Not for the first time has an IPL team defied mathematical logic to reach the playoffs but Gujarat Titans have achieved that walking a tightrope no team has till date. While their bowling had a number of established stars, Titans’ batting never looked impressive on paper, more so after Jason Roy pulled out citing bubble fatigue. That left them with a line-up so low on batting weight that it raised the prospect of running out of gas before the business end of the league phase.
Consider the batting line-up for a while. Shubman Gill, though a quality stroke player, was released from KKR primarily because of his slow batting (strike rate of 118.9 in 2021). Matthew Wade was returning to IPL for the first time in nearly a decade while David Miller hadn’t been given many chances at Punjab Kings and Rajasthan Royals before this stint. Wriddhiman Saha can be a spectacular shorter format batter but to the world he was a recently discarded Test specialist. The goodwill that got Vijay Shankar selected for the 2019 World Cup had eroded considerably. Recovering from injury, Hardik Pandya was planning to bat at No 4 for the first time, to front up a middle-order of Indians comprising Abhinav Manohar – a greenhorn – and Rahul Tewatia, a recently established finisher.
Not surprisingly, the batting didn’t click on most days. Manohar, Shankar and B Sai Sudharsan were inconsistent; Saha wasn’t backed to open till late April while Wade was being pushed around in the hope for good starts. Still, the Titans have managed to reach the playoffs, mainly because of two reasons.
First, someone has almost always stood up and scored the runs, to either anchor an innings or salvage it. Titans have 10 fifties to their name, same as Lucknow Super Giants and Sunrisers Hyderabad and bettered only by Chennai Super Kings. Interestingly, each of their five partnerships of 75 or more runs have featured different batters – Saha and Gill for 106 runs, Gill and Sudharshan for 101, Hardik and Manohar for 86, Miller and Tewatia for 79 and Saha and Pandya for 75.
When the situation called for it, Titans batters attacked well through Miller and Tewatia. But without Gill’s cautious approach, it’s difficult to see them here. Take Tuesday’s innings, for example. His second straight half-century ended on a strike rate of 128.57 – just par for T20 – but he cut out the risk of a low total by staying on till the end (63* off 49b). Gill’s strike rate was better than the other Titans batters as well as overall on Tuesday. He realised early that scoring boundaries wasn’t easy. “It’s always pleasing when you’re there till the end and finish the game for your team,” Gill said after the win. “Not a lot of people gave us a chance at the start, but it (feels) great to qualify now.”
If the batters just about managed to keep up their end of the deal, Titans’ bowling more than made up for any shortcomings. Between Rashid Khan, Hardik and Mohammed Shami, Gujarat Titans have bowled 114.2 overs – almost half their campaign – at an economy rate of 7.38 and a strike rate of 19.6. That means even if the other bowlers go for 8-9 runs per over, Titans concede only around 160 on average. To translate this into action needs discipline, and the ability to manage the workload without stretching the resources too much. Hardik returning to bowl on Tuesday after an injury-induced hiatus just highlighted that.
Belief too plays a huge part in getting one there even if the odds are against you. Titans went into Tuesday’s match after back-to-back losses to Mumbai Indians and Punjab Kings. To score 144, the joint lowest innings in Pune this season, and defend it speaks volumes about the Titans’ mental edge. “I always feel that if you lose a game like the one we did in our last game, we win and lose games as a team,” said Hardik.
“Yes, we did not do what we wanted to do. We messed it up, but we messed it up as a team. Everyone stood by each other, and we had a get-together post game and made sure the vibe was always there. We were still in second spot and that meant we were doing something right.”