IPL trophy on debut: Gujarat's smart blueprint other teams could emulate
The Titans’ triumph didn’t come about by accident. In so many ways, they have unleashed a blueprint other teams will strive to emulate, the greatest compliment to a new franchise.
It was as emphatic a finish to the final as possible. Having pottered around for the duration of Gujarat Titans’ modest chase at the behemoth that the Narendra Modi Stadium is, Shubman Gill shed his stupor to send Obed McCoy soaring deep into the stands behind long-leg for the final act of a compelling Sunday night.
No sooner had the ball left his willow than Gill let out a war cry; within a fraction of a second, non-striker David Miller charged down the track to climb all over Gill. The Titans had done it! They were the new champions of the Indian Premier League, the first first-time winners since Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2016 and the first franchise to lift the trophy in their debut season since the team they had just vanquished, Rajasthan Royals, in 2008.
It was in the fitness of things that Gill and Miller, two of the most influential cogs in their batting wheel all season, were in the middle when victory, sweet victory, was brought up. Alongside mercurial captain Hardik Pandya, who had made the night his own with a spectacular all-round display – as leader, as bowler and as batsman – they had driven the batting with flair and purpose throughout the campaign, all three finishing within a couple of blows of 500 runs for the season.
Collective focus & effort
The Royals had the league’s top-scorer, by a distance, in Jos Buttler. They also boasted the tournament’s leading wicket-taker, Yuzvendra Chahal. The Orange and Purple Caps, however, counted for little as the Titans’ collective, a bustling beehive of industry and effort, of smiles and joy, of a carefree approach that revolved around enjoying the game rather than focussing on the result alone, proved impossible to breach.
Few will begrudge the Titans their moment in the sun. Fewer still will argue that they were not the best team of the competition. For two months and 16 games, they entertained and delighted, and they did so with a contentment and a relaxed air that can only come from a stable, settled, composed, vibrant dressing-room.
Understandably, it’s the players who walked away with all the encomiums because, after all, they are the ones out there putting on a show, but no praise can be too high for the backroom staff, with head coach Ashish Nehra and batting coach-cum-mentor Gary Kirsten in the forefront.
The two men know a thing or two about winning big – the former as player and the latter as coach when India went all the way at the 2011 World Cup – but of all their successes, they will savour this the most because they put together a team from scratch, assembling parts proven and untried and moulding them into a champion outfit that swapped desperation for results with a genuine enjoyment of each other’s success.
How auction set the tone
Where more experienced core groups came a cropper at the auction in February, the Titans knew exactly what they were looking for. Their quest was for the kinds of players they wanted, if not specific names as such. The onus was on batsmen who could bat differently, depending on the game situation and the conditions, not one-dimensional willow-wielders who couldn’t bat beyond one gear. The hunt, too, was for a host of quality fast-bowling options with a distinct slant towards pace. The Titans’ belief was that if they had the bowling to fire teams out, their batting could haul down those totals with some impunity.
Ahead of the auction, the Titans made three telling recruitments at the draft. They roped in Pandya, with no prior leadership experience, as their flagship captain; further, they secured the services of Rashid Khan, one of the IPL’s most successful bowlers and whose bankable leg-spin would allow them to go all out in the search for out-and-out pace bowlers. Their third pre-auction acquisition was Gill with an eye on both the present and the future. Suffice to say that all three investments have already borne fruit.
Some of their purchases at the auction might have seemed bizarre and logic-defying. They turned to Mohammed Shami to spearhead their pace attack despite his modest T20 and IPL record which is such a stark contrast to his exceptional Test numbers. They plumped for David Miller, unsold on the first day, at a cost of Rs 3 crore though the South African had had two miserable seasons with Rajasthan Royals and batted himself out of the playing XI by the end of the last season. What were these guys up to? Did the Titans not want to win?
Team of winners
We have the answer now, don’t we? Shami and Miller both had their best IPL seasons so far. The former took a franchise-high 20 wickets, often setting the tone with his belligerence and incisiveness in the Powerplay, while the latter blasted 481 impactful runs at a telling strike-rate of 142.72. Given that, numerically, Pandya and Gill too had their best IPLs ever, clearly the management group and the backroom staff was doing everything it could to keep the players in a frame of mind that allowed them to play with confidence, security and assurance.
Where the Royals were meek and uncertain – like in the two previous clashes between the teams this season, they again tried to play Rashid out instead of taking the fight to the leggie and made a rash of other decisions indicative of a needlessly defensive mindset – the Titans imposed themselves on the title clash. Roared on by a passionate home crowd numbering 105,000, they took the game by the scruff of the neck from the off through Shami, before Pandya decided to show everyone who the boss was.
His triple strikes to evict opposite number Sanju Samson, Buttler and the dangerous Shimron Hetmyer broke the back of the Royals batting. It had the twin effects of deflating the opposition and lifting his colleagues, if they needed any lifting, that is. Lockie Ferguson responded with the fastest ball of the season, 157.3 kmph, and even first-timer Sai Kishore bowled his left-arm spin at the death with the composure of a veteran.
The Titans’ triumph didn’t come about by accident. In so many ways, they have unleashed a blueprint other teams will strive to emulate, the greatest compliment to a new franchise. Along the way, they have also presented the Indian team with another leadership option in Pandya, still a maverick but a controlled one at that. A win-win from all accounts, one has to say.