They may not have imagined that it was possible but after sensationally winning the 2022 Indian Premier League in their maiden season, Gujarat Titans will be armed with the confidence boost that it will need to defend the title amid surging expectations.
Electrifying results like the Titans produced to scale the summit of the franchise-based men’s Twenty20 League is good for cricket and for its multitude of fans as it returns to its original format in India on Friday after a gap of four years, due to the pandemic.
The all-too-familiar home-and-away format, last employed during the 2019 season, will see the 16th edition spread across 12 cities over a total of 70 league phase matches and four knockout games.
Led by the mercurial Hardik Pandya, Gujarat crushed inaugural champions Rajasthan Royals by seven wickets in front of 100,000 boisterous fans in last year’s final at their home ground, the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.
The Titans launches its title defence against none other than former IPL powerhouse and four-time champions Chennai Super Kings in a blockbuster opener at the very same venue where they were crowned champions.
Chennai, which triumphed in 2021, will be hoping to quickly get back into the top tier of the 10-team tournament and gift the legendary Mahendra Singh Dhoni a fitting farewell in what is arguably his last IPL competition.
Here are five keys ahead of the opener.
Having won 10 out of 14 matches, Gujarat proved that it deserved to sit atop the IPL league as it chased a silver dream to make history and win it in its debut season.
However, the pressure will be on Pandya and his team to prove that last year’s winning run was no flash in the pan. The team management has already addressed that challenge by making astute additions to the squad led by the high purchase of former World Cup-winning Under-19 seam bowler Shivam Mavi, whose ability to bowl rockets at over 140 kmph encouraged the franchise to cough up a whopping $730,000, and the prolific run-scorer Kane Williamson to their line-up.
Sharing the new ball with Mavi will be Ireland’s tall left-arm fast bowler Joshua Little, while Rashid Khan, Afghanistan’s first global superstar, and dangerous leg-spinner, bring a potent mix to the attack.
Shubman Gill and South Africa’s David Miller are the run-getters from whom much will be expected of as the Titans will need to fire on all cylinders from the word go in what could be one of the most competitive IPLs.
The legendary MS Dhoni, who led Chennai Super Kings to four IPL titles in 2010, 2011, 2018, and 2021, will don the team’s famous yellow jersey for one final time.
While it will be an emotional season for Dhoni, who is close friends with rival captain Pandya, it remains to be seen what one of India cricket’s greatest and most popular players can bring to the table at the age of 41.
If there were question marks about his lack of match practice then he has answered his critics with some dashing displays at the nets. MSK has been the man CSK has turned to in times of trouble so it remains to be seen if he can once again be a pillar of strength for the team coached by former New Zealand skipper Stephen Fleming.
Chennai, who could only finish ninth of 10 teams on the points table last year, will need to put a line through that downfall asap.
On the plus side, it boasts three of the best all-rounders in the world including Ben Stokes, Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali.
However, the biggest motivator for CSK will be to finish as champions and give Dhoni a fitting farewell.
Gujarat Titans head into their opening match against Chennai Super Kings with an unbeaten record having won both their matches against them during the 2022 tournament.
Head-to-head is the standard for assessing the quality of a side, and while it is not a certainty, it could give the side a psychological advantage which is hugely important in sports.
The first time that the sides met was in April 2022 at the MCA Stadium in Pune, where CSK, batting first posted what seemed like a respectable total of 169/5. However, it did not stand up against the mighty Titans as an in-form David Miller stuck a 51-ball unbeaten 94 with six sixes and eight fours and together with all-rounder Rashid Khan’s 40 off 21 balls took them across the line, albeit with one ball to spare.
The second clash was in complete contrast as Mohammed Shami produced a deadly spell of 4/19 to restrict CSK to 133 for 5 in 20 overs, a total which the Titans effortlessly overhauled as Wriddiman Saha scored a match-winning 67 not out off 57 balls to win by seven wickets with five balls to spare.
The yellow brigade will doubtless be looking for revenge as they bid to prevent a hat-trick of defeats at the hands of Dhoni’s close friend, Pandya.
The Narendra Modi Stadium, the world’s biggest and record-break sporting venue with a capacity of over 130,000 spectators, has been kind to its home team, Gujarat Titans.
The defending champions will play seven of its league matches at a stadium that boasts 11 pitches, the most at any cricket ground in the world. Essentially a batsman’s paradise and a place where some if India’s cricket greats including Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, and VVS Laxman have been prolific run-scorers, when it was previously known as the Motera Stadium.
It is known to favour dominant batters and encourages innovative stroke play which sounds good for fans of Titans' skipper Hardik Pandya, who was last seen hammering a 30-ball 34 in his team’s title-clinching victory over the Rajasthan Royals last year.
One of the key factors that helped the Titans win the IPL was their ability to show toughness throughout the tournament and they looked at their imperious best when performing in front of home fans at this giant of a stadium.
Abhinav Manohar, David Miller, Kane Williamson, Sai Sudharshan, and Shubman Gill are all of the highest caliber and can test the skills of CSK’s expensive bowler K Bhagath Varma.
The multi-purpose players in both teams could prove to be the decisive factors. Titans and Super Kings are packed with exciting all-rounders to the extent that Ben Stokes will only be utilised as a batter during the early stages of the tournament, while the in-form Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali will be asked to perform both with the bat and ball.
For Gujarat, it will be interesting to see how captain Hardik Pandya will be utilised. He is known to be effective with the new ball as well and is very capable of batting higher up the order if needed.
Both teams will leverage their all-rounders in a bid to get past their opponents in the early stages and then see how it goes.
It is loud and clear that the utility cricketers will have a big impact on Friday’s opening game and the rest of the tournament.
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