Ruturaj Gaikwad of Chennai Super Kings with the IPL trophy in front of the fans after a thrilling season 14 in the UAE
Ruturaj Gaikwad with the IPL trophy after the Chennai Super Kings won the Season 14 title in Dubai. Image Credit: ANI

The Chennai Super Kings dropped a bombshell, announcing Ruturaj Gaikwad as the new captain for Season 17 of the Indian Premier League. That came as a massive surprise to me. I was so sure that Mahendra Singh Dhoni would lead Chennai at least this season that I based my predictions on that.

Why was I so sure? Well, there were no telltale signs. No clues either. But now, reports say Dhoni had hinted in a social media post about a “new role”. Principal owner N. Srinivasan was quoted as saying that Dhoni and the coach would decide on a new skipper.

These are at best cryptic. But then Chennai and Dhoni tend to play their cards close to their chest. This one was far too close. Only at the captains’ meeting did we know that Gaikwad would take over as captain, which was subsequently confirmed by a tweet from CSK’s official X handle.

Dhoni the adviser

Gaikwad has been tipped as the future CSK captain, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon. Chennai tend to groom talented youngsters, and the Maharashtra batter has been with the franchise since 2020 before blossoming into a dependable opener who wins matches. Maybe the CSK management would have thought it fit to groom him as captain even if the team struggles a bit, like in the days of Ravindra Jadeja’s inglorious eight-match reign in 2022.

To be fair to Gaikwad, he may not have to endure Jadeja’s disappointment because the CSK are largely the same squad which won their fifth IPL title last year. They have replaced Ben Stokes and Dwayne Pretorius with Rachin Ravindra and Darryl Mitchell. So they are still among the favourites this year.

Moreover, Dhoni will be around, and Gaikwad can always turn to him for advice. The 27-year-old has been in fine form in the last two seasons, scoring plenty of runs, and the additional responsibility could spur him to perform better. I only hope that it doesn’t weigh him down like Jadeja.

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For Chennai fans, the Whistle Podu (blow the whistle) brigade, Dhoni is their thala (leader in Tamil). They can’t imagine CSK without Dhoni as captain. After all, he’s been the skipper since 2008, barring the brief spell when Jadeja led them.

Captaincy is not alien to Gaikwad, as he led Maharashtra in the 2021 Mushtaq Ali Trophy. But IPL is a different kettle of fish. The pressures are different, and Gaikwad the batter is aware of the high-octane clashes. What is important is to make key decisions at critical junctures —times when the captain has to go off-script to head off a developing crisis. That calls for snap decisions, bold decisions that may decide the outcome of the match. That’s the job of a captain.

Gaikwad will take time to find his feet, and it is unrealistic to expect him to fill Dhoni’s big shoes straight away. He should be given ample time to become the captain he wants to be. He need not be Captain Cool, but given Gaikwad’s temperament, he could be his version of Captain Cool.

Is Gaikwad captaincy material?

The Maharashtra batter is not the animated sort, nor is given to high emotion. That’s all fine. More importantly, he has to be a good communicator to pull teammates together and apply salve to their wounds when the going gets tough.

As for strategy, a whole team is working on it with coach Stephen Fleming. As for onfield decisions, Gaikwad may make mistakes. Who doesn’t? That’s the best way to learn. The CSK management should be patient and give him time to develop into a fine captain.

Who knows, he could one day lead India too. Let’s not get far ahead. Instead, let’s hope Gaikwad’s learning curve isn’t steep.