Hardik Pandya has led Gujarat Titans brilliantly in his first stint as captain. He has led by example. Be it with the bat or with the ball or with both.
Having led Titans to the IPL final in their inaugural appearance in the world’s most popular T20 league, Pandya bowled one of the most defining spells in IPL history. He took his best-ever IPL bowling figures of three for 17 in his four overs, bettering his three for 20 against Chennai Super Kings at Wankhede Stadium in 2019 when he was with Mumbai Indians, the team he has played all his life until Titans retained him for ₹15Cr and announced him as their captain.
Pandya’s victims on Sunday at the massive Narendra Modi Stadium in Motera, Ahmedabad, were not any less batsman. He dismissed RR captain Sanju Samson, who can be as attractive and destructive when he gets going, in his first over. He struck again in his third over, dismissing the Orange Cap winner Jos Buttler, the scorer of four centuries in this year’s IPL. And finally, with the last ball of his one extended spell, removed the big-hitter Shimron Hetmyer.
For the fifth time in this tournament, and 19th time in 107 IPL matches, Pandya has bowled his full quota of four overs. The 28-year-old came into the attack in the ninth over when Royals were 59 for one, going at around seven-and-a-half runs per over with Buttler and Samson at the crease. The need of the hour for RR was to build a partnership and accelerate towards the end with wickets in hand.
Pandya had other plans. He bowled a short one around off-stump to Samson, inviting the rival captain to pull. Samson top-edged for Sai Kishore to run from backward point to hold on to it. It was a brilliant opening over from Pandya in which he not only took Samson’s wicket but also gave away only one run and bowled four dot balls to the new batsman, Devdutt Padikkal.
That put pressure on the left-handed Padikkal, who did not last long, falling to Rashid Khan in the 12th over after Pandya bowled a tidy second over, giving away only four in the 11th over. Pandya struck again, dismissing the dangerous Buttler, who could have taken the game away from Titans had he stayed longer. As he has shown earlier in the tournament, Buttler, though slow to start, has accelerated in the end overs, sixes and fours flowing easily to make up for the early slow strike rate.
Under pressure with boundaries not coming, Buttler tried to work Pandya towards third man, only managing to edge to wicket-keeper Wriddhiman Saha. Giving away only seven runs in his first three overs and picking up two wickets, Pandya completed his quota in one spell. He conceded 10 in his last over with Hetmyer driving him through mid-off and steering to third man for fours. However, in trying to work him behind square on the on-side, the West Indies left-hander perished with the leading edge dropping straight into the bowler’s hands.
Pandya’s strikes ensured that RR were not left with any more dangerous batsman as Titans contained RR to the second lowest total in an IPL final (130 for nine).
When it came to the run chase, he walked in when his team were 23 for two in the fifth over. He kept his calm, punished the loose deliveries and built a partnership of 63 with opener Shubman Gill to take his team to safety. Pandya fell for 34 after striking three fours and a six off R Ashwin over long-on. By the time he fell, edging leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal to lone slip in the 14th over, he left Titans in the safe hands of David Miller as his team needed only 45 to win.
Pandya finished this IPL season with 487 runs at 44.27 and eight wickets at an economy rate of 7.27. A true all-round show all the way to the title, Pandya has literally led his team from the front.