PUNE: Sandeep Chavan fondly remembers the day seven years back when he had a word of advice for slightly built teenager Ruturaj Gaikwad.
The shy man from Maharashtra has earned plaudits from none other than skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and emerged as the only silver lining with a hat-trick of fifties in an otherwise disastrous IPL campaign for Chennai Super Kings.
“He was our trainee at the Vengsarkar Cricket Academy. I think he was 16 and had played junior state level for Maharashtra as a middle-order batsman,” the pride in Chavan’s voice was palpable as his former ward has three back-to-back ‘Man of the Match’ awards in a tournament like the IPL.
“I remember suggesting Rutu to start opening in club matches and told him that it would benefit him in future,”
Chavan recollected how he made the 16-year-old open the innings in a senior-level tournament.
“He was just 16 but I asked him to open in a senior-level match in a local tournament (Mandke trophy) and he proved me right by scoring 100 and 90 in both the innings,” Chavan said.
“Initially, he did have his share of problems while opening in state matches, but adapted well and has now become a specialist opener,” Chavan said while going down memory lane.
That Rutu was a special talent was something that Chavan said he knew when he joined the academy in 2008-09 as a 12-year-old.
“Initially there were technical issues, which we needed to focus on, but when he started playing against U-19s despite being an U-14, his confidence grew by leaps and bounds,” the coach said.
Another of his formative-year coaches Mohan Jadhav finds an eerily similar pattern between his IPL success and his maiden entry into an age-group state team.
“He faltered in the first two of the three matches of the invitation tournament and before the third game, I boosted his confidence saying that you can make most of the last game.
“And in the final game against Kolhapur, he scored 182. From there, he got selected for the Maharashtra junior team and in the camp everyone showered praise on his batting,” Jadhav, who still coaches at the Vengsarkar Academy, recalled.
According to Jadhav, the Invitation Cup innings proved to be a turning point in his journey.
Ruturaj’s greatest asset according to Jadhav is his ability of self-improvement and being able to assess his own game well enough.
“The biggest positive in him is the ability to develop on his own. As he started playing bigger matches, he did not confine himself to it, but started preparing for the bigger challenges. He has that mindset which is paying dividends.”