In the end, the most consistently brilliant team of the season became the first side to reach the playoffs.
And the team with the most fragile batting line-up fell into a dark hole once again to limp out of the last-four race.
In its emphatic 34-run win over Sunrisers Hyderabad, Gujarat Titans showed again that it has what it takes to become only the third team in history to defend the IPL title.
“I think we’ve rightly earned the chance of making the playoffs. I spoke about where we stand and that there will be high expectations but we focus within the group. We tick a lot of good boxes,” skipper Hardik Pandya said.
Pandya's men are not done yet with their league phase, despite already securing a place in the top two with 18 points.
Gujarat's last and 14th game of the league phase will be in Bangalore on Sunday when it would hope to earn its 10th win of the campaign to take a winning momentum into Qualifier 1 — the first match of the playoffs where the winner goes to the final and loser goes to Eliminator 2 to play the winner of Eliminator 1 for a place in the title decider.
The two chances of reaching the final are priceless in this tournament and it's Gujarat's reward for its consistency.
But before the playoffs, a victory for Gujarat on Sunday in the last league game could also end the Royal Challengers Bangalore's hopes of reaching the last four.
Given the way it bounced back from its 27-run defeat to the resurgent Mumbai Indians in its previous game, it's highly unlikely that Gujarat would take its foot off the gas.
On Monday, in the do-or-die battle, Sunrises Hyderabad delivered an early blow when Bhuvneshwar Kumar (4-0-30-5) dismissed opener Wriddhiman Saha for a duck in the third ball of the innings.
But that failed to deter the Titans at the Narendra Modi Stadium as Shubman Gill (101 off 58 balls, 13 fours and one six) produced a sublime exhibition of classical stroke-play to record his first IPL hundred.
Gill's 147-run second wicket partnership off just 82 balls with Sai Sudharsan (47 off 36 balls) set the tone for a massive score.
But Bhuvneshwar hit back to restrict the Titans to 188 for nine.
In reply, Hyderabad ran into an inspired Mohammed Shami (4-0-21-4), Bhuvneshwar's India's teammate, who hit Test match length to pick holes in the rivals' defence.
The four-wicket haul took Shami's tally to 23 for the season.
The Indian pacer is now the joint-highest wicket-taker of the season with his Titans teammate Rashid Khan, the champion leg-spinner from Afghanistan.
Mohit Sharma, the medium pacer who also took four wickets against Hyderabad on Monday, is seventh on the list of top wicket-takers this season with 17, showing the depth of Gujarat's bowling resources.
Barring Gill, who is now the second highest scorer with 575 runs behind Faf du Plessis, the Titans have no other batsmen in the top 10.
But it's the deadly cameos that players like Pandya, David Miller and Rahul Tewatia produce that make them such a formidable team.
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