Hardik Pandya’s youthful leadership template will meet its match in Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s time-tested improvisations as defending champions Gujarat Titans clash with eternal title contenders Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League opener here on Friday.
The 2022 was Pandya’s first year as an IPL captain and despite his flamboyance on and off the field, he did invoke a certain sense of calm in Titans’ campaign that had the an identical start to finish tempo, unmatched by any other team.
With Shubman Gill in the form of his life, Rashid Khan not losing one bit of his consistency and Pandya himself having his worth weight in gold, Gujarat are once again the team to beat.
David Miller’s absence from the opener due to national duty will reduce some middle-order muscle but Rahul Tewatia, who has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years, could compensate for the temporary miss.
Kane williamson might not be most sought after in this format but in low-scoring games on difficult surfaces, he could still be the man to watch out for.
Pandya has never shied away from admitting that he has learnt the ropes of leadership from Dhoni, who has always been his ‘Mentor’.
But at 42, playing from IPL to IPL, Dhoni knows the template of IPL success only too well. There have been blips here and there, like last time when they failed to qualify for the play-offs but even with shut eyes, one can vouch that there was no fault in planning but the execution wasn’t on expected lines.
On Friday, as the 16th edition starts, it will be very different from earlier ones as 12 players per side will take part in the pitched battle at the Motera Stadium with the ‘Impact Player’ rule coming into play for the first time.
Dhoni, who manoeuvres his resources having put in a lot of thought into his actions, might well make himself the ‘Impact Player’ if need be during chases.
That for sure won’t happen in the first few games as both teams try to make optimal use of the rule.
For CSK, the presence of Ben Stokes is sure to make the opposition wary but to Gujarat Titans’ delight, the England Test captain perhaps won’t bowl at least in the initial phase of the tournament.
That makes him an ideal candidate as ‘Impact Player’ depending on whether the team bats first or second and accordingly Dhoni can think of playing three foreigners instead of four.
Devon Conway, Stokes and Moeen Ali at this point look the non-negotiable three starters in the playing eleven.
A lot will depend on how well Ravindra Jadeja, Ambati Rayudu and Dhoni himself perform with willow as the Indian pace bowling unit of Deepak Chahar and Simarjeet Singh will have their task cut out.
How well Dhoni can use either spinner Mahesh Theeksana or slinger Matheesa Pathirana will also go a long way establishing a pattern in selections.
As far as GT is concerned, there is one strategic decision which has been baffling and that is release of tearaway quick Lockie Ferguson and bringing in Shivam Mavi. However Alazarri Joseph’s presence is a bit reassuring in this format.
Save Mohammed Shami, the only other pacer of repute is the skipper himself. Yash Dayal had a good first season hasn’t been in great form in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy with only 2 wickets from 6 games but to be fair, he was coming back from injury. Pradeep Sangwan and Mohit Sharma are both experienced campaigners but they are now well past their prime.
The other cause of worry for GT will be keeper’s slot. While Wriddhiman Saha was decent as an opener last year, they have a better T20 batter in Kona Bharat this time round, who incidentally bats in the top order in the shortest format.
Gujarat Titans: Hardik Pandya (captain), Shubman Gill, Kona Bharat (wk), Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Kane Williamson, Rahul Tewatia, Abhinav Manohar, Mohammed Shami, Pradeep Sangwan, R Sai Kishore, Vijay Shankar, Sai Sudharshan, Rashid Khan, Shivam Mavi, Mathew Wade, Odean Smith, Urvil Patel, Darshan Nalkande, David Miller (not available in first 2 games), Josh Little (first match not available), Yash Dayal, Jayant Yadav, Odean Smith, Noor Ahmed, Alzarri Joseph
CSK: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain), Devon Conway, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ambati Rayudu, Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane, Sisanda Magala, Ravindra Jadeja, Shivam Dube, Dwaine Pretorius, Ahay Mandal, Nishant Sindhu, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, Mitchell Santner, Subharnshu Senapati, Simarjeet Singh, matheesa Pathirana, Mahesh Theekshana, Bhagath Verma, Prashant Solanki, Shaikh Rasheed, Tushar Deshpande.