Srinidhi Ramanujam is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo
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Ruturaj Gaikwad is "waiting for the moment" that Chennai Super Kings return to Chepauk, which is the ground where "it all started" for him.
Since Covid-19 hit, the IPL has had to adapt and make do without its usual home-and-away format. In 2020, it took place behind closed doors in the UAE. In 2021, it had to be suspended midway and then shifted overseas. In 2022, all 74 matches were held in Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata and Ahmedabad. Next year, the BCCI believes the tournament will go back to normal, which means the Super Kings will once again be back at their fortress.
Gaikwad has been in Chennai over the last week or so, playing for India A against New Zealand A. While he has been part of the Super Kings side since 2019, he made his debut only in 2020 and has never had the experience of playing in front of the Chepauk crowd in the yellow jersey.
"I had seen the atmosphere, I had seen the electrifying noise. I have experienced everything. So, obviously that was going on in mind when I would practise for two days [with India A in Chennai]," Gaikwad said in a video for the Super Kings website. "I was imagining the crowd and CSK entering the stadium. So actually, I am just waiting for the moment. But the first time when I played here was actually special because I feel this is the place where I started my journey. Coming to CSK and getting to learn a lot of things, getting to know the first experience of what it is at the higher level. So this is the place where it all started."
Beyond the fanfare that greets the Super Kings at Chepauk, the ground has played a significant role in the team becoming one of the best in the IPL. Super Kings sides over the years have been built to exploit the spin-friendly pitches here and they'll be looking forward to that bit of home advantage when the league kicks off again. Plus there's a small matter of a big farewell (potentially). In 2021, MS Dhoni said he hopes to finish his career at Chepauk.
Shardul Thakur, who was also part of the India A series, was hit by nostalgia too. Having represented the Super Kings for four seasons, the fast bowler was picked up by Delhi Capitals in the 2022 auction. He was a vital cog in the CSK set-up and signed off his stint as their leading wicket-taker in IPL 2021.
"It feels really great, I mean, the moment I entered the stadium, it felt all nostalgic," Thakur said. "Yes, I have had my times with CSK, I have played a few games here, but even before that, I have played Ranji [Trophy] games. 2010 was my first game here in Chepauk. The stadium and the ground have changed a lot since then but I would say the weather is still the same. [It's an] amazing experience, I would always look forward to playing in Chepauk whenever there is an opportunity."
The Chennai crowd really got behind the India A team too. If the first one-dayer had 200-odd spectators, it only grew, in both numbers and noise, until roughly 2,000 people were on hand to watch the home side produce a 3-0 sweep. They cheered especially loudly every time Thakur ran in and pick up a wicket. Chants of "CSK, CSK" rang around the stadium whenever Gaikwad produced a good piece of fielding or whenever he hit those pleasing cover drives.
"Obviously, I have known him for quite a few years," Thakur said of Gaikwad. "I actually remember someone telling me about him in 2017. Then, I saw him doing well in the domestic circuit and then India A, and then he came into the CSK set-up. Seeing him do so well, and when he got his real opportunity, I mean when he played a full season in the IPL, he straightaway made a mark [scoring 635 runs in 16 innings]. He had played a few games in 2020 but he played a couple of games in the middle order and opened in one of the games.
"It was not a very kind stint towards him. But, in 2021, he made a mark from game one till the finals. He was the top performer of CSK, and he actually delivered to everyone's expectations. It's good to see when a youngster comes and delivers for the team and straightaway makes the mark in lifting the trophy I'd say - not only in the league phase or knockouts but to lift the trophy."