which areas to bowl in. He plays quality cricketing shots. Some of the shots he played weren’t off bad balls, they were actually good balls. As a bowling captain, that made my job more difficult. Full credit to him for the way he played. If he continues to bat like this, it’ll do wonders to Indian cricket.’’
Rahul Dravid recently said that the Indian management has narrowed down the selection pool for the ODI World Cup later this year to 17-18 players. It’d be a travesty if the run machine that is Ruturaj Gaikwad doesn’t feature in those plans, especially with Suryakumar Yadav coming unstuck in the format.