Kolkata: Equipped with a deadly bowling attack and with a number of high-quality finishers, debutants Gujarat Titans will start as a favorite against spin-heavy former champions Rajasthan Royals when the two teams face off in the first IPL qualifier, here on Tuesday.
Captain of a team in the IPL for the first time ever, a fit-again Hardik Pandya has been a revelation this season as he led from the front with both bat and ball to ensure a top result for his team in the competition phase.
Aside from shooting number 4, Pandya has put his resources to good use be it the death bowling of wily Rashid Khan or counting his batting exploits to get alongside the fiery duo of David Miller and Rahul Tewatia. Every little thing has fallen into place.
Their weak link was their best at bat with the highly regarded Shubman Gill failing to convert his starts, but the addition of veteran Wriddhiman Saha has done wonders for the team.
The retired Indian wicketkeeper batter strikes at the top of the ranks with a new-found passion, scoring three half-centuries in nine games to make up for Gill’s lackluster run.
While the Afghan leg spinner was outstanding in the middle and death overs, Indian senior pacer Mohammed Shami got them off to a perfect start by being the highest wicket taker (11 wickets) in the power play this season.
Saha, who has been making headlines since he was eliminated from Team India, will try to make a point when he plays in front of their home crowd with Bangladeshi team-mate Shami again.
The fact that the play-offs will be played on new tracks would put the sailors in focus and Pandya could try to bring in Alzarri Joseph to go along with Lockie Ferguson and Shami.
The Titans had beaten the same opponents by 37 runs in the league phase, but the champions of the inaugural edition have a heavy attack with rich experience and they could prove to be a tough customer.
The Titans also looked vulnerable as they suffered three defeats in the last five games, including an eight-wicket thrashing by Royal Challengers Bangalore in their previous appearance, which would mean the Pandya-led side must step in.
Three of Titan’s four defeats and four of the Royals’ five losses have come while target setting would also be a major concern.
The Sanju Samson-led outfit has both the Orange and Purple Cap holders this season – Jos Buttler and Yuzvendra Chahal.
They also have the experience of Ravichandran Ashwin whose versatility has especially come to the fore in the second half of the season. Ashwin’s at bat also made a huge difference.
Ashwin, who recently batted at number 5 ahead of their regular batters Shimron Hetmyer and Riyan Parag against Chennai Super Kings, hit an unbeaten 23-ball 40 to take a five-wicket win that also sealed their top-two finish.
But to repeat their 2008-IPL winning show, the Royals not only need an Ashwin, but also the highest order to fire.
Their leading go-getter Buttler has slowed down at the end of the season with single-digit scores – 2, 2, 7 – in his last three outings.
The Englishman, who has batted three centuries and three fifties this season, has half a century to go in five innings and the Royals would need him desperately to get back between the runs.
Their clout has also collapsed with Samson and Hetmyer’s loss of form and they would try to be at the forefront of the big game.
The fact that the loser of Qualifier One gets a second chance to make it to the final gives both teams some breathing room.
Gujarat Titans: Hardik Pandya (c), Abhinav Manohar, David Miller, Gurkeerat Singh, B Sai Sudharsan, Shubman Gill, Rahul Tewatia, Vijay Shankar, Matthew Wade, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Wriddhiman Saha, Alzarri Joseph, Darshan Nalkande, Lockie Ferguson, Mohammed Shami, Noor Ahmad, Pradeep Sangwan, Rashid Khan, Ravisrinivasan Sai Kishore, Varun Aaron, Yash Dayal.
Rajasthan Royals: Sanju Samson (c), Jos Buttler, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Ravichandran Ashwin, Trent Boult, Shimron Hetmyer, Devdutt Padikkal, Prasidh Krishna, Yuzvendra Chahal, Riyan Parag, KC Cariappa, Navdeep Saini, Obed McCoy, Anunay Senh Karun Nair, Dhruv Jurel, Tejas Baroka, Kuldip Yadav, Shubham Garhwal, James Neesham, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Rassie van der Dussen, Daryl Mitchell, Corbin Bosch.
Match starts at 7.30pm.
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