IPL 2023, RR vs GT Emotional Rollercoaster: Hardik holds the reins, Rashid shows his wares, Afghans on target

An early finish

It was a rare chance for a team to build its net run rate and it didn’t take the Gujarat Titans openers much time to break the back of the chase. Small totals have been tough to chase over the last week, but with Wriddhiman Saha taking the initiative in targeting Trent Boult, the biggest threat was neutralised early on. The Kiwi left-armer’s first three overs went for 28 without reward, and it was only a question of when, not if.

Shubman Gill was allowed to play to his pace, before skipper Hardik Pandya came and made it a quick night for everyone as Adam Zampa had no answers to the onslaught. The result, with the margin of victory, put the Titans effectively two games ahead at the top of the table, also putting a dent in Rajasthan Royals’ numbers. They would do well to draw a line under this game and look ahead.

Captain in the middle

Hardik Pandya is not a captain remote-controlled from the dugout or by the video analyst. He is his own man. Whatever the data says, he is willing to change a plan if it’s not working, and he isn’t reliant on instructions from beyond the boundary.
All analysis and data would suggest that Jos Buttler needs to be targeted with deliveries coming in to him from outside off-stump, to cramp him for room. The plan was implemented by Pandya on the first two balls he bowled to the Englishman, both going to the onside boundary. The bowler probably went a bit too straight.

But Pandya was quick to make a change, in line and field, hanging the ball outside off-stump, after bringing third man up. The flat-footed Buttler just fended at the ball, and the thick outside edge landed in the palms of Mohit Sharma, who had just been placed there.
Talk about a captain’s wicket, with the ball and the brain.

Rashid shows his wares

Rajasthan Royals have a shallow batting line-up, and after three wickets inside seven overs, Ravichandran Ashwin was sent in to lend some stability. If anyone could be expected to read Rashid Khan’s wiles, it would be the cerebral off-spinner. No chance.
The first ball was a googly, which Ashwin just about managed to send to backward point. The second one was pushed to long-on for a single. Then came a succession of three deliveries which make the Afghan so tough to read.

Everyone is so wary of Rashid’s googly that they keep looking for it. Ashwin did likewise. A good-length leg-break beat his punch, the next was a bit wider and an attempted drive only met fresh air. And then came another good-length ball that just skidded past the bat, straightened to miss the attempted flick to smash into the off-stump, leaving Ashwin bemused.
And when Impact Player Riyan Parag continued his wretched run by missing a googly to be out LBW soon after, Rashid had turned the match Titans’ way.

Afghans on target

The Sawai Mansingh Stadium is a big ground, the sort which encourages spinners to toss the ball up, tempt batsmen into big shots, and have them caught inside the 30-yard circle or in the outfield.

The spinners did have a field day on Friday, but not in that fashion. The two Afghan wrist-spinners – Rashid Khan and Noor Ahmad – kept bowling a fuller length, targeting the stumps and the batsmen’s pads, not needing any assistance from their fielders. A combined return of 5-39 in seven overs, all their wickets either bowled or LBW, told its own tale. The Royals batsmen couldn’t tell which way the ball was deviating, and hence were tentative with their choices. That they were already three down when the tweakers began their carnage had a big role in their debacle too, as they kept thrusting their pads in line with the ball without much conviction.

– Tushar Bhaduri

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