Afzal Jiwani is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo Hindi. @jiwani_afzal
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Chennai Super Kings and India opener Ruturaj Gaikwad is hard at work trying to become an all-format cricketer.
Playing for India A in the third unofficial Test against New Zealand A, the batter scored a magnificent hundred off just 127 balls. The pace of his run-scoring perhaps make sense when seen in the light of his exploits in white-ball cricket, especially in the IPL. But to be so fluent while playing only his third first-class game in 30 months was something special.
Speaking to journalists in Bengaluru after the end of first day's play, Gaikwad said, "It's a massive difference playing days cricket after so long. I feel in the first two innings, first two games I was rushed a bit. Hence, my mindset here was to just stay on the wicket. I knew that their spinners (when compared to ours) are not up to the mark, so obviously the runs would flow."
Gaikwad was eloquent as he tried to explain the difficulties of a batter adjusting to the demands of red-ball cricket, especially given how we live in a time when white-ball skills seep into players' muscle memory.
"Its like you are used to it, where your bat flows naturally for all the shots you want to play in T20 cricket," he said. "You have to be ready for each and every ball and have three particular options in your mind for each ball. Then, all of a sudden, to come red-ball cricket where you don't really have to look for runs, you have to focus on staying on the wicket.
"The first thing you have to do here, shifting from white to red (ball) is stopping that instinct and trying to just focus on your breath, play ball by ball, session by session and trying to play out the day. You have to apply your basics like playing under your head, having your shoulder aligned, if the ball is really outside of your right eye [as a right-hander] then leaving it alone. These basics come into the game for red-ball cricket."
Technique is just one area of focus for an all-format player. "After playing lot of cricket, the mind has many thoughts and keeps flowing in all directions and there are lot of inputs coming in," Gaikwad said. "It is very important to be focused and to know your own game as to how you can channel it in different formats."
Although he is known for his exploits as an opener in white-ball cricket, Gaikwad was happy to occupy the No. 3 role in this India A side.
"I think even in first class, while playing for my state [Maharashtra], usually when we tend to play an extra batter, I play at three," he said. "When we play an extra bowler, I open the batting. The role has always been flexible. And obviously both Priyank [Panchal] and Abhimanyu [Easwaran] are experienced and have been opening the innings for a long time so they deserve to be there (opening). I have been used to this (number 3) role so not much has changed or is different."
Scoring a century for India A against a quality attack on a bowler-friendly pitch is an achievement. However Gaikwad was in no mood to celebrate. He was disappointed that he fell for 108 when he was looking set to make an even bigger score. And that feeling only got worse when New Zealand A built on the breakthrough, picking up the last six wickets for just 48 runs and bowling his side out for 293.
"I had a very good chance to make a big one," Gaikwad said. "Not only for myself but I felt that me staying at the wicket today would've been very crucial for us as a team. It would've been a different scenario if I was there. And maybe I would've added 40-50-60 runs with the tail tomorrow and the total would've been very different. Big one (disappointment) for me personally and even for the team as I feel we're 50-60 runs short for sure."
Having made his international debut in 2021, and been part of a few India squads recently, Gaikwad retains the fire to play at the highest level. But for now, he is just focused on what is immediately in front of him.
"Be it a domestic game or any other game, the focus and approach has to be the same. No personal agenda in that," he said. "Whatever the team situation is, you have to make sure you adapt to it as quickly as possible. Make sure you're doing the job what is required of you. Be it Ranji Trophy, India A, IPL or the international team, the role depends on what the team requires. You have to keep the team first."
This 27-year-old batter is excited about the prospect of having a full-fledged domestic and Ranji Trophy season. He hopes that it would be a good challenge for him.