‘Don’t want to change a single bit’: the CSK transition from MS Dhoni to Ruturaj Gaikwad

The last Chennai Super Kings captain, MS Dhoni, had such a strong connection with this team that he has broken down while talking about them and wants to end his career at their home ground. The new CSK captain, Ruturaj Gaikwad, seems to be cut from the same cloth. His connection to this team is the driving force behind his captaincy.

Gaikwad, speaking after CSK secured victory over Kolkata Knight Riders, said he doesn’t want to change anything just because he’s the one in charge right now. He also mentioned that Dhoni had sounded him out about leading CSK in IPL 2022 and in 2023, after every match, he sat down with the coach Stephen Fleming and discussed what he would have done had he been captain.

“I don’t want to be a specific kind of character,” Gaikwad said. “Just like to flow things as they’re flowing. Keep the culture of the CSK basically going. That’s what I feel. The success we’ve had, the things we have been doing, I don’t want to change a single bit of it. I just want to come there, take my own decisions and just give as much freedom as possible because that’s what has been happening from when I joined CSK. Nothing really changes and I’m enjoying myself.”

Gaikwad was bought by CSK for IPL 2019. He didn’t play any of the games that season and started slowly in 2020 but the team stuck by him and both of them have reaped rewards since. He has held the orange cap and his performances have helped them win two titles. The support that he has felt over the years is what he wants to offer to others now.

How Gaikwad came to know he would be CSK captain

Gaikwad was told about the added responsibility he would have this season in the middle of a training session with Dhoni.

“To be honest, not really deep conversations, I feel…it was in a very chilled state. Just one conversation I would say. Just we were practicing and he came and told me all this stuff. Obviously for everyone, others on the outside, they would think they are big shoes to fill but I feel I would always be myself and I would like to continue the culture that has been going.

“I remember in 2022 when he said to me, probably not next year, but after that you might get a chance to lead, so be ready for it. So obviously after that I was always ready for it. It was nothing new to me or a surprise or a shock. I know how to control the game. I know how the game progresses, which change [to make], what to do when, as I was doing for the state team as well. Even last year as well Fleming and me used to discuss captaincy after every game, about how I felt, what changes, bowling changes what I felt we needed to do, this or that. Every game we had one-on-one conversations so that really helped.”

Has captaincy affected Gaikwad’s batting?

Gaikwad has made 155 runs in five innings at a strike rate of 117.42. He has had to work with a new opening partner this year, an IPL rookie in Rachin Ravindra. Have any of these changes forced him to bat differently?

“There are certain things where the outside people don’t really get to know,” Gaikwad said. “Last year, [the] three, four games that we started, it was in Ahmedabad, Chennai and Mumbai and again Chennai. All those games were on flat wickets. So I feel the pitch really matters a lot.

First game [this season] I thought I’d got a good start, got a good ball [out for 15]. Second game, same I think, I’d got a good start, had to accelerate a little bit, you tend to make a mistake there [out for 46]. And third game, again I felt I was in great shape, second ball not really do anything [out for 1].

“Sometimes there are phases where you get good balls. Sometimes there are phases where you are slightly unlucky. Sometimes there are phases where things don’t really fall in shape. [A] good shot, going into fielder’s hands. So you don’t really need to think on that. I always felt I was in good shape, starting really well, good headspace, so I wasn’t really worried.

“And captaincy, while batting, is a totally different approach. Even when I was playing my first game, or the first fifty I scored for CSK, I think [it was a] similar kind of situation, we were chasing 140 and I always wanted to stay till the end and make sure I finish the innings so pretty much same. Nothing really changes even though I am captain or not.”

Gaikwad’s Dhoni flashbacks

With three needed for victory on Monday, Ravindra Jadeja made as if he was going to come out to bat. He was in full kit and was about to step out into the ground when all of a sudden he just turned around and went right back to seat. It was all a tease. He knew Thala was in next but couldn’t pass up the chance to wind the crowd and even his own team-mates up, who roared with laughter when they finally realised what was going on.

The noise that greeted Dhoni’s arrival for his first innings at Chepauk this IPL was incredible. It was so loud that Andre Russell fielding on the boundary had to shut his ears.

“I was actually thinking, it was a little bit [of a] tricky situation. I knew that he was facing the last ball of the [17th] over. There was less chances of him taking a single and facing the next over again. And I was always thinking that probably if he gets to play two-three dot balls and I go and play, if I had an opportunity to get a dot ball, I would’ve definitely done it. But, yeah, it was a little bit nostalgic for me. Even my first fifty, we ended up finishing the match together. That was the first time I was batting with him. So obviously immediately as he was walking in, I had that flashback in my mind so good to share the 22 yards with him.”

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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