Qualifier 1: Spotlight on Pandya, Buttler as Gujarat face Rajasthan
KOLKATA: Residents of Gujarat and Rajasthan often spend their vacations at tourist spots in the neighbouring states. But come Tuesday, the bonhomie, if any, will not be visible when Gujarat Titans face Rajasthan Royals in Qualifier 1 of the IPL at the Eden Gardens here. The Titans have already proved that ‘big tournament experience’ is a bit over-hyped term in sports as they made a smooth run to become the first of the 10 teams to make the knockout stage, topping the table with 20 points from 14 matches in their maiden IPL appearance.
The credit for much of the side’s success should go to skipper Hardik Pandya, who had led by example. Making a comeback from an injury, Pandya did a decent job with the ball, but it was his batting that made a big difference. Being the highest run-getter for his side, Pandya had often played the lone hand in pulling them out of hopeless situations. The Royals’ think tank needs to get their plan right to counter Pandya.
Similarly, Jos Butler will be on GT’s mind when they take the field. The opener put winds to RR sails, hitting three centuries early in the tournament. Although this IPL’s highest run-getter had calmed down over the past few games, GT will still prefer to see the back of the Englishman fast.
Skipper Pandya will bank on his main bowling weapon Mohammed Shami’s familiarity with Eden track to get the early breakthrough. The Bengal pacer has been the highest wicket-taker in the Powerplay in this IPL with 11 wickets. Pandya will also love to take inputs from a fit-again local boy Wriddhiman Saha, as well as hope for runs from him, as the side’s top-order has not fired well this season.
A good start is important since Gujarat have lost three of their last five games. Pandya’s leadership quality, which has been a revelation in this IPL, will once again be put to test against a side having a number of power-hitters like skipper Sanju Samson, Devdutt Padikkal and Shimron Hetmyer. RR had used Ravichandran Ashwin as a floater well, with the all-rounder even playing the role of a finisher for them.
Playing on a fresh Eden track, the Titans might be tempted to play both Lockie Ferguson and Alzarri Joseph and in that case, they will have to replace a misfiring Matthew Wade and opt for Abhinav Manohar at No. 3.
However, bowling might make the difference between the two sides. While RR have more variety, most of the GT bowlers have lacked consistency. The RR bowling has been led well by Yuzvendra Chahal and Ashwin who have emerged as the most successful spin attack in the competition picking up 38 wickets.
In spite of the prediction of scattered thunderstorms on Tuesday, the groundstaff is confident of a full match. However, in case of a total washout where even the Super Over is not possible, GT being the top-ranked side, will earn a ticket to the final. In Jos bhai, we trust.
SWOT ANALYSIS: Gujarat Titans vs Rajasthan Royals
STRENGTHS: The surprise package of the league. Fabulous collection of match-winners with both bat and ball. Won games from hopeless situations with escape artists Rahul Tewatia and David Miller. In Rashid Khan, Yash Dayal, Mohammed Shami, Alzarri Joseph and Lockie Ferguson, they have serious wicket-taking options.
WEAKNESSES: Shubman Gill’s inconsistency at the top. Hardik moving up the order and Wriddhiman Saha’s success as an attacking batsman in the last nine games, have covered for it somewhat. In crunch games, a mini collapse could force the feared finishers to play conservatively which could upset the apple cart.
OPPORTUNITIES: If they win, they will get a chance to play in front of their home crowd at Motera which could act as an intimidating 12th man.
THREATS: Hardik’s fitness and lack of quality spin-bowling support to Rashid. R Sai Kishore impressed on a tired Wankhede pitch. Will a fresh Eden track with rain around, offer him as much help?
STRENGTHS: The spin duo of R Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal. They have picked up 38 scalps as a pair. In the middle overs, they can both strike and stifle. In fact, Samson has also used Ashwin in the Powerplay and Chahal in the death with great success. Ashwin’s form as a batsman and game-awareness, has been a revelation.
WEAKNESSES: Jos Buttler’s evaporating form. After starting off with a bang (three hundreds in seven games), the Orange Cap holder with 629 runs can’t seem to buy a run. The second half has seen him dismissed five times in the first six overs. Royals need the Buttler of March and April back. Samson’s lack of consistency is a worry too.
OPPORTUNITIES: For skipper Samson to prove the Indian selectors wrong (they didn’t pick him for SA T20Is) by playing match-winning knocks in games that matter and take his side to its first final after 2008. Wouldn’t it be the perfect tribute for the first Royal? The late Shane Warne.
THREATS: The seamers have leaked runs in the death and both Prasidh Krishna and Trent Boult have not been potent in the Powerplays too lately. An implosion at this stage could put Ashwin and Chahal under intense pressure which isn’t needed.