Defending champions Gujarat Titans earned themselves the right to have a crack at lifting the title again, first by amassing 233 runs in their batting essay and defending them successfully against Mumbai Indians’ batting might.
The five-time winners made a valiant attempt to pull off another big run-chase but ultimately crumbled under the burden of the enormous target to fall short by 61 runs in Ahmedabad on Friday.
The story of the GT batting innings could be condensed between the two tumbling fielding attempts by Tim David. In the sixth over, he dropped Shubman Gill at mid-wicket and in the 17th, he caught him in the deep mid-wicket. Between those two moments, the GT opener hammered ten sixes and seven fours in his 60-ball 129, leaving MI to ponder over the what-might-have-beens. It was yet another significant step for the 23-year-old in his march to batting greatness.
The match came to life in the sixth over when Chris Jordon ran in to bowl. A late replacement for Jofra Archer, the Barbados-born pacer struggled to find his lengths again. Gill gleefully dispatched a couple of Jordon’s loose balls for a six and four to either side of the wicket before his check-drive on 30 was grassed by a fully stretched David. With Jordan’s 12-run over, GT were the happier of the two teams at 50/0, but MI had no idea of the storm that was to follow.
All the Mumbai camp knew was of Gill’s love for Ahmedabad. He showed the first signs of extending that romance when he launched Piyush Chawla for a straight six which crashed into the sight screen. After that 16-run 9th over, another 10 came off Kumar Kartikeya’s next which included yet another six by Gill over square-leg, this time on one knee. Halfway through the innings, GT had reached 91/1. They had the base they needed.
Gill was giving the home crowd enough reasons to smile but the entertainment reached a fever pitch when he pocketed three sixes off the hero of the previous match, Akash Madhwal. The second of the three, perhaps a shot no one in world cricket is playing more aesthetically than him – a front-foot pull where his early reading of the length allowed him to stand tall and deliver.
By then Gill had tranformed himself into a dangerous avatar. Not just was Madhwal brought back down to earth, Chawla’s missing zip began to show up. Or so it felt, every time the senior spinner bowled to Gill. In the 13th over bowled by the leg-spinner, Gill collected 20 runs with a six down the ground, one over long-on. The GT opener was reading Chawla’s googlies and making his pay. If the idea was to get him to take risks by going aerial, Gill was doing it of his own accord, needing no second invitation.
With Gill dealing in boundaries, he brought up his hundred in 49 balls. His third of the season, second at the Narendra Modi stadium wearing GT’s colours, fourth across formats at the same venue – all of them in 2023.
By the time, the 15th over came along, Gill was dancing down the track to pace too. His six off Cameron Green where he short-arm jabbed a six despite being off-balance showed just the kind of zone he was in. Between overs 12-15, Gill had almost single-handedly added 67 runs to the total.
When he was eventually dismissed in the 17th over, Gill had amassed 10 sixes, one more than what he managed in his ODI double-hundred earlier in the year. After Gill’s exit on 192, Hardik Pandya’s quickfire 28* (13b) lifted GT to 233, a commanding total for a knockout contest.
MI’s in-form batters tried to make a match of it. Nehal Wadera and Rohit Sharma were dismissed early. But young Tilak Varma took on the tournament’s purple-cap holder Mohammed Shami. GT’s powerplay king went full, wide, short but Tilak found a way to stroke 4,4,4,4 and 6 to make it a 24-run over. That took MI to 72/2 in 6.
But Rashid Khan ended Varma’s cameo on 43 (14b, 5×4, 3×6). Suryakumar Yadav’s 61 kept them in the contest. But even for him, it was a bridge too far.