The stage is set for what is likely to be the most-attended cricket match in India. In white-ball cricket, perhaps only a World Cup final, or an India-Pakistan game at a World Cup, can come closer in terms of the hype and grandeur.
Gujarat Titans will be playing in front of their home crowd for the first time in Ahmedabad. Rajasthan Royals, for whom Motera has been a home venue earlier, will be playing their second final. If they can win – or even just play fearlessly as they have so far to make it a spectacle – it would be the perfect tribute to Shane Warne, their first captain, or as they say, “forever the first Royal”, who defied conventional wisdom and cricketing logic to lead them to glory in 2008.
The fascinating subplot to this is a contest between two young captains. Sanju Samson is only in his second season into the job; Hardik Pandya is in his first. Where Samson has been an advocate of the firebrand approach he brings, Hardik has shouldered more responsibility with the bat, deviating from his natural style of play for the team’s sake.
If Royals possess two of India’s best spinners currently in R Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal, Titans have legspinning maverick and global superstar Rashid Khan. Royals have six-hitters right through – a marauding Jos Buttler up till Shimron Hetmyer as finisher, with Samson thrown in between.
Titans have picked the most wickets in the powerplay, one where Royals have tended to go hard. This will make for fascinating viewing. Titans have also been the best death-bowling unit this season. How Royals formulate their batting plans around this could form the crux of the contest.
Where Royals have had to come here the hard way, having taken a detour to Qualifier 2, Titans have had the advantage of three days of rest in the build-up to the game. At times, this can be a massive advantage. Royals, who have had a short turnaround time, will be banking on adrenaline to carry them.
Over to Narendra Modi Stadium then for one final time after what seems like ages since the season began on March 26. One team playing for their first captain, another playing to make history like their opponents did in their very first season all those years ago. This one should be a cracker.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 2 Jos Buttler, 3 Sanju Samson (capt & wk), 4 Devdutt Padikkal, 5 Shimron Hetmyer, 6 Riyan Parag, 7 R Ashwin, 8 Trent Boult, 9 Obed McCoy, 10 Yuzvendra Chahal, 11 Prasidh Krishna
Gujarat Titans: 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 3 Matthew Wade, 4 Hardik Pandya (capt), 5 David Miller, 6 Rahul Tewatia, 7 Rashid Khan, 8 R Sai Kishore, 9 Yash Dayal, 10 Lockie Ferguson, 11 Mohammed Shami
- No bowler has dismissed Buttler more than Rashid in T20s – four times overall, three times in the IPL. In eight innings, Buttler has managed just 25 runs at a strike rate of below 60. Buttler’s starts have been contrasting. While batting first, he has struck at 81 in his first ten deliveries. While chasing, his strike rate shoots up to 169 in the same period. It could be worth a gamble bringing Rashid early on against Buttler. In any case, R Sai Kishore’s addition has given them control in the middle. Since his introduction, they have conceded at less than seven in the middle overs. Without him, that rate stood at 8.7.
- One of the reasons for Miller’s success has been his improved spin game. His average of 96 and strike rate of 144 is by far his best. All said, he has been out three times to Ashwin. This could make it a tantalising prospect for Samson to bring Ashwin on immediately with Miller at the crease. While Miller has struck his 85 runs off Ashwin at 116, Royals won’t mind going for those many if it means Ashwin dismisses him again quickly.
Stats that matter
- No batter below No. 3 has scored more than Miller’s 449 runs this season. He has struck them at 142.
- Shami’s 11 wickets are the joint-most by a fast bowler in the powerplay this season. Titans have won 11 out of the 12 games where he has picked up a wicket. Incidentally, the three losses have come when he has gone wicketless.
- Buttler needs 25 runs to surpass David Warner’s tally of 848 runs during Sunrisers Hyderabad’s title-winning season in 2016. Virat Kohli’s record of 973 runs in the same season is likely to remain untouched. Buttler has struck his runs at a strike rate of 153, while averaging 58.9.
- Chahal needs one more wicket to surpass Wanindu Hasaranga’s tally of 26 to win back the purple cap.
“At the auction table, we spent 90-95% of our purse on putting together our first XI. We worked hard on data to work on the players we wanted. We put emphasis on experience at the moment. We have a smattering of youngsters who will become stars later, but our first XI has a strong share of seasoned internationals… Wins don’t just happen. It takes a lot of planning, hard work, execution on the field.”
Royals’ director of cricket Kumar Sangakkara says reaching the final is a culmination of a process they started even before the auction
“We have an opportunity to do something special. But, to some extent, what we have achieved so far is something special. I would congratulate everybody that’s been involved in this franchise for what we have achieved so far. There is more for us to achieve – not only this year but as a group going forward as well. This is just the next step for us.”
Titans’ director of cricket Vikram Solanki believes this is just the start of something special for Titans
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo