Three consecutive hundreds – 108 in the final, 168 in SF, 220* in QF - in the knockouts, and Ruturaj Gaikwad has ended the dream Vijay Hazare Trophy season with 660 runs, with four hundreds, from just five innings. This was his second brilliant season on the trot as he had scored 603 runs, again with four hundreds, in five matches of the 2021/22 edition of India’s premier List A tournament.
Gaikwad’s stature in List A is growing with every innings and after an ordinary run in the editions preceding 2021, he has never looked back. Averaging over 60 in the format, the best in the business, the right-hander continues to score truckloads of runs. He had a brilliant run with Chennai Super Kings in the 2020 and 2021 editions where he accumulated 204 runs (six innings) and 635 runs (16 innings) respectively. His consistency in the IPL and domestic circuit earned him the India T20I cap in the away series against Sri Lanka in 2021 and the ODI cap came his way in the 2022 home series against South Africa.
Ten games (nine T20Is and one ODI) for India weren’t ideal and an ill-timed injury forced him out of the reckoning. Now, the 25-year-old finds himself on the road to come back into the senior team. He has responded in fine fashion with a daddy Vijay Hazare Trophy season but the India call could take longer than expected. There’s a traffic jam of sorts in the Indian cricket team as far as the openers are concerned and it’s going to be a very happy headache for the incoming set of selectors.
Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, and KL Rahul are already there and you have someone like Shubman Gill, who has been mighty impressive in the limited opportunities he has got. Already waiting in the wings are Prithvi Shaw and Yashasvi Jaiswal. Both Mumbai openers have not put a foot wrong in the domestic circuit and continue to score runs across formats. In such a scenario, Gaikwad’s wait could get long but he has definitely taken giant strides forward with a brilliant show in the knockouts. Ask any former cricketer/coach/selector and they would put a hundred in the knockouts right up there, and Gaikwad has three, on the trot!
The right-hander’s temperament in big games has been second to none and his ability to switch gears has been effortless. All his hundreds could be broken into two contrasting knocks. Watchful vs pace, explosive vs spin and all-out once the eye are in. He was made to work hard by a very disciplined Saurashtra attack which also induced plenty of false strokes from the right-hander in the final. But Gaikwad was ready for the battle and wanted to bat right till the end. Just when the fireworks were expected, a miscommunication with the partner ended Gaikwad’s stay in the middle. Had he stayed longer, it could have been a different story for Maharashtra who ended as runners-up this year.
Sample this. Yashasvi Jaiswal has hit two hundreds and two fifties in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, averages nearly 54 in the format, scored a big FC hundred (145) for India A vs Bangladesh A, and also had 266 runs from nine innings in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. It was a frustrating List A season as far as Shaw is concerned as the explosive right-hander failed to convert the starts he got. He, however, was in the zone in the SMAT and scored 322 runs in ten games at a strike-rate of 180+.
The 2020/21 Vijay Hazare Trophy was a big one for Shaw as he scored 827 runs in 8 innings, and also hit four hundreds. Next on the list, that year was the very talented southpaw from Bengaluru Devdutt Padikkal who scored 737 runs from 7 innings. He also hit four hundreds that year. Gentle reminder: He too is an opener.
And, then you have someone like Shubman Gill. In the 15 ODIs he has played for the country, the classy right-hander has scored 687 runs at an average of 57.25 and hit a hundred and four fifties. Surprisingly, his name didn’t feature in the ODI squad for the Bangladesh series as selectors made way for returning senior pros Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul.
Next few months are very crucial for the Indian cricket team, especially in the white ball set-up, as the team would look to put the blueprint in place for next year’s 50-over World Cup and the T20 World Cup in 2024. With how the players are performing in their opportunities with the Indian team and in the domestic circuit, the selectors and management are in for a hard time, and Ruturaj Gaikwad has only made it harder for them.
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