"...I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!”
That's how Ruturaj Gaikwad did it. And in style.
But Gaikwad's journey was unlike few others, which makes it all the more inspiring. He was among the few unfortunate members of the Chennai Super Kings, whose worst fear had come true upon arrival in the UAE. Among the 13 members of the CSK who had contracted the COVID-19 virus, Gaikwad was the only other player besides Deepak Chahar on the list. The outbreak in Dubai forced CSK into an extended quarantine period while Gaikwad and Chahar remained in isolation even after the rest of his team members were cleared to begin practice.
For Gaikwad, it was a season of opportunity. He was picked by CSK ahead of last season, but failed to find a breakthrough into the playing XI. But Gaikwad remained unfazed and continued his confident run in the domestic circuit that helped him rise up the ranks. On the back of an impressive run in the 2018/19 Vijay Hazare Trophy where he was the leading run-getter with 365 runs at 45.62 and a rather decent Ranji season, he was selected for India A series at the start of 2019. In two series - against Sri Lanka and West Indies - he scored 677 runs at 112.83 an average. He carried his form while showing a more aggressive side of his to finish as the second-highest run-getter in last year's Syed Mushtaq with 419 runs in 11 innings at a strike rate of 146.80.
His astounding domestic run had veterans and analysts talking about him during the buildup to IPL 2020, especially with Suresh Raina opting out of the season. And despite little match practice amid his extended quarantine period, Gaikwad was given a go, but in the middle-order, in CSK's second and third game. Playing away from his natural position of opening, Gaikwad registered scores of 0 and 5.
He was dropped eventually, and returned only after a month, when CSK's season was all but over. With an eye on the next season already, the management wanted to take a look at available options, mostly youngsters. Gaikwad returned, in place of a struggling Shane Watson, for the game against Mumbai Indians earlier this week. But was dismissed by Trent Boult for a golden duck in the first ball of the game, on a night when CSK were humiliated by the defending champions.
Dhoni continued to back Gaikwad and gave him another go as an opener in the game against Royal Challengers Bangalore in Dubai on Sunday. And this time he did not disappoint and indeed showed some 'spark'. The 22-year-old fell anchor amid the presence of Faf du Plessis and then Ambati Rayudu who brought about immediate urgency against a challenging 146 on a Chepauk-esque Dubai track.
He used his feet brilliantly against both pace and spin to loft over the infield and did not deter from his technique after Du Plessis' dismissal and while Rayudu attacked Navdeep Saini and Mohammed Siraj. His maiden half-century came shortly after Rayudu's dismissal, when the captain was there in the middle to congratulate him. And together, the two finished off the chase with eight balls to spare.
With little regret of not having seen a glimpse of this earlier in the tournament, Dhoni only praised the youngster for his remarkable comeback journey.
" If we had seen this (on Ruturaj performing well) in the second or the third game we could have got a glimpse. But this year has been tough on Rutu as well. He batted in Chennai, then Covid, the extra quarantine took precious time away from him. Even in the last game you saw, it happens in cricket, you face the best bowlers and you nick one. You have to help yourself, and when you are out there you have to fight it out with your mind. I felt he did really well after the first single he took and the first hit; he kept getting more and more comfortable with himself," said Dhoni in the post-match presentation.
Gaikwad walked in shortly after to collect his maiden Man of the Match trophy for his unbeaten 65 off 51 balls that helped CSK hang by a thread in the contest.
"It feels good, and to win the game for the team and stay not-out till the end, more importantly, feels better than the personal milestone. It was tough for me, quarantining for a lot more days compared to the other guys. Everyone was with me - my friends, family. I was practicing well and I knew one good knock was just around the corner. Unfortunately just got out in three matches, but the management supported me including Mahi bhai," he said with a sigh of relief.