Gujarat Titans: Hardik Pandya & Co start from scratch

Vikram Solanki, Gujarat Titans’ director of cricket, says Hardik Pandya has been working hard to attain full fitness. “We are looking forward to him playing whatever part he plays keeping everything in mind.”

Hardik Pandya will lead the Gujarat Titans in the upcoming edition of the Indian Premier League.   -  K. Murali Kumar

Gujarat Titans will be featuring in its first Indian Premier League season under the leadership of Hardik Pandya. In the auction, the team management ensured that it picked the right candidates and ahead of the action, the franchise’s director of cricket, Vikram Solanki, talks about the team’s planning and expectations.

Being a former England international, Solanki understands what it takes for a team to make an impact in the IPL and he is confident that his boys can make their presence felt.

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This is the first season for Gujarat Titans. What are your thoughts on the team?

We are very excited about the tournament, as you might expect. The opportunity to sort of start from scratch and build a new team is a very exciting prospect. We have a lot of work to do and we acknowledge that, but we are very excited with the squad we have put together. We were very pleased with our three picks prior to the auction and then, we were pleased with our auction picks. We are very much getting together as a team. Of course there are commitments around the world as far as players are concerned — whether it is international cricket or domestic cricket. We are no different to other teams, we are sort of having to wait for our team to get together. We are looking forward to that.

The team revolves around captain Hardik Pandya. With him at the helm, what was the thought of the team management when you went into the auction?

Your point that the team revolves around Hardik is interesting. It is certainly led by Hardik and he will have to play his part — both as a cricketer and a leader. The thought was no different than anybody else. It was to try and get a balanced side that complements each other and each other’s skill sets, to be able to be competitive given any circumstances — by that I mean, conditions and opposition.

That would be the mindset of everybody else. We, obviously, did not have the point which others had in terms of having a developed team. We were at the starting point and we did try to put together a balanced squad and that gives us the opportunity to pick the balanced eleven in any condition.

Hardik hasn’t played international cricket since last year’s T20 World Cup. So, is the team looking at him as a specialist batter or as an all-rounder? What’s the plan keeping his fitness in mind?

Hardik has been working hard to attain full fitness. He has trained very hard, practised hard in all aspects of the game — batting, bowling and fielding. Our view is that Hardik Pandya as a batter is a dangerous entity himself, and Hardik Pandya as a batter and fielder, is much better. And Pandya as a batter, bowler and fielder adds dimensions to the team.

We are looking at him to play whatever part he can play. But again, we must ensure that we must not push. If he is ready to bowl, then of course, he brings an entirely different balance to your side, so we are looking forward to him playing whatever part he plays keeping everything in mind.

You have a blend of youth and experience. What are your expectations from the rookie, uncapped talents?

There needs to be succession planning because you need to make superstars for the future too. So, you are reminded of actually spotting talents early and giving the youngsters the opportunity to be part of the team and contribute and then they might themselves become future superstars. The IPL has been renowned and has created a number of superstars and given them opportunities to grow. As you pointed out, the guys we have picked are a group of young talents, and it is important to have a group of guys to mentor these young guys, who have the talent and the energy. You need that balance in the team.

The team will be missing out on the services of Jason Roy. And also, in a long tournament, there could be withdrawals and players missing out due to international commitments. Is there a contingency plan?

It is very disappointing for us that Jason won’t be part of the IPL this year. He is a hugely exciting cricketer and he was in prime form recently. We were very pleased to bring him on board. We must also respect that given what the world has gone through over the last two years, certainly demands placed on cricketers — playing regularly and travelling — has taken its toll. It’s not the first time that you heard of bio-bubble fatigue, and it actually concerns the mental health of all cricketers. We must reach out to those players and make sure that their health and well being is first and foremost on our mind. Jason is disappointed. I have spoken to him, but we look forward to him being part of our team in the years to come. As far as contingency, we try and pick a squad that can handle things — be it non-availability of players, form, injury or such situations where there are international commitments. We have to plan keeping what could come ahead.

How do you see the fact that all the league matches will be played in Maharashtra?

Ideally, we would have loved to play the matches at our home stadium (in Ahmedabad) as a new franchise. But we totally understand the circumstances and totally understand the position BCCI is taking and that’s why there are four venues. It is no different for us in comparison to other teams. We will do as we need to across the four venues and practice facilities. We must deal with it, but ideally, we would have really liked to play in Ahmedabad.

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