How Hardik Pandya's Gujarat Titans Emerged As IPL 'Title Favourites' Again
It is not a mere fluke that GT have become a force to reckon with, challenging he might of the older teams.
When the Hardik Pandya-led Gujarat Titans started their journey in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2022, one would have been pardoned for not considering them as serious contenders for the title. For IPL has not been kind to 'new teams' in the past. Be it Kochi Tuskers Kerala (2011), Sahara Pure Warriors (2011), Gujarat Lions (2016) or Rising Pune Supergiant (2016) none of the teams that got added in the cash-rich could get any title success. Pune came closest as it finished runners-up in the 2017 edition. So, when GT and Lucknow Super Giants got introduced in 2022, one would not have considered them to go the distance right in the first season.
What happened, however, was quite the opposite. LSG and GT both entered the playoffs, while GT went the distance and won the IPL 2022 by defeating Rajasthan Royals. This time too, both, the teams showed amazing consistency and finished among the top three in the league phase. The Hardik Pandya-led GT has played at a different level altogether. They were the first team to enter the playoffs, and finished the league stage as the No. 1 team.
It is not a mere fluke that GT have become a force to reckon with, challenging the might of the older teams.
Eye for talent
Right from the onset, GT's player mix has been awesome. Ahead of the IPL 2022 mega-auction, GT put their bet on three stars. They picked Hardik Pandya, Rashid Khan, and Shubman Gill. At that time, Pandya was recovering from an injury, with his place in the Indian team not certain, while Gill was yet to establish himself as a T20 star. However, the GT management believed in their talent and gave them a chance. In Rashid Khan, they had one of the most impactful bowlers in the history of the tournament.
Their other player recruitments too had a touch of brilliance. Be it Mohammed Shami for his new ball brilliance or David Miller and Rahul Tewatia, in the finisher's role, everybody clicked. Even players like Vijay Shankar and Wriddhiman Saha, who many thought were past their prime, have been among the star performers for them.
If it's not broken, don't fix it
GT were so sure about the strength of their squad, that they hardly recruited anybody from the IPL 2023 auction. They picked only seven players. Wicketkeeper KS Bharat and NZ skipper Kane Williamson were the only two high-profile signings among them. They also recruited the veteran Mohit Sharma. In fact, Mohit's was one of the best comeback stories. The medium pacer last played an IPL match in 2020, but this season he has picked up 17 wickets in 11 matches so far.
In cricket, rarely does one see a coach behaving like a football manager. The dugouts are primarily places of serious discussion. But in GT, things are a little bit different. GT head coach Nehra can often be seen instructing his players from the sidelines. In contrast, Pandya is a lot more calmer personality on the field. Together, they are a force.
"One person who has been crucial in my growth is Ashu bhai (Ashish Nehra - GT coach). We are mad people. We are slightly different kind of persons but out game sense is the same. He has guided me well," Pandya said in an interaction with Robin Uthappa on Jio Cinema.
While GT's Shubman Gill, currently second-placed in the highest run-getters list with a tally of 680, can finish as the top-scorer if he holds his form, what has struck out in GT's success are their bowlers. Three among the top nine wicket-takers this IPL are from GT - Mohammed Shami (23 wickets), Rashid Khan (23 wickets) and Mohit Sharma (17 wickets). Even the young Noor Ahmad, who impressed with 13 wickets, is also from GT and is at the 17th spot in the top wicket-takers' list. Compared to that, barring Gill, no other GT batter is among the top-20 highest run-getters in the IPL 2023.
GT's thought process is very clear by this statement from Pandya. "Bowlers are very close to my heart. Sometimes batters take a lot of credit, for me I will always be a bowler's captain and ensure they get due credit they very much deserve," he said after a match.