CHENNAI: How good is his tactical nous? Is he fully fit? Can he bowl four overs regularly? Will this be the platform for his India comeback? Such were the questions around Gujarat Titans captain Hardik Pandya at the start of the IPL season. The concerns over his fitness only grew as he missed a game after the Titans’ first four matches due to stiffness, with Rashid Khan stepping in for him.
But Hardik did not let any of it affect him. It’s been a dominating ride for the Titans since as the all-rounder shattered all the questions that were posed over his performance and fitness, leading his side to the title in their first-ever season. How about this for trivia? Gujarat’s first game at their home ground — Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad — was the final of the fifteenth edition of the IPL. And on an evening where over 1 lakh assembled in the arena for the final against Rajasthan Royals, it was Pandya -- a crowd favourite here -- who ensured a fairytale finish for his side. It couldn’t get any better than that.
On Sunday, as the extravaganza of Ranveer Singh followed by an electric performance of AR Rahman ensured an entertaining closing ceremony, it did not take long for cricket to take centre stage. Both teams got what they wanted at the toss and right from ball one, Mohammed Shami kept the Royals opening duo in check.
Yashasvi Jaiswal (22 off 16) went rogue, trying to buy some time for Jos Buttler to settle in, and so did Sanju Samson. While the most anticipated battle of the match, the experienced Rajasthan duo versus Rashid Khan provided for some enthralling contest, after eight overs (59/1) both teams hadn’t seized the initiative. But something was brewing.
Hardik — who had bowled bits and pieces throughout the season — brought himself on to tackle his counterpart Samson, who’s been playing a brand of cricket very few Indian batters have dared. But the Titans’ skipper had stuck to his strengths, angling one into Samson, who miscued it and took the long walk back after an 11-ball 14.
His tight over against Devdutt Padikkal meant that the southpaw tried to take out Rashid and perished. Rajasthan were 79/3 after 12, with Buttler batting at 39 off 35. But all signs up until then indicated that it was going to be Hardik’s day. A tentative poke from the Englishman outside off-stump that moved a tiny bit away meant that the contest was all but over for Rajasthan.
Hardik would dismiss Shimron Hetmyer too, finishing with 3/17 in his four overs. Rajasthan scrapped their way to 130/9, but it was all-out domination from Gujarat and their skipper Hardik on the day that mattered the most.
In reply, Rajasthan started off well with the ball, getting rid off Matthew Wade and Wriddhiman Saha. Hardik built a partnership with Shubman Gill before getting out for 34. However, David Miller took Titans across the line.
Brief scores: RR 130/9 in 20 ovs (Buttler 39; Hardik 3/17) lost to GT 133/3 in 18.1 ovs (Gill 45 n.o, Pandya 34, Miller 32 n.o).
863 runs Jos Buttler
27 wickets Yuzvendra Chahal
5 This is fifth IPL title for Hardik Pandya after winning four with MI.
160 Titans’ David Miller averaged 160 while scoring 320 runs at a strike rate of 152.4 in run chases this season.