It’s not quite the wheel coming a full circle, but there is a back to the future sense for Gujarat Titans’ next game. They’re up against their fellow IPL debutants, and each team’s first-ever opponents. IPL 2022 began with Hardik Pandya’s Titans taking on a Lucknow Super Giants team that had both KL Rahul and Krunal Pandya.
After the game, Hardik joked that the Pandya household would all be happy because while Krunal got Hardik’s wicket, the Titans won the match. It was a sentiment that followers of both teams could perhaps identify with. But that was then. It was the start of the tournament, and as every year, there was a world of possibilities open before every team. Now, we’re near the business end of the IPL, and the Titans and Super Giants enter this game as joint table-toppers, and almost certain playoff qualifiers.
Which means, this may be only Part 2 of a Brother vs Brother trilogy, and not the final act. A victory for the Titans will thus give them a valuable psychological edge if – or perhaps when – the teams come face to face once again in the playoffs. More tangibly, a victory in this game is likely to be a crucial determinant of whether the team finishes in the top two of the league stage.
It cannot be stressed how crucial a top-two finish is given the structure of the playoffs. Since 2011, when the current playoff structure has been in place, there has been only one occasion when a team outside of the top two won the IPL: Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2016.
So, while the opening match between the two was of historic significance, this one is likely to be the most important one towards determining which path each team will take.
What’s their form been?
The Super Giants have been on a hot streak, winning their last four matches coming into this game. They’ve beaten Mumbai Indians, Punjab Kings, Delhi Capitals and Kolkata Knight Riders, and only the Capitals ran them close. The flipside of those wins is that all the teams they’ve beaten are outside the top four, and therefore haven’t been in the best form. The highest placed are the Capitals at fifth, and they were defeated by just six runs. The Super Giants might face a sterner test then, against a form team.
The Titans have had a bit of a speed bump in their victory march, with two defeats in a row. While Punjab motored to victory, the Titans will know that they had their match against Mumbai in their grasp before it slipped. The most surprising aspect of that Mumbai result was that the Titans have made a habit of winning these kinds of matches in the tournament so far, which made the loss an aberration. Belief in the Titans camp is still high, as it should be given their season.
Titans Trump Card
Mohammed Shami began Gujarat Titans’ journey in the IPL by getting KL Rahul out first ball. That first ball was a sign of things to come for Shami. So far in IPL 2022, nobody has more powerplay wickets than Shami’s nine.
He has been incisive, hostile, quick and shown smarts. All the qualities that have made Shami one of Test cricket’s premier bowlers in the last half decade have been seamlessly transposed into T20 cricket. He bowls the tough overs for the Titans, in the powerplay and at the death. When he’s got his rhythm going, no batting line-up in the world is wobble-proof. He has already done it against the Super Giants once, and then carried that form for the rest of the tournament.
- While the trend for most teams in the IPL has been to bowl first if they win the toss, the Titans have one factor in their favour if they are asked to bat: their captain’s numbers while setting up a total. Hardik the batter has been superb for the Titans, but particularly so when batting first, with an average of 78.66 and a strike rate of 133.33.
- Rashid Khan has hit 98 sixes in his T20 career so far. Two more and he’ll get to a century of sixes.
- KL Rahul has not had a happy time at the Pune ground in IPL matches, with four innings bringing him just 20 runs so far.