Singles are a devalued commodity in T20s, but some singles can be important. Off the fifth ball he faced on Sunday, Ruturaj Gaikwad took one such single. It was a routine clip down to long-on, played with the turn, but it exuded a feeling of comfort, and smoothness. Head on top of the ball, a pleasing turn of the wrists.

It was his first run. It felt significant because Gaikwad had been on 0 off 4 in his previous innings too, when a Trent Boult inswinger did for him.

It's a delivery that's done for numerous batsmen over the years, some massive names among them, but a duck is a duck, and a duck to follow scores of 0 and 5 in his two previous IPL innings wouldn't have been easy to digest.

That's the sort of run of scores which is hard to classify as poor form. He'd walked in at No. 4 in two of those innings, with the required rate climbing steeply in chases. He'd been stumped in one, run out in the other. And then there had been Boult.

Oh, and that run of low scores had come after months of uncertainty. Covid-19 had cast its net over world cricket, first, and then picked Gaikwad out specifically. He had spent an extra two weeks in quarantine compared to most of his team-mates upon arrival in the UAE, and spent it in a separate space.

He'd recovered and returned to training, but who knew what sort of form and rhythm he was in. The form and rhythm of his 2019-20 season - in which he'd been the second-highest run-getter in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, India's domestic T20 competition, made a couple of first-class hundreds in the Ranji Trophy, and scored a 93 in a List A game on an India A tour of New Zealand - must have been buried in his muscle memory, somewhere, but who knew if he'd be able to recover enough of it to make an impact in his maiden IPL season.

"Obviously it was tough for me, going [into] quarantine for [a lot more] days than the other guys. Everyone was with me - friends, family, everyone was supporting me, and somewhere I knew I was practising well. I had a good domestic season last year, so I knew one knock was around [the corner], but unfortunately three matches, just got out, but the support staff, and having the captain Mahi bhai always supporting me, it helped a lot for me"

And who knew if he'd get enough of a chance. Even amid the ruins of their worst-ever campaign, the Chennai Super Kings were only able to give him scattered opportunities. The first 0 and the 5 came on September 22 and 25, the second 0 on October 23.

Then, on October 25, Gaikwad got to open the batting for the second time in the season. The pitch was slow, but the target was modest. Here was an opportunity to spend some time in the middle, gauge the conditions, assess the bowling, and get used to feeling bat on ball, all over again.

Four dots, and then that single.

There was something about that single. Even MS Dhoni thought so.

"I feel this year has been tough for Rutu also," Dhoni said at the post-match presentation, after Gaikwad's unbeaten 65 had steered the Super Kings to an eight-wicket win over the Royal Challengers Bangalore. "He batted a bit in [the Super Kings' pre-season camp in] Chennai, then he came back over here, and then he got Covid, which meant his quarantine was longer than some of the other players, and he also gets a very long break - he has to get back again to some kind of a batting practice. So it was tough.

"Even in the last game, if you see, all of a sudden when you go in to bat, it happens in cricket, you face one of the best bowlers in the world, you nick one, it just happens in cricket, you have to be mentally strong.

"You alone have to get out of it. People will try their best, the coaches will help you, but ultimately once you're inside, you have to fight it out with your mind, and I felt he did very well, after the first single that he took and the first hit, I felt he got more and more comfortable with himself, and he knew what really needs to be done."

There was a lean, fluid elegance to that single. And then, off the ninth ball Gaikwad faced, came the "first hit" Dhoni referred to. To call it a hit would be inaccurate, because it was just an extension of the same lean, fluid elegance, against the same bowler, Washington Sundar. A glide down the pitch, a step away from the line to create room, and a checked inside-out drive. A shot that flew over the long-off boundary. Gaikwad's head stayed down at impact, then lifted in sync with his left elbow, and he seemed to mouth an "oh" as he finished his stroke with his back leg raised behind him.

A cricketer as steeped in the game as Dhoni can sum up an innings by referring to two shots. The single, and the first hit. He seemed to be talking about this very shot when he spoke of how Gaikwad approached his innings. "He backed himself to play the kind of shots that he is known for, not looking at the big shots, just timing the ball," Dhoni said. "Looking for a boundary, you get a six, fair enough."

Fair enough, if you can time it like that. As his innings progressed, Gaikwad showed he could do it against pace too - notably another sashay down the pitch, against Mohammed Siraj, for a wristy drive over the covers; and a checked drive off Navdeep Saini, all along the ground this time, that bisected extra-cover and mid-off - but what stood out most was the ease with which he timed the ball against the spinners on a slow pitch. He was able to do this because of his footwork - either with nimble forays down the pitch or with a long, feline forward stretch, such as the one he employed to sweep Yuzvendra Chahal past the square-leg umpire.

Gaikwad could afford to pick his moments, of course, given the smallness of the Super Kings' target, and he was able to bat at his own tempo because Faf du Plessis and Ambati Rayudu kept nailing riskier shots at the other end. But even if it didn't come in the most challenging circumstances, the innings came during a highly challenging phase in Gaikwad's career.

"Yeah, obviously it was tough for me, going [into] quarantine for [a lot more] days than the other guys," Gaikwad said, picking up his Player-of-the-Match award. "Everyone was with me - friends, family, everyone was supporting me, and somewhere I knew I was practising well.

"I had a good domestic season last year, so I knew one knock was around [the corner], but unfortunately three matches, just got out, but the support staff, and having the captain Mahi bhai always supporting me, it helped a lot for me."

All that will have helped, but as Dhoni said, Gaikwad had to go out and do it all himself. He did that, and served up a reminder of the talent he possesses. It was a reminder to everyone else, yes, but surely just as much to himself.