Hardik Pandya
Captain Hardik Pandya of the Gujarat Titans lifts the winners’ trophy after beating the Rajasthan Royals in the Tata Indian Premier League 2022 final at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on May 29, 2022. Image Credit: Sportzpics for IPL

The toss. Did the Rajasthan Royals may have lost the final right there? What was Sanju Samson thinking? Just when he started to win the toss, the Rajasthan captain didn’t know what to do with it?

Samson’s decision to bat first was baffling since he admitted that the toss played a significant role in Friday’s thumping win over the Royal Challengers Bangalore. That Eliminator was played on the same strip at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.

The surface is dry; that was how Samson justified his decision to bat first on Sunday. Maybe, it wasn’t just Samson’s call. It must have been a team decision. Yet, as captain, Samson should have stood his ground if he believed in what he said after the RCB game.

To blame the Rajasthan defeat on the toss would be injustice to the Gujarat Titans, who won it on sheer dint of high-calibre displays throughout the tournament. Gujarat were the only dominant performer in IPL 2022, losing only four of their 16 games. And in a tight final, their quality shone through as Gujarat ground out a tough but comprehensive victory.

Frankly, I didn’t expect Gujarat to win. Newcomers usually struggle to find their feet in the IPL. But Hardik Pandya led them to a rousing start with a string of victories, and some were snatched from the jaws of defeat. Maybe, the law of averages will catch up with them, I reasoned. It did, but they shrugged it off and continued their merry march.

Even then, I expected them to hit the skids at some point. There has to be banana peel along the road. And if it’s in the playoffs, that could be tricky. Gujarat proved that my speculation was way off the mark.

Much of the credit for the triumph should go to Pandya. He led from the front; he even shared the new ball in some games. But the bigger transformation was in his batting. Gone are the days of powerhitting, which he did for the Mumbai Indians. At No. 4, Pandya blended discipline with judicious strokeplay to bail out Gujarat on several occasions, including the final.

The title clash showcased all of Pandya’s skills. He bowled four economical overs to dismiss three Rajasthan heavyweights: Samson, Jos Buttler and Shimron Hetmyer. Not just that. He rang the bowling changes so astutely that Rajasthan were never allowed to claw back into the game. When Rajasthan threatened to derail Gujarat's chase, Pandya provided the steel in the middle-order with a partnership that took the game away.

It was an allround performance of the highest order. Rajasthan never stood a chance against it. Pandya took charge of Gujarat’s destiny in the final, while Samson fell early and cheaply, triggering a Rajasthan batting collapse. Samson and Buttler can attack during any phase of the innings; they have the skills and strokes to do it. Undue haste undid Samson, and that cranked up the pressure. The rest of the batting disintegrated.

If Samson had held the Rajasthan innings together like Pandya, maybe they could have fancied their chances. Really? I don’t think so. Gujarat were so dominant that even the toss wouldn’t have mattered. Such was the authority in which Gujarat played that they would have won even if they batted first.

Did Rajasthan beat themselves? No, they were beaten by a better side. The toss didn’t matter.