Ruturaj Gaikwad - Unassuming youngster, making waves

Chennai Super Kings' Ruturaj Gaikwad is the first to achieve the double of being the Orange Cap holder and the Emerging Player in the same IPL edition.

Star in the making: Ruturaj Gaikwad of Chennai Super Kings after the final.   -  Sportzpics / BCCI

August 2020: Despite having already smashed an unbeaten 187 for India A versus Sri Lanka A in 2019, Ruturaj Gaikwad is in the headlines on the IPL stage for the first time, after being diagnosed with COVID-19 on arrival in United Arab Emirates ahead of IPL 2020.

October 2021: Ruturaj Gaikwad continues to steal headlines, this time for all the right reasons, having become the first to achieve the double of being the Orange Cap holder and the Emerging Player in the same IPL edition. And he is only the second batter after Robin Uthappa to have won the Orange Cap in a team’s title run.

During this 14-month period, he has had an odd blip twice — of three successive failures each at the start of IPL 2020 and 2021.

But that’s been an aberration, according to Mohan Jadhav, a coach at Varroc-Vengsarkar Cricket Academy on the outskirts of Pune, where Gaikwad has been honing skills since 2009.

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“His career graph, so far, has never been about snake and ladders. For him, it’s only been moving from one ladder to another,” says Jadhav.

Jadhav remembers “Rutu”, as he is fondly known among friends and family, being ferried by his cousin Raju on a motorcycle when he was a kid. But more than his batting prowess, it was his ability to “throw a ball to perfection and with force in a fielding session in his first week at the academy” that made him stand out from the rest.

For Sanadiip Chavaan, who has followed Gaikwad’s game closely since his Varroc-Vengsarkar academy days, it is Gaikwad’s ability to soak in pressure and analyse the game in real time that sets him apart from the rest.

“We are done with what we had to teach him, now we have to learn from him, his cricketing acumen since he is one of those self-made cricketers,” stresses Chavaan.

“Recently, I was discussing with him about what makes (Yuzvendra) Chahal so difficult to deal with and it was amazing to listen to his detailed analysis of such a crafty bowler.”

But when the duo meet nowadays, seldom do they discuss cricket. “We are both chaha-baaz (tea-lovers),” says Chavaan. “He can keep sipping endless cups of tea along with friends. And even though he is not that big a foodie, he loves mutton at Jagdamb (a dhaba on Pune-Satara road).”

Even though his appetite for runs has grown bigger with every passing year, unlike many small-town cricket stars, he doesn’t like to create a buzz while entering the academy. In fact, Jadhav stresses Gaikwad’s routines over the last year — “even after becoming the IPL star and playing for India” — has been the same.

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“Absolutely nothing has changed. Rutu is still the same old kid,” Jadhav says.

“In fact, even now, many kids in the academy don’t notice his arrival and him going through his usual drills. He continues to be that quiet, studious cricketer who is just focussed on constantly striving to improve.”

When he was 14, Gaikwad had told his parents — father Dashrath, an employee of Defence Research and Development Organisation, and mother Savita, a teacher — that he wanted to be a cricketer. Jadhav remembers his dedication on achieving the goal.

Jadhav recalls an instance that speaks volumes about the dedication of a teenager. “His cousin (Raju) used to look after his cricket routine. And even on the day of Raju’s wedding, Ruturaj had lunch at the hall, went home, picked up his kit bag, got into an auto and reported for practice at 3 p.m.”

Despite his sincere and nonchalant, yet confident, appearance on a cricket field, Gaikwad is jovial off it. Some of his closest friends can’t stop laughing while recalling some of the pranks he would pull on his teammates during their tours.

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“There are just way too many of them but nothing worth carrying in print. Let’s discuss it off the record when we sit down for a round of chai with Rutu the next time,” Chavaan signs off.

With Gaikwad continuing to climb up the ladder, Chavaan and Gaikwad will have plenty to discuss than his pranks during their next drive to the favourite mutton joint.

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