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Hardik Pandya-led Gujarat Titans' dream run to IPL 2022 final is a heart-warming tale

By Avinash Kr Atish

New Delhi, May 25 (IANS) It’s a dream to enter a highly-competitive league like the Indian Premier League as a new team and deliver straightaway. But the Hardik Pandya-led Gujarat Titans have turned that dream into reality as, in a pleasant surprise; they have qualified for the final in their debut season itself.

Watching the final Gujarat squad after the mega auction, most cricket pundits, analysts and even the fans didn’t give Gujarat much of a chance to finish in the top-four, but not only have they qualified for the final, they also finished as table toppers. In their very first season, it seems, the Titans have perfected the winning formula, especially in run chase. They have won seven out of their eight matches while chasing.

Most experts felt that Gujarat, while assembling a good group, were a bit thin in their batting. But most GT batters have punched above their weight, played out of their skin and proved everyone wrong with their match-winning abilities.

Titans may not be a team full of superstars but Hardik Pandya’s captaincy, David Miller’s solidity, Rahul Tewatia’s final flourish and Rashid Khan’s all-round ability have inspired the rest of their team-mates and brought the best out of them.

Excellent knocks by David Miller (68 not out off 38) and Hardik (40 not out off 27) led Gujarat Titans to the final of IPL 2022 in their debut season with a convincing seven-wicket win over Rajasthan Royals in Qualifier 1 at the iconic Eden Gardens on Tuesday.

Speaking after the game, Hardik revealed that his team has different characters and they bring different things to the table.

“All the 23 players are different characters, bringing different things to the table. Was saying to Miller as well, if you have good people around you, you get good things. It’s been that story for us,” the star all-rounder said.

“The kind of people we have, the genuine human beings we have… I genuinely see even the players in the dugout are trying and praying for them to make sure they do well. That is something fantastic and that is the reason we have reached where we have reached. It’s all about making sure we respect this game,” he added.

Ahead of the IPL 2022 mega auction, Gujarat Titans picked Hardik Pandya via the draft and named him captain of the side. However, there were doubts over Pandya’s bowling fitness as well as his captaincy skills, given that he had led only once in senior cricket previously. But Pandya has put an end to all such doubts and, under his captaincy, Gujarat have become the first team to qualify for the IPL 2022 final.

And as captain, he has usually got the basics right, rotated bowlers well, selected the playing XI well, and kept his calm on most occasions under pressure situations. Many GT players also spoke about how Hardik and head coach Ashish Nehra have kept the dressing room relaxed.

The opening pair of Shubman Gill and Wriddhiman Saha has done a decent job at the top order but the biggest gaping hole in Titans’ squad ahead of the season was the absence of a strong top order, particularly the lack of a genuine No, 3 and No, 4.

However, Hardik, who had always wanted to bat higher, has taken on the responsibility and got his chance at GT. He’s scored 453 runs, striking at 132.84 and an average of 45.30 in 14 matches this season. The standout feature of which has been his confidence and ability to remain calm in pressure situations — of which, GT have seen enough.

Titans have also had one of the fiercest set of finishers in David Miller, Rahul Tewatia and Rashid Khan. Rashid has finally shown what he can do with the bat, and between Miller, Tewatia, and Rashid, they have scored bulk of the runs in the death overs at a healthy strike rate. The trio forms the core of the best lower-middle order in the tournament.

The bowling group of Rashid Khan, Mohammed Shami, Alzarri Joseph, Yash Dayal, Lockie Ferguson, R Sai Kishore has also played a pivotal role in Gujarat’s march to the final. Titans’ seam attack proved to be the most incisive with the new ball, picking up more than 25 wickets at a strike rate of around 20. Shami was the leader of this pace pack with his 19 wickets in 15 matches. GT’s seam attack has also been among the most economical at the death overs.

Apart from their main bowlers, Hardik has bowled crucial overs for GT. In four out of five games he played before hurting his hamstring, Pandya bowled his full quota of four overs. In three of those games, he opened the bowling along with Shami, twice picking up a wicket in his first over. The star all-rounder could have bowled more but he has used himself judiciously, keeping his fitness in mind.

Overall, it has been a season to remember for newbies Gujarat Titans and it will be a cherry on top for them if they win the coveted IPL trophy in the final at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad in front of a capacity crowd.

–IANS

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