INJURED WARRIOR HARDIK RETURNS IN TRIUMPH! By Joshua George

DEBUT: Gujarat’s dream run in this year’s edition of the IPL was down to the smart recruitment by the management and astute captaincy of Hardik Pandya.

It was nothing but a fairy tale run for Gujarat in IPL 2022 as Hardik Pandya – led side went on to win the title in their debut season. The brand-new Gujarat based franchise put on a clinical display in a one-sided final that saw Sanju Samson’s Rajasthan Royals being outclassed. We take a look at the signings and the captaincy that made the difference in this year’s edition, that saw fans return back to stadiums after the covid lockdown.

By Joshua George

When Mumbai Indians took the brave call not retain or re- purchase the Pandya brothers a lot of eyebrows were raised. Both Hardik and Krunal Pandya formed the fulcrum of a dominant Mumbai Indians side. Once indispensable the almost career ending injuries that Hardik has gone through over the last couple of years almost ruled out the possibility of him ever bowling again. Perhaps the loss of one half of his arsenal was the reason Mumbai didn’t retain him and the option of a left arm bowler in Jaydev Unadkat with a penchant to go berserk with the bat in the death overs was favoured. The gamble failed both Hardik and Krunal Pandya reached the playoffs with Gujrat Titans and Lucknow Super Giants respectively. With the former going all the way to lead his side to their maiden IPL title in their debut season.
A debutant team winning a trophy is a unique achievement and sporting high. Gujrat Titans did precisely this by putting on a clinical display both with the bat and ball to tame the tournament’s first winners Rajasthan Royals. Summit clashes except in rare episodes are usually tepid affairs. The luxury of playing freely is hindered by pressure of the final and both teams are cagey and aren’t willing to take risk in an attempt preserve resources to the fag-end. This is precisely what happened last Sunday as Rajasthan got rolled over after winning the toss and choosing to bat first.

RECRUITMENT
The acquisition of Hardik Pandya, Rashid Khan and Shubman Gill was perfect. Not only did the trio bring different qualities to the fore, each had the potential to be long-term options for the Titans. In the aforementioned troika, they had a magnificent core assembled and they only needed to add a handful of impactful players to make a meaningful splash.
At the start of day one, they were very impressive. They snapped up Jason Roy for his base price, went the distance for Lockie Ferguson and managed to bring Mohammed Shami on board too. And then their achilles heel showed they were priced out of a couple of deals, a few of their primary targets were sold to other teams and they were left feeding on scraps – at quite a frenetic pace too.
During that phase, there were a few injudicious signings – signings that didn’t just eat into their purse considerably but also meant they couldn’t use that money elsewhere. For example, they could have cooled off on bidding for Rahul Tewatia and utilized that cash to seek a frontline Indian middle order batter.
They also forgot to add a wicket-keeper to their squad till the penultimate round of the accelerated auction. That thirst was only quenched when they procured Wriddhiman Saha’s services. They quickly followed it up with Matthew Wade’s acquisition, hinting that the Titans might just have felt the pinch.
In a nutshell, this was the sort of auction that told the rest of the IPL that the Gujarat Titans could hold their own in these confines, while also admitting sheepishly that they aren’t quite the finished product yet. Their squad has also been built on similar lines and while it might not jump out as a title-worthy squad, it has just enough ability to keep most teams in the IPL honest.

HARDIK THE CAPTAIN
In the last over of the league phase game against Royal Challengers Bangalore at Wankhede Stadium, after Rashid Khan had swung Josh Hazlewood for a massive six, skipper Hardik Pandya walked up to his vice-captain and enveloped him in a warm hug. Rashid then slammed his right glove into Pandya’s with a broad grin. The duo had spoken admiringly of each other and their bonding seems played a huge role in Gujarat Titans fairy-tale run to title glory.
Rashid has called Pandya a ‘diler’ (fearless) captain. “He is someone who always makes brave decisions, is confident and clear in his mind about what he is going to do. That is very important as a captain, ki diler ho [that he is fearless],” Rashid had said earlier during this IPL. Pandya also drew praise.
Hardik Pandya impressed everyone with his leadership skills in his debut IPL season as captain. It was not just his fielding changes and bowling changes that made the difference, Hardik also led by example. He consistently chipped in with crucial performances and steadied the middle order by becoming a prolific finisher. Even in the final Hardik was adjudged man of the match for his performance. The GT captain took 3 wickets with ball including the dangerous Jos Butler and scored 34 runs with the bat.
In a media interaction ahead of the IPL auction in February, Pandya had spoken about how he, Rashid and Shubman Gill, the three GT draft picks, had the chance to create their own legacy on their own terms at a new franchise. “From Virat, I will pick his aggression and passion, his energy which is tremendous to be honest. From Mahi bhai I will pick the composure, the calmness, remaining the same in every situation, and trying to see what new things one can add. From Rohit, I would pick that he lets the player decide what he wants to do,” Pandya had said then.
It sounded too cliched and too much of a stretch coming from someone who, by his own admission, had led only at Under-16 level. But after ten wins in 14 league games, several of them in the last over of the match, and a nerveless chase of almost 190 in the Qualifier 1 against second-placed Rajasthan Royals, and eventually IPL glory Hardik as propelled himself among a select company of Indian captains who have won the IPL.

INDIA CAPTAINCY ON THE CARDS?
In Hardik India had found a capable all rounder for every format of the game. He impressed in overseas test tours with the ball and bat. But injuries have forced him out of the test team. It might come as a blessing in disguise as he could preserve himself for the upcoming t20 World Cup in Australia later in October and the 50 over world cup on home soil in 2023. If the BCCI is looking beyond Rohit Sharma I wouldn’t look past Hardik Pandya to led the men in blue says former England Captain Michael Vaughan. The IPL has pulled rabbits out the hat in showcasing the tentative acumen of many Indian captains. Sanju Samson, KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant will all get a shoutout. But the Pandya show of 2022 where the fiery Guju led by example will certainly add to conversation when India goes hunting for their next leader.

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