It’s not easy to be under public scrutiny all the time and come back stronger every time. It is equally difficult to overcome a long and nagging injury, poor form and ultimately come out as the match winner. In short, being Hardik Pandya is not easy.
When he came to the Indian Premier League as captain of Gujarat Titans, he had not played any form of cricket for nearly five months. Until a few weeks ago, he didn’t even go bowling. But on Sunday at Narendra Modi International Stadium, in front of a crowd of 1,04,859, the Titans captain proved why he is still regarded as one of the best all-rounders.
Shaking off the pressure of playing in the final, Hardik first took three wickets (three for 17) to limit Rajasthan Royals to 130 for nine and then switched with a 30-ball 34 as Titans chased the total with 11 balls left. With the captaincy at the front, Titans defeated the Royals by seven wickets to take their first-ever IPL title – that too on debut!
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With the competition phase of the tournament in Mumbai and Pune, and the qualifiers in Kolkata, Titans hadn’t played a single game at home before the final and only looked at the wicket on Saturday night. So there was clearly no home field advantage, and while fan expectations skyrocketed, Hardik made sure that the Titans weren’t overwhelmed by the pressure of the grand final. He led by example.
On a rather used and worn surface, the Royals chose to bat after winning the toss – a decision that didn’t go in their favour. Though the Yashasvi Jaiswal and Jos Buttler saw the opening partnership, the Royals scored 31 runs in the first four overs but things changed shortly after the Mumbai youngster dragged one to Sai Kishore on a deep square leg from Yash Dayal for 22 out of 16.
With the opener gone, one would expect Buttler and captain Sanju Samson to rebuild, but they failed to capitalize on the opportunity. Captain Hardik played the masterstroke by bringing in Rashid Khan early, well aware that both batters are battling the star spinner, and that approach worked.
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Trying to play it safe against the Afghan spin ace, the Royals run-flow dried up and they only managed 44 runs in the PowerPlay. Although Buttler took aim at Lockie Ferguson – who clocked 157.3 mph, the fastest ball of the tournament – with consecutive limits, Titans bounced back in style, with Hardik knocking out Samson with his second ball of the game. Troubled at 60 for two in 8.2 overs, the Royals needed a good partnership between Buttler and Devdutt Padikkal, but both fell quite quickly, leaving the team to tatters.
While Rashid Padikkal stalled for just two runs, Pandya cleared Buttler in the span of three pitches. Buttler surpassed David Warner to become the second-highest points scorer in an IPL season with 863 runs, behind Virat Kohli’s total of 973 runs in 2016.
Unable to gauge Rashid and Hardik, Ravichandran Ashwin and Shimron Hetmyer went wild after 14 overs. Hardik then caught and threw Hetmyer, and with the big guns back in the cabin, the Royals had young Riyan Parag to thank, whose late cameo helped the team reach the 130 run.
The Rajasthan bowlers defended a low total and needed early wickets. While Prasidh Krishna cleared Wriddhiman Saha for just five, Boult cleared Matthew Wade with just 23 runs on the board.
However, Shubman Gill (45 not out, 43b, 3×4, 1×6) took full advantage of two postponements to keep Titans in the hunt. Yuzvendra Chahal dropped Gill in single digits, while Hetmyer missed a tricky opportunity later in the evening.
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Gill set a 63-run score for the third wicket with Captain Hardik. While Gill anchored the innings, Hardik played sensibly – he skipped a four and a six off Ashwin in the 12th before falling to Chahal.
When Hardik finally left, Titans only needed 45 runs. David Miller (32 not out, 19b, 3×4, 1×6) tore in Royals bowlers and with the Titans fans cheering out loud for the home team, Gill sealed the win with a six over Obed McCoy.
This was the first Royals final since 2008 and the team wanted to pay a fitting tribute to their first captain Shane Warne, who passed away in March. Members of the 2008 title-winning team were invited to cheer on the Royals, but in the end it was heartbreak.
Leading Titans was Hardik’s first captaincy, and the seasoned campaigner stunned when it mattered most, proving once again that when the going gets tough, he gets to work.