Spotlight on Ahmedabad as Titans and Royals look to cross final hurdle
The stage is set for what is likely to be the most-attended cricket match in India. In white-ball cricket, perhaps only a World Cup final, or an India-Pakistan game at a World Cup, can come closer in terms of the hype and grandeur.
Gujarat Titans will be playing in front of their home crowd for the first time in Ahmedabad. Rajasthan Royals, for whom Motera has been a home venue earlier, will be playing their second final.
If they can win – or even just play fearlessly as they have so far to make it a spectacle – it would be the perfect tribute to Shane Warne, their first captain, or as they say, “forever the first Royal”, who defied conventional wisdom and cricketing logic to lead them to glory in 2008.
The fascinating subplot to this is a contest between two young captains. Sanju Samson is only in his second season into the job; Hardik Pandya is in his first. Where Samson has been an advocate of the firebrand approach he brings, Hardik has shouldered more responsibility with the bat, deviating from his natural style of play for the team’s sake.
If Royals possess two of India’s best spinners currently in R Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal, Titans have leg-spinning maverick and global superstar Rashid Khan. Royals have six-hitters right through – a marauding Jos Buttler up till Shimron Hetmyer as finisher, with Samson thrown in between.
Titans have the ferocity of David Miller, the brazen aggression of Matthew Wade, the calmness of Shubman Gill and the fearlessness of Wriddhiman Saha, for whom this is an opportunity to do one better than in 2014, where his hundred went in vain.
Titans have picked the most wickets in the Powerplay, one where Royals have tended to go hard. This will make for fascinating viewing. Titans have also been the best death-bowling unit this season. How Royals formulate their batting plans around this could form the crux of the contest.
Where Royals have had to come here the hard way, having taken a detour to Qualifier Two, Titans have had the advantage of three days of rest in the build-up to the game. At times, this can be a massive advantage. Royals, who have had a short turnaround time, will be banking on adrenaline to carry them.
Over to Narendra Modi Stadium then for one final time after what seems like ages since the season began on March 26. One team playing for their first captain, another playing to make history like their opponents did in their very first season all those years ago. This one should be a cracker.
Hardik’s unbeaten 87 and 1-18 helped Titans beat Royals in their first meeting. It was a game where Hardik and Miller combined to give them the finishing kick. Royals faltered despite Buttler’s blistering half-century, with none of the others managing a score of 20-plus. They eventually lost by 37 runs.
Four nights ago, Titans made it 2-0 when Miller went 6, 6, 6 in the final over to smash the 16 runs they needed. Until then, it had been a close contest that see-sawed. Royals’ 188 was once again set up by Buttler, whose 89 was a knock of two halves. He started well, then came a slowdown against spin before he smashed 50 off 18 balls to give them the finishing kick. Titans once again rode on Hardik and Miller’s knocks to seal a tense win.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 2 Jos Buttler, 3 Sanju Samson (capt & wk), 4 Devdutt Padikkal, 5 Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Riyan Parag, 7 R Ashwin, 8 Trent Boult, 9 Obed McCoy, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Prasidh Krishna
Gujarat Titans: 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 3 Matthew Wade, 4 Hardik Pandya (capt), 5 David Miller, 6 Rahul Tewatia, 7 Rashid Khan, 8 R Sai Kishore, 9 Yash Dayal, 10 Lockie Ferguson, 11 Mohammed Shami (ESPNcricinfo)