Dubai: When Gujarat Titans team were announced as a team for the expanded Indian Premier League (IPL) 2022, not many were even willing to give half a chance to the newcomers. In eight months time, the Ahmedabad-based outfit is now on the verge of creating history and one man who has engineered the revolution on the field for Gujarat is Indian all-rounder Hardik Pandya.
Gujarat’s chances took a further beating when Pandya was announced as the captain. Nothing wrong with the all-rounder’s credentials, but it is his fitness that was in question after returning from a career-threatening injury. Ever since he broke down during a delivery stride in the Asia Cup in Dubai International Stadium, the Surat-born Pandya was never the same on the field and played a limited role for Mumbai last season.
Come Season 15, the pride of Gujarat were just getting ready for the kill and before anyone could react, the Titans were on top of the table, winning from the proverbial jaws of defeat.
History beckons Pandya when he leads Gujarat Titans against Rajasthan Royals in the final at Narendra Modi Stadium in Motera on Sunday. It’s only just that the top two teams at the end of the league table are once again contesting for the final.
A cool head
The Gujarat skipper has been a revelation in this season as he showcased his temperament, abilities and talent as a skipper and as a player, not getting flummoxed under pressure while leading the side or batting high up the order. If one can relate the impact of Pandya for Gujarat, it is similar to that of Mahendra Singh Dhoni leading a team of rookies to win the T20 World Cup in 2007.
He made stars from obscurity by bringing out the best in them, a proof that there were so many match-winners in the last 15 games the team played so far. He even gave a new innings to discards like Wriddhiman Saha and David Miller. Like Dhoni, he keeps it very simple on the field, may be the tenure Pandya had under the former Indian captain must have enabled him to adopt and develop a similar style.
The similarities with Dhoni doesn’t end here. Pandya will become only the second captain to win at home after the Chennai Super Kings skipper achieved the feat in 2011 and the fourth Indian skipper to get a hand on IPL trophy in the past 15 seasons after Dhoni, Rohit Sharma and Gautam Gambhir. He will also become the first Indian to clinch the coveted title in debut season.
The task is not going to be easy against a marauding Rajasthan Royals, who decimated Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Qualifier 2 at the same venue on Friday. Jos Buttler, the Orange Cap holder, is in the form of his life after scoring his fourth century this season and will be once again the key factor for the Royals in the final. The inclusion has Yashasvi Jaiswal has given more teeth to the opening partnership and with skipper Sanju Samson to follow, the top three could take the match away from Gujarat. The talented Samson is due for a big score this season, after several 30s and 40, and he could bring out the best on the big stage to stake his claim for the trophy.
Rajasthan's spin duo
Royals’ spin duo of Ravichandran Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal, the Purple Cap holder, have enjoyed a stunning run this season, but they don’t have the same stranglehold that they enjoyed in the earlier games could be a cause for worry for the Halla Bol Pink Army.
Still the form points to Gujarat skipper to win the IPL title, which will enhance his growing reputation as future Indian captain.