“It feels great. Coming into the season, not many people gave us much of a chance. Not many people thought we’d qualify. But here we are, sitting on top of the table. It feels pretty great.” – Shubman Gill, Man of the Match in Gujarat Titans’ 62-run win against Lucknow Super Giants.
Qualification - Done. Top two finish? Done for all practical purposes.
Only a series of unexpected results will stop Gujarat Titans from finishing in the top two of the league phase of IPL 2022 now. In other words, other teams in the fray will have to pull a Gujarat Titans to deny Gujarat Titans a top-two finish.
It can be done. But not every team is Gujarat Titans.
This victory will feel particularly sweet, because Shubman Gill’s words at the end of the match would have rung true. Not many people did give Gujarat Titans that much of a chance. And yet, here they are, on 18 points and with two games still in hand.
The team that’s made it a habit to come back from the death, is now all set to get two chances to qualify for the IPL 2022 final on debut. Who would have thought?
After the IPL 2022 mega auctions, people pointed at the Titans’ batting. Yes, the bowling looked fabulous, but this is T20, a batsman’s game. And where were the batsmen? The answer, the Titans knew, was: “right here. If you know where to look.” People had looked at David Miller’s relative lack of runs in the past few IPLs, but not seen the uniform success he’d had consistently everywhere else, or the fact that it is more difficult to make an impact when you’re more out than in from the playing XI.
They looked at Rahul Tewatia’s relative lack of impact since that Sharjah Smash – but hadn’t seen how Tewatia had worked in the lead-up to this IPL to develop an offside game that reduced bowlers’ margin for error, while maintaining his fearsome legside power.
People hadn’t seen Hardik Pandya bowl, or even play, and perhaps the memory of just how devastating he could be with the bat and how potent with the ball receded in the background. Till Hardik arrived in the tournament with an elevated batting position, rejuvenated bowling, and a seemingly eternal smile.
“To be totally honest with you, when we walked away from the auction, we didn’t at all think we have a weak batting line-up, in the slightest,” team director Vikram Solanki would say after the Titans had beaten the Super Giants. “Once we walked away from the auction, we were pretty pleased with the work we did. A lot has been made about our line-up, and I’m fine with that. People are absolutely entitled to their opinion. But I can assure you, at no stage did we think we had a weakened or a weak batting line-up.”
The Titans think-tank knew what they were doing before the auction, when they signed on a core of Hardik Pandya, Rashid Khan and Shubman Gill – possibly the best nucleus of any franchise going into the mega auction. They knew what they were doing when they structured their team at the auctions too. Most important of all, they know what they are doing during IPL 2022. They could have had all the talent in the world, but a stifling atmosphere would have led to stifled results. They instead had a mix of untapped potential and established superstars, and an atmosphere that fosters happiness and a relaxed mindset that led to miracles on the field.
In all this, Hardik’s captaincy has been a massive, understated factor. Even the decision to bat first against Super Giants in a night game. The Titans got only 144, but as it turned out 144 was more than enough. They had, once again, shown great tactical nous by reading the conditions correctly, and deciding that this was a tough pitch that would only get tougher. Conventional T20 wisdom of chasing was damned, and batting first bore fruit.
“Really, really proud of the boys,” Hardik said after the game. “When we started this journey together, I don’t think…we obviously believed in our team, we believed in ourselves, but before the 14th game comes we have qualified – it’s a great effort and really proud of us.”
So to answer the question of who would have believed it, Gujarat Titans earning qualification with two games to go? The answer’s simple. Every member of the Gujarat Titans believed it, on field and off it. Even if no one else had, that was enough.