What have Gujarat Titans and Rajasthan Royals done well in this edition of the Indian Premier League? Quite a few things.
For the newcomer Titans, it was a challenge to start from scratch. Under the leadership of Hardik Pandya, the team was able to identify its potential protagonists and plan accordingly.
While quite a few other franchises splashed out to big names during the mega sale in February, Titans’ approach was unique – it went for David Miller, many of whom believed he was past his prime; Rahul Tewatia, who looked quite pale after his six-stroke attack in Sharjah two summers ago; and India reject Wriddhiman Saha.
The choices then were mind-boggling. But with its core centered around Hardik, Shubman Gill and Rashid Khan, the Titans think tank knew it was taking a calculated risk by putting its money on the old warhorses. And after two months of cricket, it’s clear that the strategy paid off; Not only did Miller, Saha and Tewatia deliver, they also led the team to the first-ever IPL final, to be played against the Royals at Narendra Modi Stadium on Sunday.
After 2008, it has been a long wait for the Royals to reach a final again. The ‘Men in Pink’ want 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 made a lot of money, the Royals struggled in the points tally, forcing management to overcome its obsession to pick players from England and Australia and build a solid core of Indian players. Royals finally got lucky in the auction as it was able to land the top two Indian spinners – R. Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal.
A close group
The inclusion of Trent Boult and Prasidh Krishna bolstered the tempo division of Royals. And among batters, it was able to bring in Devdutt Padikkal and Shimron Hetmyer while Sanju already held on to Samson and Jos Buttler. The biggest challenge has been making things work and under the leadership of head coach Kumar Sangakkara, the Royals have looked like a tight-knit unit.
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Those ‘little suggestions’ from Sangakkara helped the team and how! After months of almost no training, Buttler let the willow do the talking and went on to don the Orange Cap and emerge as a match winner. Chahal and Ashwin had their days off, but when they found their mojo, they made sure to put the opponents on the mat. And the lively Hetmyer changed things in the middle order.
So all in all, the Royals were able to 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 by 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 continue.
Prasidh v Miller, Buttler v Rashid
However, the final will be a different ball game. With a packed stadium and lots of fireworks – both on and off the pitch – expected, the teams have to keep their nerves in check and make sure they don’t suffocate under pressure.
It will be interesting to see Prasidh execute the plans against a raging Miller and Ashwin and Chahal come up with a plan for Hardik. And, of course, all eyes will be on how Buttler interacts with Rashid.
With the city witnessing an IPL final for the first time and a team from Gujarat in the final, expectations have already skyrocketed. Before the final, there is a glitzy closing ceremony attended by Bollywood superstars. Interior Minister Amit Shah is expected to attend the final. There will be a special show marking the journey of Indian cricket over the past 75 years.
Amid all the glitz and glamour, two young captains will take to the field with determination and hope. In the past two months, both Sanju and Hardik fought against all odds, dodging all criticism to get their respective teams this far.
It doesn’t matter who wins or loses in the end, but remember the efforts of the Royals. Remember the Titans!