Two matches remaining, qualification already sealed, and top-two finish all but certain.
Gujarat Titans have already made it a debut to remember in the IPL. But while it is a superb debut, the team also knows that it’s the final stretch that can turn the good into the great.
The Titans’ will now face Chennai Super Kings for the second time this season, a team that has shown several times in the past what it means to be a champion side, but for whom IPL 2022 has not quite gone to plan. The last time these two sides met, Hardik Pandya had to sit out due to an injury, and he missed out on playing against MS Dhoni, his mentor and idol. However, that was a Super Kings side led by Ravindra Jadeja. Within a few short weeks, Jadeja has given up captaincy and been withdrawn from the tournament due to injury, and Dhoni is back in charge.
The Midas touch that Dhoni brings has not quite materialised though, with the team already in a bit of a hole when he took over. They’ve since won a couple of games, but two losses alongside have meant the Super Kings are officially out of the running for the playoffs, only the second time this has happened to them when they’ve played an IPL season. As defending champions, as a team with a proud history, and as a team with a remarkable leader, the mere fact of being out of the running for the playoffs is a gash deep enough that they’ll be looking to finish on a high. And what better way to do that than by getting a win against the table toppers?
It is that hunger, sparked by having nothing to lose and pride to regain, that the Titans need to guard against, as much as the considerable skills that their opponents possess. Not that the Titans will feel outskilled – you wouldn’t by any team if you are playing in the IPL, but particularly not if you’ve had the kind of season and victories the Titans have had. They have found match-winners at every juncture, they have refused to believe a match is lost, and they have gelled spectacularly together as a team. The previous game against the Super Kings itself was ample evidence of that, when a David Miller special, aided by a Rashid Khan tornado, uprooted a carefully constructed Super Kings defence.
What’s their form been?
The Titans have not only kept winning, they’ve also not had any opponent beat them more than once. As for their closest competitors on the points table – fellow debutants Lucknow Super Giants – the Titans have beaten them twice. It’s an enviable record to have, and it shows just how good their form has been. Their bowling attack continues to be a potent mix of variety, depth and incisiveness, against which there have not been any consistent successes.
The Super Kings have had two commanding wins in their last four games, when they put on 200-plus totals, but in the other two, their middle order crumbled against Royal Challengers Bangalore, and the entire team was shot out for 97 against Mumbai Indians. True, the pitch for the Mumbai game was a fast bowler’s delight, but even so, the Super Kings batting didn’t acquit itself well. For the defending champions to make a match of it, their batting has to step up, and do it against a formidable opposition.
Titans Trump Card
Hardik Pandya has been captain fantastic for the Titans. He began by assuming more responsibility with the bat, and delivering superbly. He operated as a frontline bowler, and delivered there too. For good measure, he’s been as livewire as ever in the field. More than that, he has infused a sense of confidence in his team and been a proactive captain: whether with his bowling changes and his field settings, or the more intangible stuff of getting the team in the right frame of mind to be relaxed enough to be secure, without being too relaxed so that performance suffers. He’s done all that while showing tactical agility too. In recent games, Hardik the batter has had fewer runs than how he started the tournament. Playing against a man he respects massively, the motivation for Hardik to be at his best with bat, ball, fielding and captaincy, will be huge.