Defending champion Gujarat Titans (GT) has not had it easy in its first full-fledged home campaign at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad during the IPL 2023 season.
The highs of the 2022 final win against Rajasthan Royals (RR) at the venue were backed up with a tricky last-over win against Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the tournament opener this season. However, Hardik Pandya’s men have endured two successive defeats from improbable situations in Ahmedabad, courtesy of Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) Rinku Singh and RR’s Shimron Hetmyer and Sanju Samson.
In their brief yet largely successful IPL stint, the Titans have lost six matches from 21 outings - five of which have come while defending totals.
Titans batting coach and mentor Gary Kirsten admitted that the team is yet to reach the all-round conditioning it had achieved early in its campaign last year. The Titans, who have lost two of their first five games this season, only dropped three matches before securing a Playoffs spot in 2022.
“Last IPL we defended four totals and we chased down six totals. This year we haven’t defended a total yet, but it’s early days in the tournament. I think there’s a lot of moving parts in every team. Last year we had a settled bowling lineup. This time we’ve had one or two injuries, and guys that would probably almost become our bankers in crucial overs aren’t necessarily ready to go for us in this tournament. Every team needs to be able to adapt to the different situations you are confronted with. For us, it’s an opportunity just to have a look at that area in our game to potentially reset or to ensure that we have within our squad the right guys doing certain jobs that you need in bowling innings,” Kirsten said during an online media interaction on Thursday.
During its three-wicket defeat to the Royals, opposition skipper Samson took on Gujarat’s spin lynchpin Rashid Khan to resurrect a chase that appeared out of his team’s grasp. Samson’s belligerence prompted Titans to hand Rashid’s compatriot Noor Ahmad a debut as an Impact Player, the left-armer acting as a makeshift death overs bowler. Ahmad was only the second spinner that GT have used in five matches so far.
The Titans have also been stung by the inconsistencies of their second and third-choice seamers Josh Little and Alzarri Joseph besides Mohammad Shami. Captain Hardik has also only bowled 10 overs in four games, picking up a solitary wicket.
The team is yet to use its young India seamer Shivam Mavi, who was bought in for INR 6 crore during the December 2022 auction. The 24-year-old had picked up seven wickets from six T20Is for India since January, including a 2/12 in two overs in his last match at Ahmedabad in February.
Speaking on Mavi’s selection, Kirsten said: “Yes, he is available. For selection, he’s working hard on his game and training. And he’s kind of there and thereabouts. The IPL squads are so big that you’ll look at the dugout and think, ‘Why is someone not playing?’ You’re gonna get a lot of that but selection is largely around the types of skills an individual has that would suit the conditions and the opposition.”
While the batting coach was content with the improving stature of Shubman Gill and Sai Sudharsan, Kirsten added that the surprise return of seamer Mohit Sharma and Vijay Shankar’s impact with the bat has boosted the side.
Shankar has played impactful cameos with the bat, including a career-best 63 off just 24 balls against KKR. Meanwhile, the veteran Mohit has controlled the middle-overs with the ball in six overs across two matches, at an economy of 4.16.
“Time might not be on their side, but the experience is. That certainly helps a lot in IPL, that would be the first thing. Certainly, Vijay battled (injuries) last season a little bit. He wanted to come back and prove that he was a player to be reckoned with. He got himself in great physical condition and his training and work ethic at the nets has been second to none.
“It’s (Mohit’s return to IPL after three years) really for me an inspiration in many ways. He spent all of the last IPL essentially as a net bowler for us. It’s remarkable for someone of his age to do that. It was great for him to have these last two games and he’s done well,” Kirsten said.
The World Cup-winning coach reckons that the Impact Player option has sparked some confusion among the franchises over the last two weeks.
“What it’s often done is it has created a little bit of confusion around how and when to use it and if at all you should use that player. You also need to see if that player should be an international as well. So there’s a lot of different things to ponder around it and it’s something that we are exploring at the moment.
“Does it take away the all-rounder? Possibly, one less because you can go for a specialist player in a certain position. I sense that the teams are still feeling it out and I’m sure we’ll eventually settle on something that works for each team,” Kirsten remarked.
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