Mohammed Shami, Lockie Ferguson, Yash Dayal and Alzarri Joseph have given Gujarat Titans a dimension that no other IPL team can claim to have.
“First and foremost, Gujarat Titans’ bowling line-up is very well balanced. They’ve got some real pace, a bit of bounce and left-arm variety as well. Then you throw Rashid Khan there as well, it’s a pretty good bowling line-up full stop. They attacked us where we expected them to, which was back of length and around the shoulder and head region. Unfortunately, we weren’t quite able to find a way to counter that.” – Brendon McCullum, KKR head coach.
“I batted 50-odd balls and the most difficult ball (to face) was hitting the deck, where you back your pace and ask the batter to play a good shot… Obviously I’ll back my chances with my bowling attack.” – Hardik Pandya, Gujarat Titans captain, after he made 67 off 49.
Pace is pace yaar. And a pace attack is a pace attack. Nothing in cricket is quite as thrilling as fast bowlers hunting in a pack. Keep it full on off. Maybe get it to shape away too. Then bowl the scorcher that pitches short and is coming into the batter. Top-edge, swirler. Gone. That was Mohammed Shami to Sam Billings.
You’ve got one batter with a short ball he wasn’t expecting. Now get the other one with the ghost of a short ball he is expecting. Except, it’s not the short ball that will take the wicket, it’s the non short-ball that will do it to a batter hanging on the back foot. That’s Shami again, this time to Sunil Narine.
Pace. Fast, fearsome pace. The kind that makes foot movement leaden. Get one back of length, in the channel. Get the batter to poke at it. Get an edge that you hear clearly. Get your captain to review it even if no one else has heard it. Get the wicket. That was Lockie Ferguson, taking out Nitish Rana.
You’re the rookie of the attack. Not even a teenager when IPL started, and only 24 years old now. But you’ve got something about you. Maybe it’s the left-arm angle. Maybe it’s the ability to land a heavy ball. Maybe it’s being able to crank up the pace at time. Maybe it’s a combination of all these. That’s why Gujarat Titans have invested in you. It doesn’t matter that you’ve given up 40 runs each in your previous two games. You’ve got what it takes. And that’s why you bowl one back of length that seams away after pitching on leg, just enough to catch the edge. Just in the right place to take advantage of uncertain footwork, because Shreyas Iyer has also been subjected to a short-ball attack. And boom, you’ve got your first wicket Yash Dayal.
Just like that, Kolkata Knight Riders were 34 for 4 in 6.1 overs, with the Titans’ pacers relentlessly at them.
That was only the first half of the match. It has to be, when the opposition has an Andre Russell up its sleeve. And in these days of highly sophisticated match-ups and analytics, there isn’t a team that would send Dre Russ in at this stage, not when they have the option of still having frontline batters in the middle.
The Russell gambit comes into play in over 13. It’s Dayal again. There’s Rinku Singh to get through first, but you sense that is a wicket that’s coming because the run-rate has been kept tight. The batters have to manufacture runs, and when you try to do that against a bowling attack that’s keeping it tight, there’s a good chance you get out.
Rinku goes, Dre Russ arrives. Bouncer – one good enough that Russell has to duck under it. Another bouncer. Also good enough to get the better of Russell, but it’s gone down as four runs because there’s a top edge that’s flown over the keeper. The best bouncer of the lot. Spitting up at Russell who barely has time to get hands up. It’s a proper, proper fast bowler’s wicket. Great batter, caught fending, the ball flying to fine leg. Whatever happens to Dayal’s career from here on, he’ll always have this three-ball sequence to Andre Russell in his CV.
Except, he won’t. Not quite. A millimetre, maybe two over the line, and Russell gets a reprieve. That’s the window he needs, and he begins to tee off.
Who survives after giving Dre Russ a second chance? Gujarat Titans, that’s who.
It’s not all pace-driven of course. It can never be when there’s a Rashid Khan bowling, and he does what he needs to, yanking the match back into a territory that still puts the Titans with their noses ahead. The only danger is a Russell blast. Enter the final prong in the pace attack: Alzarri Joseph. He’s more familiar to Russell than most, and he’s got 18 to defend in the final over. Russell doesn’t think of it as 18, he thinks of it as three balls he has to connect, and immediately connects the first one.
Joseph goes back to the tried and tested short of length plan to Russell and nails it, under the most extreme pressure. It doesn’t get more heated than bowling to a rampaging Russell, but Joseph does it. And then he needs help from his fast bowling mate to complete it, as Ferguson moves across the field with the same speed at which he bowls, to hold on to the catch that decisively swings the match for one last time.
The Gujarat Titans have captain fantastic in Hardik Pandya, a future India captain in Shubman Gill, the MVP in T20 cricket in Rashid Khan, but the pace attack is the pace attack yaar.