The Gujarat Titans’ first season campaign in the Tata IPL-15 has been outstanding so far. It has made winning a habit. Unfortunately, the new team bought at Rs. 5625 crore for ten years has been denied the chance to build its fan base in the cricket-crazy State of Gujarat because the competition, played in the pandemic caused bio-bubble is being held at four venues in Mumbai and Pune.
Its home ground at the Narendra Modi Stadium at Motera would have been a sight to watch with a full capacity or even half of it. But skipper Hardik Pandya who hails from Baroda, and his team would have already whipped up interest among the Gujaratis in India and across the world. As an individual whose displays with the bat, ball and in the field has been quite natural, Pandya has been truly uplifting, and the new franchise has meant business in the Twenty20 competition that has provided plenty of entertainment so far.
Following a niggle, Pandya was compelled to watch all action from the dugout against the Chennai Super Kings, but of all his undertakings with the bat this season, his unbeaten 87 against the Rajasthan Royals stood out at Navi Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium.
Pandya has run up scores of 33, 31, 27, 50* before his rescue act – anchoring the team innings knock took the Titans to a competitive total. Pandya has looked the linchpin, scoring 244 runs for a high average of 61 and with a strike rate that is a fraction lower than 8.50.
At hindsight, it can be said that Pandya, under the cosh from last year’s ICC Men’s World Twentyy20 in the United Arab Emirates for his inability to maintain fitness in order to bowl at full tilt, seems to be following the right fitness programme and conditioned to play a big part in the franchise’s debut season in the league.
More than anything else, he has reflected the liking for captaincy and able to motivate his teammates to play their natural game. Whatever he has done on and off the field speaks a lot about his leadership.
Pandya is not a novice though in the league. He has been put through the wringer by Mumbai Indians for which he turned out from 2015 to 2021. He has been part and parcel of MI’s winning seasons four times. Moreover, he was on most occasions a hit in the lower order when MI needed someone to hit sixes and advance. He delivered. He scored almost half of his total aggregate for MI at No. 6.
But this season the maverick all-rounder has batted at No.4, which may imply that he may be wanting to convey a straightforward message to the national selectors that he can be considered as a specialist batter for the forthcoming white-ball engagements for India, including the Asia Cup and the ICC World Men’s Twenty20 in Australia. India captain Rohit Sharma and Head Coach Rahul Dravid would not be averse to Pandya being chosen as a specialist bat. But the good thing is that he has gone out of the way to prove his fitness by bowling four overs in four of the five matches.
Pandya’s knock against the Jaipur side was absolutely riveting because he came into bat at the fall of the second wicket (Vijay Shankar) in the fifth ball of the third over and also saw Shubman Gill depart at 53 in the fourth ball of the seventh. It was a demanding situation but Pandya, demonstrated a cool temperament to steer his team out of troubled waters.
And in a time of 93 minutes, he held the team together with a knock that had 12 boundary hits (8 x 4s and 4 x 6s). He chose the percentage route, punishing the loose balls that perforce had to be hit hard and long.
The notable part of his knock was that he allowed Abhinav Manohar and David Miller to take strike. Manohar made 43 and Miller made an unbeaten 31 which took the Titans to 192. Pandya read the situation well and batted accordingly, but with the intention of taking the game forward.
Pandya was retained at Rs. 15 crore, along with Rashid Khan at Rs. 15 crore and Gill at Rs. 8 crore.
While Pandya had some resources to bat against the Royals, the South Africa Miller was almost all alone when making a magnificent and measured 94 not out against Chennai, chasing 170 to win at Pune’s stadium in Gahunje. The left-hander came into bat at the fall of the third wicket at 16 and saw Wriddhiman Saha and Rahul Tewatia leave the scene with the team score at 87 in the fourth ball of the 13th over.
Miller faced a Herculean task, but he put his hands up and took full control of the proceeding with skipper Rashid Khan in the company. Miller did not give up. He knew the shots he played had a high-risk tag on them. He had to take the risk though!
The South African showed the composure required in a dire situation and when CSK could have believed it had the match wrapped up. Miller watched the ball and sent the leather for 8 x 4s and 6 x 6s and made sure that Khan’s handiwork of a 21-ball 40 did not go waste.
It was one of the important knocks played by Miller in the IPL; he had shown glimpses of form in the match against the Royals. In fact, he has given an impression this season that he is ready to take responsibility. He had already scored 193 runs off 120 balls in six matches.
After some good numbers in 2013, 2014 and 2015, Miller’s form declined in the subsequent years. In 95 IPL matches, he has scored 2167 runs at 8.30 an over and the Titans would depend on him to do the fireworks in the middle order.
If Pandya’s and Miller’s brilliant efforts resulted in positive outcomes in the last two matches for the Titans, Shreyas Iyer’s majestic knock against the Royals at the Brabourne on Monday (April 18) did not help the Knight Riders after he took guard in the middle following the run out of Sunil Narine. The Titans have been consistent so far and the likes of Pandya and Miller have the wherewithal to take their side deep into the league and for good results in the playoffs.