In Chennai Super Kings’ run to the IPL 2021 trophy, the opening stand between Ruturaj Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis was a major cog in the wheel. In that season, Gaikwad took the orange cap with 635 runs while du Plessis amassed 633 runs. The all-right combination added 756 runs for the opening stand, making them the stars of Chennai’s fourth IPL win.
But the retentions came and Gaikwad was expectedly retained while du Plessis went into the auction pool and was snapped by Royal Challengers Bangalore to be their skipper in 2022. The solidity of the Gaikwad-du Plessis stand now not available was visible when in the lead-up to Sunday’s game against Sunrisers Hyderabad, Chennai Super King’s best opening stand was just 28.
But at the MCA Stadium in Pune, Gaikwad joined forces with left-handed New Zealand opener Devon Conway to share a gigantic stand of 182 off 107 balls and set the base for 202/2 against one of the most lethal and ferocious bowling attacks in the tournament.
Before this game, Conway and Gaikwad had added just two for the opening stand, in the tournament opener against Kolkata Knight Riders.
In a stadium where majority of the fans sported yellow jerseys and cheered loudly when MS Dhoni walked in for the toss as the captain, Gaikwad and Conway dished out a stunning, dominant show after having the usual slow and steady Chennai Super Kings start when 40/0 came in powerplay, also their best score in this phase of the game.
With Conway playing slow at 10 off 15, Gaikwad had to take up the aggressor’s role in the acceleration job. “I was telling him (Conway) to take his time. I have played here as this is my home ground, I know this wicket and I was just chatting with him to keep going,” revealed Gaikwad after the match.
That acceleration happened from the eighth over when Gaikwad stepped up to Umran Malik’s raw pace with a thump over cover for four and followed it up with a six over long-on. Seeing Gaikwad dazzle prompted Conway to come out of his shell and give the treatment to Malik in the last over to Aiden Markram.
Malik returned to bowl the fastest ball of the tournament at 154kmph and what did Gaikwad do? Drill the ball straight down the ground, which made for some fantastic views. Malik responded by bowling short and Gaikwad got a top-edge on pull over keeper, taking him to his second fifty in the tournament.
Post gaining the upper hand over Malik, Gaikwad unleashed further carnage by thumping Markram over long-on for back-to-back sixes. His domination over Malik had its standout moment when he brought out a glorious straight bat chip over mid-off for four followed by cleanly lofting over long-off for a six in the 12th over.
Gaikwad was on course to reach his second IPL century but fell short by just a solitary run, slicing a slower, short ball off T. Natarajan to Bhuvneshwar Kumar at backward point.
On the other hand, Conway, picking up pace, reached his maiden IPL fifty off 39 balls in the 15th over, getting a top-edge on a pull off Marco Jansen for six. He then thumped the tall left-arm pacer for another four and six to take 20 runs off the over.
Conway further slammed Natarajan for a six and two fours in the last three overs to help the Chennai Super Kings go past the 200-mark, which was enough to get their third win, thanks to a highly entertaining and blazing show from him and Gaikwad.
The duo could just prove to be the missing frame in the puzzle which Chennai needed to piece their daunting road to playoffs.
(Inputs from IANS)