CHENNAI: Barely a month after making a forgettable ODI debut for India, Pune batter Ruturaj Gaikwad led Maharashtra to a thumping win against Railways in their opening game of the Vijay Hazare Trophy earlier this month. The skipper scored an unbeaten 124 as Maharashtra chased down the target of 219 in 38.2 overs with seven wickets to spare. He contributed 40 in the next match as they continued their winning run against Bengal. However, swelling on his left wrist meant Gaikwad had to skip the next four group matches.
Without the services of their captain, Maharashtra made it to the knockouts giving Gaikwad yet another opportunity to remind India selectors of his existence. And he did the same by hammering two successive daddy hundreds to take the team into its maiden Vijay Hazare final. En route to his first of the two successive centuries, he equalled the world record of 43 runs in an over, smashing seven sixes off Uttar Pradesh left-arm spinner Shiva Singh.
His next ton in the semifinal against Assam on Wednesday, which was his overall 11th in the tournament, is also a record. He along with teammate Ankit Bawne, who scored 110, matched Robin Uthappa's record for the most tons in the tournament.
The opener has scored 552 runs in four matches with an astounding average of 276 including three centuries so far. Maharashtra coach Santosh Jhede feels Gaikwad is letting his bat talk to reclaim his place in the national fold.
"He is out of the team and it's quite obvious that he wants to get back there as soon as possible. He is scoring big hundreds and by doing that he is making the right noise for his inclusion in the team," the Maharashtra coach told this daily shortly after their 12-run win in a high-scoring semifinal at the Sardar Patel Stadium B Ground, Ahmedabad.
Jhede is quite sure that Gaikwad will soon regain his lost place. "He has got only an ODI and nine T20Is so far. He is very confident and prepared to leave his marks whenever he gets a chance again. He is very calm and talks only when needed. He is determined and very strong mentally. To sum up, he is a different type of guy," added the coach.
Maharashtra wanted to field first in both the knockout games had the coin flipped their way. However, they lost the toss on both occasions making the opening stand crucial thus putting a big responsibility on the 25-year-old Gaikwad's shoulders.
"Conditions in Ranchi were different from what they are here in Ahmedabad. Toss is crucial here as the ball swings early in the innings at least for the first 10 overs. We were asked to bat in the quarterfinal and semifinal. It was Ruturaj, who negotiated the pacers in the beginning and then tried to carry his bat through the innings. His knocks helped us post competitive totals," said Jhede.
The coach was also all praise for Gaikwad for grooming the youngsters. "His arrival has changed the atmosphere in the dressing room. He is grooming the youngsters for top-level cricket. He is telling them how the game is played at the highest level. He is encouraging them continuously to play game-changing knocks as these innings can help them in shaping their career."
Jhede hopes they are third-time lucky when the two captains take the field for the toss ahead of the final on Friday. Given the conditions, he wants to bat second against Saurashtra, who beat Karnataka to enter the summit clash on Wednesday. The strategies might also need some tweaks as opener Rahul Tripathi has left the squad for India duties in Bangladesh.
"Pavan Shah may come in. Again Ruturaj role will be important if we have to win the final and I am confident he will lead the team in the best possible way and also push his case further as far as a selection in the national team is concerned," signed off the coach.
Brief scores: Maharashtra: 350/7 in 50 overs (R Gaikwad 168, A Bawne 110; M Hussain 3/42) bt Assam 332/8 in 50 overs (S Purkayastha 95, S Roy 78; R Hangargekar 4/65); Karnataka 171 in 49.1 overs (R Samarth 88; J Unadkat 4/26, P Mankad 2/34) lost to Saurashtra 141/5 in 31 overs (J Gohil 61; K Gowtham 2/50).