Rashid’s Genius, Pace is Pace, and the Sudharsan Sparkle

After the bowlers had kept Delhi’s power-packed line-up to a score of 162, Gujarat Titans, the defending champions, aced the chase, with Sai Sudharsan’s splendid unbeaten 62 anchoring the innings. Vijay Shankar helped him rebuild the innings after Anrich Nortje’s pace had caused a scare early on, and David Miller applied the finishing touches with a punishing 31 not out. Here are our takeaways from a match that took Gujarat to the top of the table with two wins from two.  


Rashid the Rockstar


Just how good is Rashid Khan? It’s probably no exaggeration to say that he would walk into any white-ball team in the world. In each of his six full seasons in the IPL, Rashid has taken at least 17 wickets, while not conceding more than 7 runs an over in any campaign. Plenty of teams have lined him up, but few have managed to fluster him. Rashid has never come close to the Purple Cap – his best tally is 21 wickets in a season – but even when he doesn’t take wickets, he influences games. Qualifier 1 against Rajasthan last season was a prime example. Every other bowler on show was hammered in a game where Gujarat chased down a huge total of 188. Rashid? Four overs for 15. Against Delhi, Rashid didn’t veer too much from the usual script. The leg-breaks turn just enough to put doubts in batters’ minds, the googlies are invariably perfectly pitched, and the odd one just rushes on. Abishek Porel had no clue about the one that bowled him, while both Sarfaraz Khan and Aman Khan fell trying to sweep him. It wasn’t Rashid at his best, but he didn’t need to be. Even on his quieter days, he’s far too clever for most batters.


Joseph a worthy apprentice


In his first five seasons in the IPL, Mohammed Shami was mostly a liability, picking up just 21 wickets in 35 games while conceding over 9 an over. In the last four seasons, he has taken 78 wickets. There would have been no Gujarat title in 2022 without his 20 wickets, and he has begun the new season in the same vein, with 5 wickets in the first two games. This time, he has a new accomplice though. Last season, Lockie Ferguson took 12 wickets from 13 matches to back up Shami and Rashid. Some eyebrows were raised when Ferguson was let go. But Alzarri Joseph, 7 wickets in 9 outings last year, appears primed to step into the breach. Joseph is fast and accurate, and the raw pace was the undoing of David Warner. The dismissal of Rilee Rossouw was a throwback to the glory years of West Indies cricket, a snorter that took off and reduced the batter to a confused tangle of limbs and bat. There was also time to ping both Sarfaraz and Porel on their helmets. Some captains consider extreme pace a liability, since even the slightest deflection can clear the rope. Fortunately for Joseph, Hardik Pandya doesn’t seem to be one of them.  


Axar too low at No.7?


Of Delhi’s top five, only Prithvi Shaw scored at a rate acceptable in T20s, and he made only 7. Given his sublime batting form across formats, is there a case to be made for Axar Patel to be batting higher than No.7? He made 36 from 22 and smashed half of the 6 sixes that Delhi hit in their innings. With Ravindra Jadeja’s white-ball form having tailed off so much in recent seasons, Axar is definitely in contention for a World Cup place.


Nortje more than a Magnum moustache


Anrich Nortje’s facial hair may look like a tribute to Tom Selleck and his portrayal of Magnum PI in the 1980s, but there’s nothing old or dated about his bowling. His searing pace was too much for both Wriddhiman Saha and Shubman Gill to handle, with the ball that castled Gill timed at 148.8 km/hr. That was just about the only time Delhi seemed to have the edge in a match that Gujarat otherwise controlled from ball one. Sadly for Nortje, his pace went against him as Sai Sudharsan, brimful of confidence, ruined his figures in his final over.


Gujarat win piloted by TN duo


Sudharsan and Vijay Shankar are teammates with Tamil Nadu as well. When they were united at the crease, the chase had unravelled slightly at 54-3, and Warner’s animated face said as much. Shankar first played domestic cricket more than a decade ago, but Sudharsan is only 21. He has already shown signs of being an accomplished all-format player, but the quality of bowling you face in the IPL is still a big step up from Ranji Trophy and other competitions. There wasn’t much fluency early on, but the 53-run stand kept Gujarat in the game, and set the platform for the late blitz that killed off the contest. Sudharsan played the cover drive beautifully, and timed the ramp shots behind the wicket sweetly. The highlight of the unbeaten 62, however, was a swivel-pull for six off Nortje that soared over fine leg for six. Kane Williamson’s unfortunate injury has increased the responsibility on Sudharsan to play the anchor role. He did that to perfection against Delhi.

Miller Puts the Champagne on Ice


On April 2, David Miller was thumping a 61-ball 91 for South Africa against the Netherlands in an ODI. Less than 48 hours later, he struck a 16-ball 31 to reduce a tricky chase to a comfortable stroll. Miler contributed 481 runs to Gujarat’s title win in 2022. It’s easy to forget what a huge risk he was at the time. After a stellar start to his IPL career, Miller had endured six dreadful seasons before Gujarat threw him a lifeline. In that environment, he has rediscovered the killer instinct and the huge sixes are as frequent as they once were. When you’re defending a target, with the game in the balance, he’d pretty much the last batter you want to see striding out.  

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