Punjab Kings vs Gujarat Titans: An entertaining contest on the cards tonight in IPL

If I still tilt towards Gujarat it is because their bowling is more potent, writes Ayaz Memon

Mohammed Shami of Gujarat Titans celebrates the wicket of Syed Khaleel Ahmed of Delhi Capitals during the IPL match between the Gujarat Titans and the Delhi Capitals. (BCCI)
Mohammed Shami of Gujarat Titans celebrates the wicket of Syed Khaleel Ahmed of Delhi Capitals during the IPL match between the Gujarat Titans and the Delhi Capitals. (BCCI)

By Ayaz Memon

Published: Fri 8 Apr 2022, 11:52 AM

Last updated: Fri 8 Apr 2022, 12:11 PM

This promises to be an entertaining and close contest. Both teams — Punjab Kings and Gujarat Titans have scored a couple of impressive wins, showcasing depth of talent, as also balance, without which it would be difficult to win on a sustained basis.

In a way, the performance of both teams so far is also credit to the vision and strategy of the respective managements in player selection, particularly during the mega auction, which saw large scale cross-migration of players.

Not every franchise played the auction correctly if the struggle of marquee teams like defending champions Chennai Super Kings and five-time winners Mumbai Indians is anything to go by. Teams like current table toppers Kolkata Knight Riders, Rajasthan Royals, Lucknow Super Giants and Gujarat Titans, however, appear to be reaping rich dividends from decisions made in the mega auction.

While Lucknow and Gujarat are new entrants in the IPL and perforce had to build a team from scratch, a challenging task, they have done a commendable job, going by the opinion of experts and critics. Both teams are favoured to make it to the knockout stage.

Between these two teams, the difficulty quotient in putting together a strong side was that much greater for GT, compelling a more adventurous approach in choosing players. This has worked to their advantage.

The choice of captain itself was open to scepticism. While Hardik Pandya (in picture), was an apt fit for parochial reasons, he had scant experience as captain, having played most of his cricket under either Virat Kohli (for India) or Rohit Sharma in the IPL.

For a new team to have a rookie captain was a mighty risk. Moreover, Hardik’s career had hit a hurdle because of fitness and injury-related issues. His all-round prowess was suspect since he was hardly bowling. In the previous IPL season as well as the T20 World Cup, he was sub-par with the bat too. If he could not deliver as a player, how would he be able to inspire other players, get a cohesive unit going, was the niggling question.

In the first couple of matches at least, such compunctions about Hardik have proved to be unfounded. He’s looked sharp while bowling, contributed decently with bat, fielded brilliantly as always and managed to get the best out of his players.

What’s helped Hardik and the team is the roster of players he has at his disposal. With Mohammed Shami, Lockie Ferguson, Matthew Wade, Shubman Gill, Jayant Yadav, Rahul Tewatia and above all Rashid Khan, there is abundant talent and rich experience for the captain to exploit.

While not a new team, Punjab chose to more or less recast the entire side after a couple of disappointing seasons, compounded by the departure of champion batsman and captain KL Rahul, and talented young leg spinner Ravi Bishnoi to Lucknow Super Giants.

An early and smart move was to retain Mayank Agarwal, who had been a prolific run scorer for the franchise, and more importantly perhaps, also give him the captaincy. Agarwal, who has been a leading performer in domestic cricket including the IPL for a decade, knows Indian conditions as well as anybody else, is familiar with overseas and indigenous talent, and is hungry for success.

On paper, there is not much to choose between the two teams. If I still tilt towards Gujarat it is because the bowling is better rounded and more potent as evidenced in the two matches they’ve won so far. The T20 format, however, does not respect how a team has performed in the past, rather how it plays on the day. Both teams will strive hard.

Ayaz Memon is an Indian sports writer and commentator

More news from Cricket