Titans all the way
It may be long over at this point, but may the praises continue. The 15th edition of the IPL came to a conclusion on the 29th of May this year, with the Gujarat Titans scripting a fairy-tale victory in the final against the Rajasthan Royals to be crowned champions at the Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad in front of a 1,00,000 people. It was a low scoring final, similar to the 2017 final between the Mumbai Indians and the erstwhile Rising Pune Supergiants. Unlike the Mumbai Indians, Rajasthan Royals were unable to defend their first innings total of 130, which in all honesty isn’t a winning score considering they were up against the best team of the season.
This was Gujarat’s debut season and the team deserves immense credit for the brand of cricket played, winning 10 out 14 games and finishing atop the points table at the conclusion of the league stage and eventually going on to win silverware. The Titans saw 3 of their top 6 batsmen enter the top six highest run-getters of the season (Hardik Pandya (487), Shubman Gill (483) and David Miller (481)). Almost every player who was a part of the playing eleven contributed to the team’s success throughout the course of this season. The Titans were able to win matches both while batting first and whilst chasing, thus showing that this team isn’t a one-trick pony.
A victory in front of their home crowd, that too in their debut season, what more could Gujarat have asked for!
Skipper Hardik Pandya was in amazing form with the bat, scoring 487 runs at an average of 44.27 including a vital knock of 34 in the final. Hardik’s impact with the ball may have been limited, but he showed us his worth by scalping 3 crucial wickets of Jos Buttler, Shimron Hetmyer and Sanju Samson respectively in the final. What caught our eye was his ability to consistently clock speeds of close to 140km/hr, thus enhancing his reputation as a “fast bowler”. Mind you, there is a huge difference between a medium-pacer and a fast bowler, and if Pandya can maintain his speeds close to 140 clicks or even higher, that’s a huge bonus for Team India, going into the T-20 world cup this year in Australia. Pandya, despite his prowess with the bat, may not make it to the eleven as a pure batter. And so, Pandya the bowler needs to step up and give his skipper his full quota of overs in every game. Though he did not grab the headlines in the T20 series that followed against South Africa, he was solid with the bat. Returning to the finisher's role after batting exclusively at Nos. 3 and 4 for Titans, Hardik crossed 30 in three out of four innings and struck at 153.94 during the series. With the ball, he had an economy rate of 12.20 but India would be happy that he sent down five overs in three innings without any discomfort.
He has had a tough time in the last year or so, with his performances tailing away coupled with injuries, eventually costing him a spot in the Indian team post their T20 world cup debacle. Pandya has shown immense character this season and is worthy of all the accolades he has been receiving.
This is the fifth time in the last seven seasons that Pandya has laid his hands on the coveted silverware, and the victory this season would have been even more satiating, given that it came under his captaincy.
In all honesty, Gujarat Titans, despite being crowned champions, may not have ticked all the boxes. Matthew Wade and Vijay Shankar were insipid with the bat, thus not being able to hold on to their places in the eleven. Shubman Gill was majestic with the bat in the initial half of the season, playing some knocks of the highest class, serving a timely reminder to the selectors of his value in the shorter format. In his time with the Kolkata Knight Riders, he received a lot of flak for not being able to score at a faster click, thus putting the incoming batters under tremendous pressure. He got his bat to talk this time, even though runs may have dried up towards the latter stages of the season. He finished with a respectable knock of 45*, scoring the winning runs with a six over square-leg. The boy has a long way to go!
David Miller turned out to be quite the ‘Killer’ that we have seen before in his time with what was then the Kings XI Punjab. From going unsold in the auction to becoming a linchpin to Gujarat’s success, it has been quite a turn-around for the South African. He further impressed in the initial phases of the T20 series that followed against India - he's definitely in the reckoning to make the Proteas' squad for the World Cup later this year. The knock against his former franchise Rajasthan Royals in the 1st qualifier was a reminder of his sheer prowess with the bat. Surely, the Titans would love to retain him for the upcoming season. Vice-captain Rashid Khan had a good season with the ball, accounting for 19 wickets at an economy of 6.84, a commendable feat.
The Tamil-Nadu duo of Sai Sudharshan and R Sai Kishore did a more than respectable job with bat and ball respectively. Sai Kishore, known for his miserliness with the ball, held on to his reputation. Southpaw Sai Sudharshan, who came into the IPL on the back of a phenomenal TNPL (Tamil Nadu Premier League) this year, shone with the bat in whatever little opportunities he got, highlighted by an unbeaten 65 against the Punjab Kings. Strike rate is definitely an area he needs to work upon. The seamers, Mohammad Shami, Lockie Ferguson, Alzarri Joseph and youngster Yash Dayal (picked up at the auction for a whopping Rs. 3.2 crores), all came up with useful contributions throughout the season, thus highlighting Gujarat’s sheer dominance.
This season has seen the emergence of a lot of young Indian talents like Umran Malik, Mohsin Khan, Sai Kishore etc. and the re-emergence of the likes of Dinesh Karthik, who in coach Dravid’s words, is banging pretty hard on the door to make it to the world cup. The selectors rewarded some of these youngsters with a spot in the Indian cricket team for the tied T20 series against South Africa, and eventually now the upcoming T20 series with Ireland. With the World Cup only a few months away, these players would be itching to make a mark in whatever opportunities they are given, so that they can board the flight to the kangaroo nation.
The 2022 IPL has been the closest we’ve been to normalcy, considering this was the first time in three years that the entire tournament was being played on Indian soil. Hopefully, the 2023 season will see teams playing in their respective home grounds, since fans have been starved of some action packed T20 cricket. Kudos to the BCCI for having introduced two new teams, Gujarat Titans and Lucknow SuperGiants, and kudos to both of them for performing admirably this season. A 10-team tournament certainly adds a new dimension to the lucrative league, now with record breaking television deals and a possible dedication of 2 full months in the ICC’s Future Tours Programme calendar that puts it in a league of its own. Here’s to an even more exciting and gargantuan season in 2023.