It maybe so that when popular, powerful captains talk about a cricket match, fans and observers of the game tend to latch on to some buzzwords. Process. Faith. Leadership groups. Intent.
And an addition to that from this season of Indian Premier League: spark.
When a team like Chennai Super Kings, with their sensational record in the tournament, go through a season like they have in 2020, there tends to be scrutiny and analysis. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s remarks after CSK’s defeat against Rajasthan Royals got the attention of the cricketing world, alright.
“We tried a few things,” Dhoni said. “That is one thing you don’t want to do, you don’t want to do too many chopping and changes because what really happens is after three-four, or five, games you are not really sure about anything.
“So you want to give guys a fair go. Then if you are not performing, you switch and go back to somebody else and then you give him the same kind of run. Insecurity is something that you don’t really want to prevail in the dressing room.
“This season, we were not really there. And, also, there were a few chances to the youngsters and maybe we didn’t see the kind of spark that they could have given us to say, okay, push [out] the experienced guy and maybe make some space for them (youngsters).”
And just like that, the word “spark” became a trending topic as Ruturaj Gaikwad registered back-to-back half centuries and that coincided with CSK winning back-to–back matches for the first time in IPL 2020.
Here’s the thing. Flip that argument and you wonder, if CSK would have had more success. On Thursday, the player of the match was once again Gaikwad. And arguably, the player of their season is Sam Curran. Two men in their early twenties.
Should the rope have been longer for the likes of Gaikwad instead of experienced players?
That’s the question that Dhoni and Stephen Fleming must consider as the franchise looks ahead to an unprecedented off-season: one where they must actually rebuild.
And in Gaikwad, they have a spark that could ignite the hopes for next season.
Beauty in simplicity
The standout aspect of Gaikwad’s knocks in the last two matches for CSK has been the simplicity of his batting. One of the hardest things to do in sport is to keep things simple when the pressure is on. And that’s the aspect that caught the eye of Kumar Sangakkara and Sunil Gavaskar when Gaikwad got going against Kolkata Knight Riders.
“Such a delight to watch,” said Gavaskar. “So simple. Beautiful batting,” said Sangakkara.
The Sri Lanka legend’s remark came when Gaikwad timed a lofted drive down the ground, over the infield, so well that the ball just carried all the way for six. It was a length ball, it was just a punch, but it was hit so beautifully that a potential four became six.
It is something Dhoni spoke about after the Royal Challengers Bangalore match as well, that Gaikwad has the ability to just time the ball without premeditating.
The eye-catching drives and punches of Gaikwad in the last two matches have come when CSK needed some inspiration in a dull season. Too often, the team’s batting has been bereft of intent and that’s the word that came to the mind when he lofted Lockie Ferguson down the ground or gave room to slam Pat Cummins past mid-off. The fearlessness and confidence of youth, married with skill.
Interestingly, Dhoni has spoken after the last two wins about the time it took for Gaikwad to recover from Covid-19. After testing positive for coronavirus on arrival in UAE, it seems the Maharashtra batsman’s recovery has been slower than expected and his batting form affected too.
But even when he got out first ball in his first match, he did so by stepping down the pitch and getting stumped. It was still more intent than what we saw from other CSK batsmen.
And Dhoni, adding another element of intrigue to the situation, alluded that dismissal and Gaikwad’s apparent shyness in expressing himself as possible reasons for the management not banking on him earlier.
“What makes it difficult is he’s not somebody who speaks a lot,” Dhoni said about the 23-year old. “So sometimes it becomes difficult for the management to gauge a player. Once he started going in the innings, you could see that he was hitting the ball the way he wants to and he was planning. When we made him play the first game, he got out, stepped out. It becomes difficult to tell whether it was the pressure that made him step out or whether that’s his natural game. One ball isn’t enough, but.”
Ultimately, Dhoni has been spotting talents and backing them with great success for years in Indian cricket. In Gaikwad’s case, it might have happened a little bit later than CSK would have liked in IPL 2020. But, maybe, it happened just in time for Dhoni and CSK to invest more in youngsters.
Watch: Ruturaj Gaikwad interacting with Shane Watson where the Aussie calls him “superstar in the making.”