And it’s over to Eden Gardens in Kolkata for Qualifier-1. Two teams with similar approaches will want to give themselves a few extra days of rest ahead of the grand finale. For Gujarat Titans, it’s the opportunity to play in front of a capacity home crowd in Ahmedabad. For Rajasthan Royals, this is a chance to pay a perfect tribute to Shane Warne, who led them to their only title in 2008. Royals have never finished in the top-two since the playoffs came into existence in 2011. Meanwhile, Titans have exceeded expectations and pre-tournament billing to get here. Both sides have punted on their six-batters and five-bowler strategy to the hilt.
Their unshakable faith in this core philosophy that has brought them much success. That said, not everything is similar. Their approaches have varied. Titans have hit 69 sixes, the least for a team this season. Royals have hit 116, the most.
Titans were written off by many even before a ball was bowled. Their auction strategy was scrutinised. They wondered if Hardik Pandya, fighting his own battles with form and injury, can inspire the new entrants. One of their openers pulled out of the tournament and their middle order had two rookie batters and an overseas batter who had racked up poor numbers season after season. Yet, nearly seven weeks later, they became the first team to enter the playoffs. Royals have traversed a slightly trickier path. The early pacesetters had a mid-season wobble but gathered their wits towards the end to seal the top-two following a nervy win late last week against Lucknow Super Giants.
Their spin base is covered by potentially two of India’s best, their top order has revolved around orange-cap holder Jos Buttler, whose late-season slump hasn’t affected dynamics much because the others have stepped up. Ashwin has played finisher and anchor all while delivering his overs tactfully, while the pace battery has been operating at the kind of level expected of them. Titans won the only outing between the two sides in the league phase. Hardik struck a bruising 87 to set up the game, before their pace battery of Yash Dayal and Lockie Ferguson snuffed out the Royals. It’s payback time now. Without too much pressure, because both sides know there is a second chance.
Wriddhiman Saha tweaked his hamstring in the final league game and didn’t return to keep wickets. But the Titans have been given a major boost with the keeper-batter confirming his availability. Miller has had his most productive season since 2013. He averages 83.5 against spin, this season, but against Royals, he will have a challenge after having been dismissed by Chahal and Ashwin a combined five times. So Samson will do well to keep a few overs of both his trump cards for the back end.
Buttler has been dismissed four times by Rashid Khan in seven innings, while managing a strike rate of 60 in the five overs he has played off him. Overall, he has struck at 131.16 in the powerplay, but is coming into this game on the back of three single-digit scores. It may be worth playing on his ego and bring in Rashid early to test the waters. Titans have successfully chased down targets six times out of seven. The only instance where they missed out was when Daniel Sams defended nine off the final over for Mumbai IndiansTitans’ run rate of 11.6 between overs 16-20 in a chase is the highest this season.
Essentially, it means they’ve backed themselves to score big in the final few overs. Royals run rate of 8.3 is the lowest. Saha missed the first five games, but since his entry into the season, only Buttler (357 runs) and Ruturaj Gaikwad (333) have scored more than his 312 runsRoyals are the only team to have three batters (Buttler, Samson, Hetmyer) to have hit 20 plus sixes this season