A job well begun is half done, goes the saying. On that account, neither Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians did enough to win the blockbuster match that marked the resumption of IPL 2021.

In the end, it was CSK who went top of the table after staring at another big defeat against their arch rivals at one stage. And it was largely thanks to one man: Ruturaj Gaikwad.

Mumbai’s New Zealanders had reduced CSK to 7/3 and then 24/4. More often than not, that should be the game done and dusted. But Gaikwad anchored the innings first, survived one reprieve when he was on 19, and then blazed his way to an unbeaten 58-ball 88 before Dwayne Bravo provided a further boost to the total that pretty much exceeded MS Dhoni’s expectations when he walked back at the end of the first powerplay having asked his side to bat first.

Gaikwad appears to be more comfortable and dangerous against spinners but his numbers show that he is almost equally adept against pacers as well. Of the nearly 500 runs he has scored in his brief Indian Premier League career, he has a strike rate of 128.82 against pace and 128.66 against spin. In IPL 2021, those numbers go up a notch against spinners (evidently, given the first leg was played in India) as he has gone at 155.22 against spinners, and 125.87 against pacers.

On Sunday, he showcased both of these aspects to his game. In the powerplay, and the first half of the innings in general, he was cautious against both spin and pace. Of course, the situation demanded it. He saw his side lose a wicket in the first, second, third and sixth overs – and one of the main batters retiring hurt too. Of the first 30 balls he faced, he scored

To put this into context, before the CSK-MI clash in Dubai on Sunday, only once before in the IPL had a side managed to win a match after losing the first three wickets for less than 10 runs.

Ruturaj Gaikwad in the IPL

Mat No Runs HS Ave BF SR 100 50 4s 6s CT ST
Career 14 3 488 88* 44.36 379 128.75 0 6 50 15 7 0
2021 8 1 284 88* 40.57 210 135.23 0 3 34 9 3 0
2020 6 2 204 72 51.00 169 120.71 0 3 16 6 4 0

“Today’s innings was very special. It’s okay to play an innings in a high-scoring game and dominate. But when you’re the one to get a score to give your team a chance, then that’s even more special,” CSK coach Stephen Fleming said at the post-match press conference.

“The way he went about his work, really absorbing pressure and then the ability to accelerate as the innings went on... it really was down to his hand, that we were able to create any pressure whatsoever. It was a remarkable innings from him.”

Gaikwad had been one of the shining stars for CSK in what was largely an abysmal 2020 campaign and he finished the tournament with three fifty-plus scores in UAE. On Sunday, back in Dubai, he picked up where he left off in these parts last year.

“It was very special, as you know, we’ve had our tabs on him (Ruturaj) for some time. Even last time we were here, we rushed him back, probably too early given the shape he was in from Covid, but that’s how much regard and respect we have for his ability. But the way he finished off the IPL here in Dubai last year, set him up for the first part in India,” added the former New Zealand skipper.

Dubai is a difficult chasing ground but for that CSK needed a score that would pose any sort of challenge to MI’s depleted yet strong batting unit. Dhoni had 130-140 in mind and felt even that would be exceptional. So he must have been overjoyed when as excellent bowling display powered CSK to a crushing 20-run win.

“At 30/4, you want to put up a respectable score, I felt Rutu and Bravo got us more than what we expected. We thought of 140, to get close to 160 was tremendous,” Dhoni said at the post-match presentation ceremony.

“Rayudu got injured, so it was tough to come back from there but we batted sensibly and finished superbly. It was sensible for one batter to bat right through to the end.”

And while he played many remarkable, elegant, textbook shots during his knock, the two boundaries he hit in the final over bowled by Jasprit Bumrah were the most jaw-dropping. A near-yorker, lofted over the extra cover region for four. A low full toss, scooped over long leg for six. Like most pieces of entertaining creative work, Gaikwad saved the best for the last to finish with a flourish.

From 24/4 (effectively 24/5), Gaikwad sparked a remarkable turnaround for Chennai Super Kings to not just post a fighting total.... but one that would prove to be significantly out of reach for Mumbai Indians. He has been showing signs of being a solid batter for CSK, and possibly even beyond that, for a while now but with an innings of sensational quality against the defending champions, Gaikwad stepped into a truly special zone.