IPL 2023: A mouth-watering contest awaits as Mumbai Indians clash with Gujarat Titans in Qualifier 2 today

Home advantage and the presence of an excellent bowling group will tilt the scales slightly towards Pandya’s boys, but Mumbai are past masters in the art of winning the key moments, clinching the key battles

Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya, MI vs GT, IPL 2023, Qualifier 2
The teams have split their two face-offs this season, each winning in their own den.

Titles are hard to come by, even harder to defend. That’s why the widely-held belief that it is more difficult to stay at the top than to get there in the first place.

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For most of this season, Gujarat Titans must have wondered what the fuss was all about. Having clinched the IPL crown at the first time of asking, on their debut in 2022, they quickly established themselves as the team to beat as they set about the defence of their hegemony in Season 16 of the world’s most celebrated T20 franchise competition.

The Titans were the first to secure qualification to the playoffs; long before the last of their 14 first-phase matches, they had also guaranteed themselves top place in the league standings, which comes with two bites at the cherry in a bid to make the final.

Also read: IPL 2023 | Mumbai one step closer after fiery Madhwal (5/5) rips through LSG

In the desire to reward consistency and guard against a rare off-day after a protracted league stage, the IPL introduced the playoffs in Season 3 (2010) which gave the top two teams an additional opportunity to keep their run going. It’s this no-longer-novel concept that Gujarat will seek to capitalise on when they run into Mumbai Indians in Qualifier 2 at their sprawling Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Friday (May 26).

Loss to CSK exposed certain frailties in GT set-up

Their designs of earning a direct entry into the final from Qualifier 1 were comprehensively thwarted by Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on Monday (May 22). The 15-run loss exposed certain frailties within the Gujarat set-up, but it’s more or less certain that those will be masked as the playoff action moves from the south to the west.

The surface at Chepauk was tacky and facilitated the ball gripping the track, which shackled Gujarat’s free-stroking ways as well as their minds. A return to their backyard, and truer strips that will encourage hitting through the line, will be a welcome development for a team that has managed to find contributions from various quarters throughout the competition but has come to depend heavily on the magical willow-wielding of Shubman Gill.

Shubman Gill-Akash Madhwal battle most-awaited

Gill will once again be the cynosure of all eyes as the tournament enters the homestretch with defeat signalling the end of the road. In a tournament where eight batsmen have already topped 500 runs, the classy right-hander is just eight behind Orange Cap leader Faf du Plessis’ tally of 730. His consistency has only been matched by the iridescence of his stroke-play, and his battle against Akash Madhwal, the Mumbai rookie who is having the time of his life, will be watched with great interest.

Madhwal might have braced himself for a stint on the fringes at the start of the season, but once he was belatedly introduced into the mix with Mumbai desperately needing a blockbuster second half, he took to the cauldron of the IPL with subliminal ease. His control at the death has been impeccable, and he did enough in the nets with the new ball to convince Rohit Sharma that he could be used as an attacking weapon upfront too.

Also read: CSK march into IPL 2023 final; GT to play Qualifier 2 in Ahmedabad

His extraordinary spell of five for five which sent Lucknow Super Giants packing in Wednesday’s (May 24) Eliminator was notable for his command over his craft. He landed the ball where he wanted to, time after time – 18 of his 21 deliveries didn’t yield a run – and he deftly mixed up his lengths, cutting out the predictability factor which can be a bowler’s worst enemy in the 20-over format.

Because he uses the yorker freely and with deadly effect, he won’t mind too much that an excellent batting surface might lie in wait in Ahmedabad. He will feel the pressure of expectations, without a doubt, now that he is something of a marked man, but the engineer-by-education has showcased a rare maturity and an even rarer enjoyment of the game that should settle any nerves in front of an audience expected to total nearly a hundred thousand.

Mumbai Indians – dangerous when pushed into a corner

What does one say about Mumbai Indians? Beyond the obvious, which is that they are a pretty darned good side, especially dangerous when pushed into a corner and their pride is stung.

It took Mumbai until 2013 to clinch their first title, and they have made a habit of it since then, so much so that them not having triumphed since the start of the 2021 edition is seen as something of a drought! They finished bottom of the pile last year – a not-uncommon occurrence for them in the season immediately following a mega auction – and began this edition poorly with defeats in their first two games, their bowling looking decidedly undercooked.

Also read: IPL 2023 playoffs schedule, points table, and how the 4 teams qualified

The vexing conundrum surrounding the frustrating Jofra Archer – will he be fit, will he not? – exacerbated their woes and at that stage, as they shuffled their overseas pace pack around and fiddled with Jason Behrendorff, Riley Meredith, and Duan Jansen, even their die-hard supporters might have feared the worst.

Rohit will want to lead from the front

One of Rohit’s great character traits is his patience and the sagacity to allow things to unfold at their own pace. By the halfway stage, Mumbai had pretty much identified the pieces of the jigsaw; from then onwards, it was a question of putting them in the right places to assemble the full picture. Six wins in their last eight games would indicate that the puzzle has been cracked now, but there are no more second chances now, no safety net to soften the blow.

The teams have split their two face-offs this season, each winning in their own den. Home advantage and the presence of an excellent bowling group spearheaded by Purple Cap contenders Mohammed Shami (26 wickets) and Rashid Khan (25) will tilt the scales slightly towards Pandya’s boys, but Mumbai are past masters in the art of winning the key moments, clinching the key battles.

Also read: IPL 2023: Shubman Gill’s ton powers GT into playoffs; SRH eliminated

In Rohit, they have one of the most astute minds in world cricket, but the fact that he averages just 16 in 20 playoff games in the IPL is something that will gnaw at the Indian captain’s mind. Mumbai will look for inspiration from their peerless leader in every sense of the word, and Rohit will look for the runs that have proved elusive in these big games as he goes up against a former Mumbai Indians regular, Hardik Pandya. A mouth-watering contest then, of subtle and not-so-subtle subtexts, lies in wait.