IPL 2023 play-offs: Can Gujarat Titans, Lucknow upset the applecart?

Two intriguing games are on the cards over Tuesday and Wednesday – where heavyweights CSK and Mumbai may enjoy a slight edge, but only just

Lucknow Super Giants captain Krunal Pandya (left), Gujarat Titans' captain Hardik Pandya (right) 
(Photo: Twitter/ @hardikpandya7
Lucknow Super Giants captain Krunal Pandya (left), Gujarat Titans' captain Hardik Pandya (right) (Photo: Twitter/ @hardikpandya7 @krunalpandya24)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

The sea of yellow will be back at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Tuesday when Mahendra Singh Dhoni leads his men out against the Gujarat Titans in the first Qualifier of the IPL 2023. The day after, five-time champions the Mumbai Indians will take on the Lucknow Super Giants in the eliminator.

It finally boiled down to the last of the league games for a toss-up between the Mumbai Indians and the Royal Challengers Bangalore on Sunday – and what transpired was the symbolic beginning of a passing of the mantle for India’s top batter status. Shubman Gill outdid Virat Kohli’s back-to-back century with trademark calm and poise to come up with his own – ending the Bangalore franchise’s dreams of that elusive title once again.  

The battle lines are now drawn. As the scene of action shifts to sultry Chennai for the next two knockout games, two of the biggest sub-plots lie ahead in Dhoni’s walking into the golden sunset and Rohit Sharma’s pursuit to better his own landmark of leading the Mumbai Paltan to five titles.

It would, no doubt, be an emotional moment if either of them is the last man standing after the final next Sunday but what stands out is the way the two new franchises showed a level of resilience and consistency to throw their hats into the ring once again. Both the Titans and the Super Giants have busted the myth that it’s unrealistic to have lofty targets as newcomers and how every bit of effort from team members can offset for the lack of so-called big names.

Since 2022, what is it that these two new entries got right while a number of other sides fell back by the wayside despite their players standing out in the race for Orange and Purple Caps? Take a look at the reigning champions, who have now reinforced their reputation as one of the best chasing teams in recent times with a 14-3 win-loss record during chases.

True that Gill had exceeded the expectations as their star batter as he crept up to to second position in the run getters’ table with 680 runs after Sunday, but he is their only batter – believe it or not – among the top 20 in that list. The scenario is equally conspicuous with Lucknow, whose top run getter so far, allrounder Marcus Stoinis occupies the 18th position (368), followed by Kyle Mayers at 20th position (361) and Nicholas Pooran next with 358.

The success recipe for the Titans had been that while they continued to revel in their strength – bowling – a number of players have played their assigned roles to the hilt despite going under the radar. Two perfect cases in point were the contribution of their experienced keeper-batter Wriddhiman Saha and Vijay Shankar. Despite the presence of the younger K.S. Bharat, the Indian Test keeper and a World T20 winner Mathew Wade in the side, the team management kept their faith on Saha for his technically impeccable work behind the stumps and a license to kill in the Powerplay.

His aggregate of 287 runs from 14 innings may not look extraordinary, but the team management persisted with him. The same philosophy held true for Shankar, whose four half-centuries during the league stages were worth their weight in gold – just take away his 53 (off 35 deliveries) against Bangalore on Sunday and Gill could well have ended up on the losing side.

The Lucknow team, much to their advantage, often flew under the radar but had the homegrown talents performing the part for them during the league stages. There could have been an element of luck when they split points with the CSK in the only rain-aborted match of the season so far, but it’s par for the course in the game.

Two intriguing games, hence, are on the cards over Tuesday and Wednesday – where heavyweights CSK and Mumbai may enjoy a slight edge, but only just.

Upcoming matches

First Qualifier (Tuesday, May 23)

The Gujarat Titans vs the Chennai Super Kings

Eliminator (Wednesday, May 24)

The Lucknow Super Giants vs the Mumbai Indians

Both matches from 7.30 pm in Chennai. 

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