Ruturaj Gaikwad takes a pause before uttering, “I thought I would have to sit out of this IPL.” The dream had threatened to end in swab tests and pills. “To test positive for Covid-19 and get locked up in a hotel room for 22 days was quite difficult. It was my dream to play for the Chennai Super Kings.” Just as the 14-day quarantine ended, more bad news erupted at a feverish pace. Another positive Covid test, another week of isolation and fear. “That’s when I got worried. I thought I would not get to play even a single game,” he tells The Indian Express.
Gaikwad is now in Pune, after his life-turning last 10 days in UAE. From sequestered in a hotel to making an inauspicious IPL debut ( a first-ball duck against Rajasthan Royals) and to the dreamy finish with three back-to-back player-of-match awards, it’s been a rollercoaster ride for the 23-year old. Sunil Gavaskar called his batting a “delight to watch”; Kumar Sangakkara raved about his uncluttered mind, “So simple, beautiful batting”; Shane Watson called him a “young superstar in making, so composed” and Faf du Plessis purred, “looks like a young Kohli, doesn’t he? He stands up to pressure. That’s the quality you look for in young players to see if they get to the next level”.
It was a far cry from the feverish days, holed up in the hotel room. Binge-watching on Netflix initially helped. “I have lost track of the number of shows I have watched on Netflix. Narcos is my favourite. I think I might have watched it at least 3 times,” he says. Two days into isolation, during a Zoom call with his team-mates, MS Dhoni told him, “face it with a smile, it will be over in 14 days”. Phone calls with family and friends increased.
Gloom drifted into the room, though. FOMO (fear of missing out) kicked in. Gaikwad stopped watching the IPL games during this period as it was a constant reminder of what he was missing out. He continued to inhabit the dramatic world of the drug cartel but exhaustion and fear returned as he tested positive again.
It would eventually take 22 days in quarantine and two negative tests for Ruturaj to get back to training. Two days after joining the team, Ambati Rayudu gets injured and Dhoni would ask the youngster to plug the hole in the middle order. “I was really excited to get the call-up. But I was still tentative and not 100% physically and mentally,” Ruturaj says. A first-ball duck on debut was followed by 5 against Delhi. These twin failures didn’t dent his confidence, he says as he was just happy to be out in the middle.
After a spate of losses, CSK team management decided to prop up Ruturaj as an opener with Faf du Plessis. For someone who is an opener in first-class cricket, this role suited him more. Frustratingly, though, this tweak didn’t yield instant results. Ruturaj would survive only 5 deliveries, before getting pinned on the front leg by Trent Boult’s inswinger for a duck. CSK would go down to Mumbai by 10 wickets, a result that ended their playoff hopes. During the team meeting the next day, Dhoni would give a pep-talk that unshackled Ruturaj’s mind. “We still have three matches to go. Let’s forget about the results and enjoy ourselves. Let’s play for this jersey and our fans,” Ruturaj recalls Dhoni’s words.
He scored 65 not out against Bangalore, 72 against Kolkata and 62 not out in the final league game against Punjab. These three match-winning knocks replete with crisp strokes would give the world a glimpse of his talent. The performances wouldn’t have surprised those who have followed his career. Last year, he finished with 440 runs in six Ranji Trophy games for Maharashtra. In the 2019 Syed Mushtaq Trophy, he scored 456 runs, to finish as the second highest run-scorer in that tournament. The performances earned him call-ups to India A tours and he was picked for 2018 ACC Emerging Teams Asia Cup. In the following year, he scored an unbeaten 187 against Sri Lanka A in Colombo. And then IPL happened.
In the here and now, he is in midst of another mandatory 14-day quarantine in India.
“By now, I am used to being in isolation,” he says. Looking back, he quips: “IPL has made me a better person. I have realised that in life, one should not take anything for granted. I have now learnt to enjoy the game more and remain in the present, because with so much happening in the world, you never know what the future holds.”
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