Hardik Worah
27 Mar 2023 | 12:21 PM

IPL 2023 Preview: Attack on Hardik Pandya's Titan(s) at your own peril

The defending champions have enough firepower in the middle-order to hide their top-order flaws

Gujarat Titans didn’t give a sh*t about what experts and the general public had to say about them prior to the 2022 Indian Premier League. They were the newbies, the ones who were supposed to take a couple of seasons just to get used to the high-pressure environment, the ones who were being led by a captain who was too flamboyant, and the ones who didn’t have the right combination to succeed in the best T20 tournament in the world.

But like we said, Gujarat Titans and their skipper Hardik Pandya didn’t give a sh*t and went on to win the silverware in their very first season. Almost everything went right for Gujarat that people expected to go wrong. The pairing of Pandya and head coach Ashish Nehra worked like a dream, while Rashid Khan and Shubman Gill showcased why the franchise picked them as core members alongside the skipper. 

Then you have the likes of David Miller, Rahul Tewatia, Mohammed Shami and Yash Dayal who all punched above their weight. We are not saying Gujarat had the perfect team or season but they always managed to find a way to get over the line. Whenever they were in trouble, someone stepped up and got the job done, but doing that two seasons in a row will need some special effort.

Squad depth

Have they plugged the gap?

Gujarat’s top-order (1-3) had the third-worst strike rate (124.7) in IPL 2022 after Mumbai Indians (123) and Kolkata Knight Riders (123.4). Gill ended the season with a strike rate of 132.33 but operated at 118.1 in the powerplay. Wriddhiman Saha (133.9) was the best GT batter in the first six overs but had a strike rate of just 101.2 in the middle overs. The likes of Matthew Wade and Vijay Shankar were also tried at the top but none was fruitful.

Against spin, Gujarat (6.6) had the worst scoring rate in the powerplay last season. On top of that, they got Kane Williamson in the 2023 auction and the right-hander from New Zealand has a strike rate of less than 100 against spin in the last two editions. He is now most likely to take that No. 3 spot, leaving GT with too many anchors up the order. Williamson had an unbelievable IPL 2018 (735 runs @ 52.5 and an SR of 142.4) but the 32-year-old has been terrible in the last two seasons - 482 runs at a strike rate of just 103.4. 

The Titans can’t afford this version of Williamson, no team can. However, he has been in outstanding form in Test cricket and ODIs of late and the franchise would hope he could bring that confidence in his T20 game. If Williamson could operate at an SR of 130-135, Gill and Pandya will have the freedom to bat more aggressively. Post them, we all know what Miller, Tewatia and Rashid are capable of.

Gujarat also didn’t pick enough wickets in the middle overs (7-15). They had the best balls/wicket (21.3) in the powerplay and the best economy rate (9.4) and average (17) in death overs, but ended the season with the second-worst balls/wicket (24.5) in the middle phase. Rashid was economical and also picked up 11 wickets in that phase but didn’t find much support. So, have GT done anything about this? Well, they got Shivam Mavi in the auction. The young pacer doesn’t have a great record in the powerplay and death overs but averages 20.6 at an economy of 6.9 in the middle overs. 

One thing that they need to work out

With so many uncertainties around him, the Titans would want Gill to deliver at least a 500-plus season at a good strike rate. The 23-year-old is now an all-format player for India and would be eager to take more responsibility. The opener has scored 400-plus runs in his last three seasons but his strike rate has always been a concern. However, since the last IPL, Gill has smoked 462 runs in 12 T20s at an average of 46.2 and a strike rate of 160.2. And, if he could replicate that SR in the forthcoming season, Gujarat won’t have to worry too much about their top-order.

What will win them the title?

Gujarat’s middle-order (Nos. 4-7) was their biggest strength last year, with the likes of Pandya, Miller, Tewatia and Rashid accumulating close to 1200 runs between them at a strike rate of 141.9. Abhinav Manohar too played a couple of match-winning cameos. Overall, Gujarat’s middle-order had the best average (40.5) in IPL 2022, with the second-best being Sunrisers Hyderabad’s 28.6. They also had the third-best scoring rate (8.5), meaning they didn’t just amass runs but did that at a solid rate.

Those numbers get even better in the second innings - an average of 55.5 at a strike rate of 150.7. Now you know why Gujarat lost only one of their nine games while chasing. They pulled off some of the most stunning run-chases in the season last year, with Tewatia clobbering Odean Smith for two consecutive sixes off the last two deliveries, Rashid and Miller scoring 48 off 18, and more. It was like Quentin Tarantino was writing their scripts, producing one blockbuster after another. 

And, this is exactly what Gujarat need this season. They want their fearsome middle-order to fire once again, especially with the top-order being fragile. Gujarat were also the best bowling unit in the powerplay and death overs. Shami picked up the most number of wickets (11 at an ER of 6.6) in the first six overs, while Rashid was as consistent as ever. The inclusion of Joshua Little will give them an extra option across all three phases and the left-armer from Ireland would be a perfect back-up for Alzarri Joseph.

MVP - Rashid Khan.

Predicted XI

Home and away

Gujarat are one of those franchises who won’t be affected by home-and-away conditions. You give them a spin-friendly track, Rashid, R Sai Kishore and Jayant Yadav would put you on the mat. Give them pace and the likes of Shami, Joseph, Little and Pandya could wreak havoc. They have good pace and spin hitters in the batting department as well, making them a team made for all conditions, at least on paper. 

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