Three more rounds of league games to go. Lucknow Super Giants and Gujarat Titans themselves wouldn’t have imagined they would be where they are right now—at the top. Not by fluke, but through consistent team performances.
First-timers’ luck is rather fickle in IPL. And a glance through the Titans squad after the auction showed the batting—Shubman Gill, Matthew Wade, Wriddhiman Saha, Vijay Shankar, Hardik Pandya, Abhinav Manohar and Rahul Tewatia—looked rather light compared to a bowling lineup that had Mohammed Shami, Lockie Ferguson and Rashid Khan. Yet they are here.
Lucknow Super Giants, the other newcomers, were steadied at the top by skipper KL Rahul and Quinton de Kock, backed by a consistent No 3 in Deepak Hooda and a fast bowling line-up intent on making scoring very difficult or knocking the batters’ heads off.
These two sides meet in Pune on Tuesday, where they are yet to lose, to decide who takes pole position in this 10-team IPL and enter the playoffs. Both teams have eight victories in 11 matches but LSG have had a better run, having scored four back-to-back wins, while the Titans lost their last two games. The Pune pitch is on the slower side and teams batting first have won eight of the 11 matches. That means the team winning the toss will want to bat first.
The last time LSG played in Pune, they successfully defended 153 against Rajasthan Royals. But Titans, in Rashid, Tewatia and Pandya, have the ability to deal with the toughest of equations so toss would be crucial.
The match-ups also make this tie extremely interesting. Mohsin Khan’s left-arm pace isn’t something Gill and partner would like first-up. Neither would Rahul be comfortable against Rashid, against whom he has a strike rate of 76.64. Krunal Pandya’s slow left-arm is the ideal foil to Ravi Bishnoi’s leg-spin in the middle overs against a Titans batting line-up that has three left-handers—David Miller, Sai Sudarshan and Tewatia.
LSG are coming off a 75-run win over Kolkata Knight Riders after their fast bowlers wreaked havoc with their short lengths. Pune being a slower pitch may not be ideal to test that length again but Avesh Khan, Dushmantha Chameera and Mohsin also have the ability to mix it up. “Having skill is one thing, but knowing what to do when is important,” Rahul said about his fast bowlers after beating KKR. “They’ve been put under pressure a couple of times, but they’ve stuck to their strengths and been brave with the ball. That’s all we can ask for.”
On the face of it, LSG have been clinical in their performance with their pacers mopping up lower-order batters with ease. On the other hand, their finishers like Ayush Badoni, Marcus Stoinis and Jason Holder have made the most of the slog overs. The beauty of their consistency is that LSG are not pushing to achieve anything outrageous. “Don’t think any team is going to be perfect, and anyway we aren’t chasing that,” said Rahul. “Don’t know if we’re peaking at the right time but we’re getting the wins; we’re doing what is expected of us, sticking to our plans.”
Titans, who kicked off their IPL campaign by rallying to a five-wicket win over LSG, may have a few areas of concern despite being in an apparent position of strength. Two run outs (Hardik and Tewatia) in what was an achievable chase of 177 against Mumbai Indians highlighted a lack of temperament for the death overs. The batting has been a bit iffy but Titans have managed to keep their shape till now. It’s imperative they don’t lose that at a juncture where a playoffs berth is a win away.