Debutants to champions: Pandya leads Gujarat Titans to 2022 IPL title

Having begun the Indian Premier League 2022 under an injury cloud and as a raw captain, Hardik Pandya delivered the title for Gujarat Titans in their maiden season in their first match at their home ground, the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, with a spell of 4 -0-17-3 and a pressure-easing 34 off 30 in the small chase of 131.

Pandya seals it with the ball

Against one of the top two bowling sides in the powerplay this IPL – the second being themselves – RR had come through the field restrictions for the loss of only Yashasvi Jaiswal. They were 60 at the start of the ninth over, the first one from Hardik Pandya. It wasn’t a runaway score, but on a used surface they had played on two nights ago in the Qualifier 2, with the ball gripping and holding up, it wasn’t a bad platform at all.

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As Sanju Samson came on strike second ball of Hardik’s over, the DJ tried to drum up the moment – captain would be bowling to captain for the first time in the match. The moment would last all of one ball; Samson went for a stand-and-swipe, but the length wasn’t there at all; Hardik had dug it into the pitch, the ball kicked, and Samson’s top edge couldn’t even clear the inner ring.

As Mohammed Shami and Lockie Ferguson took some punishment when they went for the fuller deliveries, Hardik had sussed that the hard shortish length was the way to go on the surface. It is a length that he prefers anyway, and bowls pretty well, in white-ball cricket. He was finding some seam from that length, and was making life hard for Devdutt Padikkal. He had the left-hander pinned on the crease, and cut it past his outside edge several times.

Not that Jos Buttler was finding it easy to get Pandya away. He’d pulled and driven Mohammed Shami for successive fours, but when Pandya and Rashid Khan were operating in tandem, he’d been tied down. Buttler had managed just four runs off four deliveries from Pandya, and on 39 off 34, was getting a touch restless and also tiring; he’d faced nearly 20 overs across the previous two playoff matches in two corners of the country in Kolkata and Ahmedabad.

The first ball of his third over on the trot, Pandya pinged the hard length again and got it to just about hold the line. Buttler tried to dab it to third man in one-day fashion, and nicked behind. And RR had lost their best batsman, for the possibility of a single run.

Pandya was steaming in now. He had a slip for Shimron Hetmyer in the 13th over, and let rip a bouncer that zoomed past as Hetmyer jerked his head inside the line.

There was no reason why Pandya would not bowl himself out now, after a return of 3-0-7-2. He also kept reacting instantly as captain; when Hetmyer backed away and hacked him past mid-off for a rare four, he immediately put in four men in the deep on the leg side, and flung another bouncer at Hetmyer. He even came up with a bluff, but Hetmyer was wise to it and steered the full delivery between short third man and backward point for four.

Pandya had given himself one over too many earlier in the season too, but on Sunday night at his team’s home ground, nothing could go wrong. He had one delivery remaining in his spell, he bowled it on a good length, the ball held up – as if it were a parting gift for all that Pandya had done during the season for his side – and a stunned Hetmyer could only pop it back to the skipper. The wickets of the opposition’s three biggest batsmen sealed, Pandya set off on a run that ended beyond the square-leg umpire, with whom he also found time to have a joke.

From 94 for 5 after 15 overs, Riyan Parag was RR’s chief hope to get in some big hits. He even lasted right until the end of the innings, but scored just a run-a-ball 15.

Unhittable Rashid

Pandya’s deputy Rashid Khan was unhittable with his mixture of wrong ‘uns and quick legbreaks on a pitch that gave him some turn. Padikkal took eight deliveries to get off the mark; His first scoring shot, off Rashid, nearly carried to long-on. With Pandya’s economy-rate rivalry Rashid’s at the other end, RR had to attack someone. Padikkal tried taking Rashid on with a sharp cut, but the Afghan rarely provides width; The ball skidded on around off, Padikkal’s shot ballooned to short third man, and he departed for 2 off 10. So confident was Pandya in his vice-captain’s abilities that he gave him two slips for the new man Hetmyer.

Easy chase after early nerves

RR had no choice but to go hard for wickets in the powerplay if they were to make a contest out of a target of just 131. They did dislodge Wriddhiman Saha and Matthew Wade by the fifth over, but GT could afford a powerplay return of 31 for 2. Also, Yuzvendra Chahal had dropped a sitter off Shubman Gill first ball, and the young opener would go on to anchor the chase to a secure, smooth finish. Captain Pandya provided the slight thrust the pursuit needed in the middle overs. Hardik released the pressure in the ninth over – like he had applied it in the ninth of the RR innings – with a scythed four to the deep extra cover boundary off Prasidh Krishna. Gill and David Miller completed the remaining formalities.

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