In a way, it was an apt ending of the league phase for Gujarat Titans. They had begun by defying expectations consistently, pulling out wins from nowhere, and being the Houdini team of IPL 2022. So when they entered their final league game as firm favourites, against a team that had been struggling a bit, naturally, the expected script was not going to play out. So it’s fitting that the Titans lost to Royal Challengers Bangalore.
For those who believe in the law of averages, it might even be something of a relief that the loss is out of the way. Now the serious business of the playoffs can be jumped into.
It’s been a season of plenty for the Titans though. Of course the most important lap of the tournament remains, but finishing at the league topper means they enter the playoffs in a very good space. And it’s been a season of proving predictions wrong. The Titans were supposed to have a batting weakness, but their batting has stepped up, and how. Their bowling was always fantastic, and it’s played true to reputation
Pandya's captaincy unleashed - a surprise for Indian cricket
Before IPL 2022 began, no one knew what to expect from Hardik Pandya, the captain. What they got might have surpassed most expectations. Hardik was proactive, he was dynamic, and he played a key role in setting a relaxed atmosphere. Crucially, the relaxation was there in the form of security in peoples’ minds, not in performance. And for all the pre-conceived notions that people had of Hardik – too flashy, too instinctive, too uncertain about his own fitness – each was proved emphatically wrong. Hardik found the zen between being true to his own self and being a thinking captain, and an inspirational leader. He was smart with his bowling changes, he made intelligent decisions with the batting order, and he assumed responsibility with bat and ball. The latter was vital, not just for the Titans but for Hardik the player too. When someone like Hardik is delivering with both bat and ball, it adds dimensions to a team in the way only a handful of cricketers can.
David Miller, now v2.0
David Miller had come into this IPL on the back of a succession of seasons where he hadn’t quite got sustained runs in any XI. In the Titans, he was given the responsibility of being the lower middle order lynchpin, and he rose to the challenge. His game was always capable of being fearsome in T20s, especially against pace. He added a skillset against spin. As Chennai Super Kings coach Stephen Fleming said, it is the hallmark of the great players that they go and work on their weaknesses.
“It’s the thing with weaknesses with players: they’re very aware of them, and they go away and work on them to make them better,” Fleming had said after Miller’s incredible heist in the first game against the Super Kings. “Quality players often make a few changes and come back better for it. And the way David played tonight, you would say that would be the case.”
Tewatia: All the labour behind all the 'luck'
He had played that innings at Sharjah. You don’t play that kind of knock without having something special. Like Miller, Tewatia was capable of being devastating. But he had figured out that bowlers were going wide outside off to him, and therefore he needed to develop that area of the game. So he worked on that, came back, and suddenly the line that had worked against him wasn’t so effective anymore.
““I had improved my off-stump game quite a bit from the start of the IPL and hit quite a few shots,” Tewatia said. “Because bowlers had begun planning and keeping the field outside off stump, so I thought that if I can hit my shots in the gap, I can get boundaries there too. So I could open up the game on both sides.”
He thought. He worked. He came and did it.
Bowling arsenal = Batters playing freely
Yes, the batting had less weight of experience perhaps than a lot of other IPL sides. But then, no other IPL side had quite the bowling arsenal that the Titans had. That also meant a bit of a freeing of the mind for the batters, knowing that what was a par score for others, was above-par for them.
Batsmen win matches and bowlers win tournaments, it is said. The Titans have proved it to the hilt in this IPL. In a volatile format like T20, the play-offs can be a lottery. If you top the league stage though, you have a legit claim to being called the best team of the tournament. So far, the Titans have been just that.
Not the kiss of life, or of miracles, which the Titans had plenty of. This was the ‘Keep it simple, stupid’ version. Hardik and Ashish Nehra have been the driving forces behind that.
“It's been amazing being here, with Ashu pa and Hardik. Ashu pa has made sure that everybody feels so secure in this team,” Sai Kishore told Gujarat Titans in an interview. “Even when I was playing the 12th game of the season, I still felt like I need to contribute something for the team. Didn’t feel like I’ve been left out or something like that. We’ve all felt so secure and a lot of credit needs to be given to the both of them making the environment like that.
“I’ve always loved the kinds of captains who give the responsibility to the player, rather than just imposing always. Then your instincts just get cut off. Credit to captains like that, always fun to play like that!”
Hardik and Nehra have kept the atmosphere fun, but they’ve also kept it driven. It’s a tightrope of a balance to maintain, and they’ve done it.
Balance has been the key for the Titans. They’ve found balance in batting and bowling. In relaxation and intensity. In the game, when key moments could have gone either way. And even when they have marched into the playoffs. Whatever happens now, it’s been a debut season to remember.