Ashish Nehra drives across the stretch of the vast Narendra Modi stadium’s many practice facilities giving Rashid Khan and Mohit Sharma a three-seater ride on his scooter. “Three idiots, welcome” quips a member of the Gujarat Titans support staff.
GT’s easy-going ways in practice are there for all to see. The team knows another slip-up and the 20 points they accumulated in the league stage will count for nothing but there is no hangover of the loss in the first qualifier. Process over results, as they say.
For all practical purposes, the Gujarat Titans-Mumbai Indians face-off in Ahmedabad on Friday is a semi-final. Some fans may want to save for the final, but locals still expect the 1,00,000-plus capacity stadium to be 75 percent full.
Both franchises enjoy a distinct Gujarati identity. Pack your popcorn or dhoklas if you like. An IPL official calls it ‘a dream clash for the playoffs’.
GT owners CVC Capital, a global investment firm may be far removed from the archetypical IPL proprietor, who is pictured praying for glory during a tense match. What they have done well is to localise the Titans, led by the local star Hardik Pandya, into a team all Gujaratis can support.
For MI, their Gujarati-speaking owners would feel at home here; Reliance’s biggest refinery is in Jamnagar, Gujarat. The franchise has successfully grown its support base with consistent on-field results powered by a systematic scouting program.
GT is in its second year in the league. They have been so formidable that MI’s Cameron Green called them ‘the best team in the competition’. But MI have the momentum; they are coming off two of their most convincing showings this season, against Sunrisers Hyderabad and Lucknow Super Giants in the Eliminator. If GT dominated the group stages, MI are the most dominant team in IPL history. They also hold the best record when it comes to playoffs – 13 wins in 19 matches.
The second qualifier also pitches the best bowling attack, GT, against the most imposing batting lineup, MI. It’s also a clash of different T20 philosophies to add an extra layer of intrigue for the cricket nerd.
Tactically speaking, GT are more old-fashioned; they build momentum through their batting innings. They have been relying heavily on Shubman Gill’s brilliance (722 runs, Avg 55.54, SR 149.17) who at the top of the order has been their banker, seamlessly switching to a batting anchor’s role when required. They have the batting depth in David Miller, Rahul Tewatia and Rashid Khan, but choose to hit top gear, late in the innings.
On the other side, Rohit Sharma’s team is practicing what he is preaching. “There’s no place for anchors in T20 cricket,” he recently said.
Sharma himself hasn’t fired in the tournament. But four batters in the MI line-up – Suryakumar Yadav, Cameron Green, Tim David and Tilak Varma – are batting with a strike rate above 150. They look to bat big. When MI lost their fifth wicket with 21 balls remaining against LSG on Thursday, they sent in an additional batter as an Impact substitute to give a further boost to their total.
MI’s VALUE PICKS
Legacy and batting pedigree notwithstanding, few backed MI with their depleted bowling stocks to push past some of the more balanced sides into the knockout rounds.
“It’s been a scramble. But I’ll take it,” said Sharma. The scramble has been made possible by the uncapped pacer Akash Madhwal and senior spinner Piyush Chawla. The hero of the LSG tie, Madhwal has generated enough buzz and shown immaculate control over his yorkers. Chawla’s 21 wickets are proof of experience counting a lot in the IPL.
The two teams met in a league match at the same venue last month where GT outclassed MI, posting a 200-plus total and winning comfortably. The bulk of the damage was done by GT’s spin-twins Rashid Khan and Noor Ahmed. That was Noor’s first standout showing in the league. Since, he has proved to be an ideal foil to his senior Afghan spinner.
There are some interesting sub-plots too. The friendly race is between Rashid and Mohammed Shami for the purple cap. Hardik calling MI a team of superstars and Rohit, in another interview, reminding everyone how MI is the franchise that scouts players before they become stars counts as a comeback of sorts.
CSK and Dhoni await the winner in the final but on Thursday, GT and MI will not want to be caught thinking too far ahead.