Not even the customary prayers offered by the Mumbai Indians owners before every match at the famous Siddhi Vinayak temple for their team’s success could prevent Gujarat Titans from entering their second successive final in as many IPL appearances.
Former India wicketkeeper and Mumbai Indians scout Kiran More believed the Rohit Sharma-led side had an edge over the defending champions, the Titans, in the second qualifier, as the Hardik Pandya-led team’s winning run had come to a halt in the first qualifier.
More’s reasoning was that a team that has been soaring high, once brought down to earth, would find it tough to climb up again. More, though disappointed for his team, must be pleased that one of his pupils whom he spotted early in Baroda and groomed at his academy, Pandya, is leading the Titans.
Pandya’s most trusted soldier and the rising star of Indian cricket, nay world cricket, Shubman Gill, made the most of the ‘life’ he enjoyed when on 30 to score the seventh highest individual score of the IPL (129), at more than two runs for every ball faced on Friday night.
The batsmen with knocks better than Gill’s are Chris Gayle (175 not out), Brendon McCullum (158 not out), Quinton de Kock (140 not out), AB de Villiers (133 not out and 129 not out), and KL Rahul (129 not out).
Gill has made this IPL his very own, especially in the last six matches that the Titans played, sweetly surpassing Royal Challengers Bangalore Captain Faf du Plessis for the most runs in this edition, and now sitting beyond anyone’s reach for the Orange Cap.
Gill’s 851 is way ahead of fifth-placed CSK opener Devon Conway’s 625 runs, while the others in between — RCB’s Faf du Plessis (730), Virat Kohli (639), and Rajasthan Royals’ Yashasvi Jaiswal (625) — have completed their IPL 2023 duties.
Gill’s aggregate in his last six innings is unimaginable – 476 runs at an average of 119, with three centuries and one unbeaten 94, is more than three times better in terms of average than his 375 runs at an average of 37.50 in his first 10 innings.
Gill got into stride with 101 against Sunrisers Hyderabad in the penultimate league match. He bettered it with 104 not out against Royal Challengers Bangalore to negate King Kohli’s century and deny RCB an entry into the play-offs. And, with his majestic 129 in qualifier 2 after a rare failure (43) in the first qualifier against Chennai Super Kings, Gill seems to be unstoppable at the moment.
Gill’s century in the IPL play-offs, coming off 49 deliveries, helped Titans clock their highest total and defend it successfully against an otherwise dangerous Mumbai Indians, who are very good chasers. This was Gill’s fastest century, equalling that of his opening partner Wriddhiman Saha (for Punjab Kings in the 2014 final) and RCB’s Rajat Patidar (the 2022 eliminator).
Having Orange and Purple Cap holders in your team helps get many things right, and that’s what’s made the Titans a most formidable unit. The Purple Cap is awarded to the leading wicket-taker of the season.
Besides Gill, the Titans have the dreaded duo of swing bowler Mohammad Shami and Afghan leg-spinner Rashid Khan, who are among the top two wicket takers this season, with a combined tally of 55. These two account for nearly half the wickets taken by the Titans this season (Shami 28, Khan 27).
Shami has been a potent force with the shiny new ball. He has taken 17 of his 28 wickets in the power play, making him the most dangerous bowler to face in the first six overs. Last year he took 11 of his 20 wickets in the first six overs during Titans’ triumph in their maiden appearance, and has done it again this year, taking six more wickets this time with one more match to go against CSK on Sunday.
Add to it the 24 scalps taken by the experienced Mohit Sharma, whose comeback in IPL this season has been a fairy tale, and the 14 picked up by the wily left-arm wrist spinner, the teenager Noor Ahmed, and you can see that the Titans’ bowling is as lethal as their batting, which has consistently chased down totals like none other.
The four aforementioned bowlers have each gone for under eight an over, something any captain would be proud of. Hardik Pandya cannot ask for anything more.
Having said that, Mumbai Indians did not have things going their way in qualifier 2, except for the toss. Lucky to have got into the play-offs at RCB’s expense, MI had to go in with the new opening pair of Rohit Sharma and rookie Nehal Wadhera, breaking the otherwise-formidable Rohit-Ishan Kishan duo due to a freak injury suffered by the left-handed Kishan.
Kishan was rendered hors de combat when crossing paths with team-mate Chris Jordan at the end of an over, and the Englishman’s elbow painfully hit Kishan in the face.
In-form and the second most expensive buy in IPL history at Rs 17.50 crore, Cameron Green’s rhythm was broken by a blow to his elbow after producing a creamer of a shot through cover for a first-ball four. At a time when MI wanted their captain Rohit Sharma, who has had indifferent form this season, to step up and see his team through, he fell in the power play for just 8 to the dreaded Shami.
Ever since play-offs were introduced in IPL 2011, teams that finished second in the points table have gone on to win the title on seven occasions. However, in the last four seasons, teams that were at the top of the league tables, including Titans last year, lifted the coveted trophy.
As Titans take on the Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings in the finals on Sunday in Ahmedabad, Pandya and Co. know very well that all the three CSK titles since the play-off format started have come when they finished second at the end of the league stage. This year CSK came second, below the Titans.
But, as they say in sport, the past doesn't count. Both Titans and Super Kings will begin afresh leaving history behind. Be it the Titans’ 3-1 win-loss record against CSK. Be it the fact that CSK won the only play-offs between the two teams so far, in the first qualifier on May 23.