What did Gujarat Titans and Rajasthan Royals get right in this edition of the Indian Premier League? Quite a few things.
For the new entrant Titans, it was a challenge to start from scratch. Under the leadership of Hardik Pandya, the team could identify its potential key players and plan accordingly.
Even though quite a few other franchises splurged on big names in the mega-auction in February, Titans’ approach was unique - it went for David Miller, who many thought had past his prime; Rahul Tewatia, who looked rather pale after his six-hitting spree in Sharjah, two summers ago; and India discard Wriddhiman Saha.
The choices were baffling back then. But with its core revolving around Hardik, Shubman Gill and Rashid Khan, the Titans think-tank knew that it was taking a calculated risk by putting its money on the old warhorses. And after two months of cricket, it is evident that the strategy paid off; not only have Miller, Saha and Tewatia delivered, they have also guided the team to its first-ever IPL final, to be played at the Narendra Modi Stadium on Sunday, against the Royals.
After 2008, it has been a long wait for the Royals to reach another final. The ‘Men in Pink’ aim to rewrite history and pay a fitting tribute to their ‘first Royal’ Shane Warne, who passed away in March. Returning to the fold in 2018 after a two-year suspension, the Royals relied heavily on the superstars from England and Australia who would essentially form their core.
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While Steve Smiths, Ben Stokes and others earned big money, the Royals struggled in the points table, forcing the management to get over its obsession to pick players from England and Australia and to look at building a solid core of Indian players. Royals eventually got lucky at the auction as it could rope in the top two Indian spinners - R. Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal.
A close-knit group
The inclusion of Trent Boult and Prasidh Krishna bolstered Royals’ pace department. And among batters, it could rope in Devdutt Padikkal and Shimron Hetmyer while already retaining Sanju Samson and Jos Buttler. The biggest challenge was to make things work and under the guidance of head coach Kumar Sangakkara, the Royals have looked like a closely knit unit.
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Those ‘little suggestions’ by Sangakkara helped the team and how! Coming after months of almost no training, Buttler let the willow do the talking and went on to don the Orange Cap, emerging as a match-winner. Chahal and Ashwin had their off days, but when they found their mojo, they made sure that they put the opponents on the mat. And the lively Hetmyer changed things in the middle-order.
So, all in all, the Royals could come out of their ‘top-heavy’ shadow and rebuild. The way Buttler returned to form after a series of disappointments or the way Prasidh bounced back with three wickets in the second qualifier against Royal Challengers Bangalore despite being taken to the cleaners by Miller in the previous game only explains the philosophy of the camp - accept the result and move on.
Prasidh v Miller, Buttler v Rashid
However, the final will be a different ball game. With a packed stadium and plenty of fireworks - both on and off the field - expected, the teams will need to hold their nerves and ensure that they don’t choke under pressure.
It will be interesting to see how Prasidh executes the plans against a rampaging Miller and how Ashwin and Chahal come up with a plan for Hardik. And, of course, all eyes will be on how Buttler handles Rashid.
With the city witnessing an IPL final for the first time and a team from Gujarat featuring in the final, the expectations have already sky-rocketed. Prior to the final, there will be a glitzy closing ceremony, attended by Bollywood superstars. Union Home Minister Amit Shah is expected to attend the final. There will be a special show marking the journey of Indian cricket over the last 75 years.
Amid all the glitz and glamour, two young captains will be taking the field with determination and hope. Over the last two months, both Sanju and Hardik battled all odds, ducked all criticisms to bring their respective teams so far.
It doesn’t matter who wins or loses in the end, but remember the efforts by the Royals. Remember the Titans!