It was the sixth game of the season for Gujarat Titans, their second in Pune which took place in the heat of April. Hardik Pandya was sidelined with injury; Rashid Khan was the replacement. The first Chennai Super Kings hit on the runes, to set a goal of 170 to win.
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Reduced to 16 for three, Titans were immediately on their hind legs as they began their pursuit. Already thin on batting, lynchpin Pandya was not there to keep the innings and Shubman Gill was out for a golden duck. CSK were fully on top when Rahul Tewatia became the fifth wicket to fall to a total of 87.
It looked like the Titans’ game plan of building their core on a strong bowling attack would backfire. They needed 48 off 18 balls, and it all just seemed over. David Miller was still there, but the other finisher, Tewatia, was out. But, for the sake of the Ahmedabad-based side, Rashid Khan stepped up. He took on Chris Jordan for 25 runs in the 18th over to change the tone of the game. The goal was overhauled on the second-last ball of the last with Rashid Khan a 21-ball 40 not out and Miller a 51-ball 94 not out.
“The first few games we played, we won close games. This is also a close game. We could have lost four of six, but have won instead of five of six,” Miller said after the game. The South African recruit from Titans has summed up Titans perfectly the first half of the debut season. The team played daring cricket, taking profits from impossible situations.
In their next game against Sunrisers Hyderabad, at Wankhede Stadium, the Titans needed 22 off six balls during their pursuit of a gigantic total of 195. Again, the Titans took it off with four sixes and one four from pacer Marco Janson. Tewatia (40 * from 21 balls) hit the first ball for six and then Rashid (31 * from 11 balls) hit three of the sixes and one four.
It was the decisive moment in her campaign. In their third game of the season, Tewatia had provided early proof of the Titans’ never-say-die-spirit by hitting two sixes from the last two balls to win the game against Punjab Kings. But doing it once can be a blessing. Now they had won the third time, and the CSK pursuit was achieved without their middle position and captain, Pandya.
Miller said the catalyst for the Titans’ performance came from a sensational show against the Punjab Kings.
“It has obviously been a good season, really good season. But for me it was striking Rahul Tewatia. You are talking about the games that are not man of the match awards, but its two seasons, we needed 12 of the last two balls, he won the game there, “Miller said.
When Hardik Pandya’s team saw such close matches, he was a little worried that, because everything went his way at the beginning, they might not get any luck in the final stages of the tournament.
“I think God is telling us that I will help you. But it happens quite often that by the time the main games come, we may not be lucky. But it has been fantastic. People are stepping up,” Pandya said after the incredible pursuit against SRH.
The Titans captain did not have to worry. His team turned into a well-oiled machine and stood at the top of the league table to become the first team to qualify and by the time the playoffs came, they were sitting on confidence.
Opponents of Titans in Qualifier 1, Rajasthan Royals, had put together their strong side in many seasons. They were pushed to the side in an exhibition of indecency. In the first knockout game at Eden Gardens, between the top two sides, Titans had moved on from nervous chasers in a calm and calculated unity. The goal of 189 was easily overcome, with seven wickets to spare. In the final, Titans were going over Royals of the word.
Head coach Ashish Nehra has avoided talking about his contribution, but the players give him a lot of credit for creating the right atmosphere in the side while the players push hard on training. In her video chat for the official IPL website, Pandya told how the coach let her hit the nets while mentor and batting coach talked about how the former India pacer impressed with his tactical input.
Rashid Khan put the success on the clarity of the role for each player in the team.
“More important was the balance we had in the team, it was something that helped us to get to this position, because it was clear to each player where I would hit and this will be the situation where I will meet in the match and was fully prepared for it.There was no confusion in the players’ minds about the responsibility and how I will play, what role I will play and it was clear from the first game. As a bowler it was clear that this is my responsibility and where I will go. The balance was that the team was top class and that’s how we got here. “
“A lot of guys have raised their hands throughout the league in small moments that have contributed to a lot of victories,” Miller said.
Miller himself had a stellar season. For a batsman who plays the role of the finisher, he averaged a stunning 68.71, scoring 481 runs with a strike rate of 142.73, – his best show ever in the IPL.
Rashid Khan’s ability as a bowler needs no introduction, it is his contributions with the bat that stand out, and played a decisive role in pursuit. “I always had the belief that I could score those 25-20 runs for the team at the end if the team needed it and there was always that confidence that you needed as a player, that kind of opportunity, if someone in you start believing, and give that kind of opportunity, then you believe I will go and deliver for the team, and that is the reason behind more performance in this IPL and I enjoy it.The environment always helps, if you have the positive energy to you have around and the guys believe in you, the achievement automatically comes out.
Most of all, Pandya’s cricketing intelligence was underestimated. Tactically, he has been sharp. Of their four defeats in 16 matches, they were completely defeated in just two matches, against Punjab Kings and Royal Challengers Bangalore with eight wickets.
In the T20 form of cricket you only have to win close games, then you can climb the ladder. Titans’ last wins this season – from the last ball against PBKS, with one ball left against CSK, with two balls left against LSG, with eight runs against KKR, with three balls to spare against RCB and from the last ball against SRH. It is these efforts that have helped lift her team spirit and galvanized her into a champion outfit.