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IPL final: Gujarat Titans may have a more balanced team, but Rajasthan Royals seem to be peaking at the right time

The top two teams from the league stage will play the final, but sentiment rests with the side that’s taken 14 years to return to the final.

May 29, 2022 / 11:03 AM IST
With 824 runs, Jos Buttler is the batter with most runs in this edition of the IPL so far. (Image: Twitter/IPL, BCCI)

With 824 runs, Jos Buttler is the batter with most runs in this edition of the IPL so far. (Image: Twitter/IPL, BCCI)

Rajasthan Royals (RR) won the inaugural Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2008, with what was then considered a ragged squad. They did have an inspirational leader, Shane Warne, pulled out of retirement from international cricket, who was instrumental in turning a bunch of nobodies into a triumphant unit.

Warne died this year, a few weeks before the start of the IPL and it’s perhaps providence that RR find themselves in the finals for the first time since the maiden season of the IPL. In many ways, the batter with most runs in the IPL (Jos Buttler, 824 runs) and the bowler with most wickets (Yuzvendra Chahal with 26 wickets – shared by Wanindu Hasaranga of Royal Challengers Bangalore [RCB]) deserve to be in the final, even if they have taken a slightly longer route to get there.

RR finished second in the league, played Gujarat Titans (GT) for a place in the final, but lost the match and ended up playing the winner of the RCB-Lucknow Super Giants tie. If they were beaten rather convincingly by GT, they won their second qualifier match comprehensively, too, beating RCB by seven wickets on Friday.

The Royals have reached this far on the back of Buttler’s blazing blade and a democratically operating bowling unit that didn’t necessarily look match-winning in the beginning but has combined well through the course of the season.

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Buttler’s domineering presence as an opener made up for RR’s weaknesses in the batting middle order. Besides a few useful knocks from captain Sanju Samson, Devdutt Padikkal and Shimron Hetmyer, Buttler did most of the heavy lifting. His most successful season ever in the IPL—he has been a part of the Royals’ unit since 2018—has him averaging nearly 60 with a strike rate of about 150 (runs per 100 balls faced).

Also read: Gary Kirsten: ‘There definitely is that belief (that Gujarat Titans can go all the way)’

Buttler is third in the list of batters with most IPL runs in a single season, behind Virat Kohli (973) and David Warner (848)—both in 2016. In all likelihood, he would get to second spot after the final, unless he scores a big century—his fifth this season—in the final to bridge the improbable 149-run gap with Kohli. 

His unbeaten 106 (off 60 balls) against RCB on Friday pretty much took the match away from Bangalore within the first 10 overs of the chase, a feat Rajasthan would want a repeat of on Sunday.

“I can't remember anyone batting this well in the history of the IPL,” Royals’ director of cricket Kumar Sangakkara told broadcaster Star Sports.

RR’s bowling also came together in getting them to the finish line. In the match that mattered, on Friday, two of their bowlers came up with their season’s best figures. Obed McCoy, in his first IPL season, has 11 wickets from six matches with his best in an innings, 3-23, against RCB.

Prasidh Krishna, in his first season with RR, has 18 wickets from 16 matches but against RCB, his 3-22 was instrumental in restricting them to a manageable score of 157.

Chahal’s 26 at an economy of under eight runs an over and Ravichandran Ashwin’s 12 wickets at an economy rate of 7.35 meant that RR had one of the best spin combinations in the tournament. Besides, Ashwin batting higher up in the order to give RR a bit more variety given the fragility of their middle order batting, also had a half-century to his credit.

It’s also providence that a newly-formed Gujarat franchise, led by a Gujarat-born Hardik Pandya, should play its maiden IPL final in Ahmedabad. 

Gujarat Titans have been, as per results, the best team in the league so far, losing just four of their 15 matches. Most of their victories have been comfortable, by T20 standards, and whenever they have gotten in trouble, they have found a hero to bail them out.

Gujarat had started their campaign well, by winning their first three matches before they lost one to Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH). They ran into trouble in the previous tie, against Punjab Kings (PBKS). Rahul Tewatia, who has a humble T20 record of an average under 28 and a highest score of 59, had David Miller for company when the team needed 19 off the last over and 12 off the last two balls. Tewatia smacked two sixes to get the job done. 

In their sixth match, against Chennai Super Kings (CSK), chasing 170, they were 16-3, when Miller walked in. His unbeaten 94 was match-winning, but he found an unusual ally in spinner Rashid Khan, known more for keeping things tight as a bowler of unreadable leg-spins. Khan, the stand-in skipper in Pandya’s absence, cracked a 40 off 21 balls to set up Miller’s last over flourish that took them past the CSK total off the last ball.

If GT wanted to avenge their loss to SRH in the return fixture, it wasn’t going to plan with 56 needed off the last four overs and five wickets down. Tewatia (40 off 21) and Khan (31 off 11) got into the act again, pulling off a last-ball win while chasing 196.

Their best chase was perhaps against RCB when down 95-4 in 13th over chasing 170, GT needed a small miracle. Miller (39 off 24) and Tewatia (43 off 25) pulled off that run with the kind of elegance that’s rare to watch.

His sparkling cameos notwithstanding, Khan decided he needed to prove a point with his bowling. His 18 wickets in the season have come at a miserly 6.73 runs an over. But after GT crawled to 144-4 against Lucknow Super Giants (LSG), Khan got four wickets to bowl out the opposition for 82. 

With Pandya and Miller already sixth and eighth among scorers, Mohammed Shami and Khan eighth and ninth among bowlers with most wickets, GT have an all-round team that springs heroes as per need.

And with Tewatia pulling off these cameos, the team has rested heavily on Miller who, after two average previous seasons and acquired by Gujarat for Rs 3 crore, has 449 runs from 15 matches at an average of over 64 and a strike rate of 141. All batters with more runs, with the exception of LSG’s Deepak Hooda, bat above Miller, who comes in at No 4-6.

Miller’s finishing has been so effective that GT has won most matches, seven, while chasing (losing just one).

The Royals have lost to Gujarat in both their meetings, but you get the impression that the team that’s taken a longer, harder route to the top, deserves to win more. Or at the least, do it for Warne.
Arun Janardhan is a Mumbai-based freelance writer-editor. He can be found on Twitter @iArunJ. Views are personal.
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