Ahmedabad: He came, he saw, he conquered. A lot had been written about Hardik Pandya at the start of IPL-2022 when he was named the captain of Gujarat Titans. There were apprehensions as to whether an injury-plagued Pandya was the right man to lead a new franchise. However, in the end, the Baroda all-rounder had the biggest smile on his face Sunday. Under his leadership, the Gujarat Titans (GT), the debutants in the cash-rich tournament, had won their maiden title. It couldn’t have been a better fairytale ending.
There have also been discussions in the recent past about the next generation of captains for the Indian cricket team. Rishabh Pant and KL Rahul, all had their fair share of takers. After May 29, 2022 another name will certainly be added on to that list… that of Hardik Pandya. He led from the front, was innovative, never afraid to do the unconventional and above all always ready to take the centre stage in the big games. What more can you ask from a skipper.
The skipper also played his role to perfection Sunday as GT thrashed Rajasthan Royals (RR) by seven wickets to win the coveted trophy. Pandya (3/17) had probably saved his best bowling effort for the final. He dismissed Jos Buttler (39, 35b, 5×4), Sanju Samson (14) and Shimron Hetmyer (11) as GT restricted the Royals to 130 for nine after the latter had elected to bat after winning the toss.
Then as GT tottered a little in their chase of the target Pandya (34, 30b, 3×4, 1×6) added 63 runs for the third wicket with Shubman Gill (45 n o, 43b, 3×4, 1×6) to put his team in a position from where they would never lose. Then David Miller (32 n o, 19b, 3×4, 1×6) delivered the coup de grace to take the team through to the top of the podium.
Earlier RR did not have the best time after electing to bat. With more than a lakh supporting the home team, Gujarat bowlers were able to maintain the pressure on the opposition though Buttler and Yashasvi Jaiswal (22)) tried their best to break free. However, once Jaiswal fell, RR continued losing wickets at regular intervals and could never post even a par score on a pitch that was tailor-made for batting.
Buttler, who began his innings with a crisp square cut, was joined by Samson after the fall of Jaiswal. Pandya immediately introduced Rashid Khan (1/18), but both batters did not take any chances.
The in-form Buttler decided to force the issue as he drove Lockie Ferguson over the cover fielder before cutting him for successive boundaries even though the Kiwi clocked the fastest ball of the tournament at 157.3 kmph.
Samson did not last long as Pandya removed him with the second ball of his spell. Pandya hit the hard length and Samson went for the pull shot only to be caught on the off-side, leaving Rajasthan at 60 for two in 8.2 overs.
Rajasthan’s struggles worsened when Devdutt Padikkal (2) and Buttler departed in a space of three balls.
Rashid ended the painful stay of Padikkal before Hardik got the massive wicket of Buttler. The Englishman attempted to steer one to third man but ended up edging it back to Wriddhiman Saha behind the stumps. However, Pandya was not done yet. He then got Hetmyer with a slower which the batsman played early and was gleefully caught by the bowler.
Brief scores: Rajasthan Royals 130 for 9 (Jos Buttler 39, Hardik Pandya 3/17, Sai Kishore 2/20, Rashid Khan 1/18) lost to Gujarat Titans 133 for 3 in 18.1 overs (Shubman Gill 45 n o, Hardik Pandya 34, David Miller 32 n o) by 7 wickets.