It will be a battle between Gujarat Titans' street-smart approach and Rajasthan Royals' firepower when they face off in the final of the Indian Premier League on Sunday.
Titans have the chance to emulate the Royals by winning on debut. The pink brigade though will be hoping to break their barren run since 2008 and pay a fitting tribute to the late Shane Warne, captain of that inaugural side, by winning again.
Royals are on a high after a stunning win over Royal Challengers Bangalore in Qualifier 2 on Friday, though the odds seem to be loaded in favour of Titans. Their script couldn't have been written any better. Hardik Pandya's side has taken IPL by storm on debut and their first game at home will be the final. For Royals, the challenge will be not getting intimidated by the atmosphere in the gigantic Narendra Modi International Stadium, which is expected to be a sea of blue in support of the Titans.
The final will be about who can hold the nerve. With most of the 1,25,000 capacity crowd cheering for the hosts, how the Royals start the game will be the key. They have to find a way to seize early momentum to stop the crowd from getting behind Hardik Pandya and Co.
Titans have made it a habit to pluck victories from defeat, but whenever the Royals have won, they have blown the opposition away. T20 cricket is all about reacting to the situation. In their run to the final, Titans have shown a knack for finding a way out of tough situations. But both their wins over the Royals have been in convincing fashion.
Pandya has been a revelation as captain, leading from the front. Miller and Rahul Tewatia provide Titans with the X-factor. No total is safe against these two finishers. The shortest format is all about match-ups. The contest between the Royals' spinners and the three dashing batters will be keenly watched. For all their success this season, Yuzvendra Chahal and R Ashwin have not been able to impose themselves on the Titans batters. In their two games against GT, they have one wicket in 16 overs.
In their league game, Pandya made a 57-ball 87 not out (8x4, 4x6) and David Miller 31* (14b, 5x4, 1x6), taking the total to 192/4. Chahal had figures of 4-0-32-1 and Ashwin 4-0-33-0. In Qualifier 1 at Eden Gardens, again RR's defeat was due to how well Pandya (40*, 27b) and Miller (68*, 38b) negated the spin threat. Titans effortlessly chased down 188 as Chahal and Ashwin went wicketless.
Rajasthan Royals coach Kumar Sangakkara understands the challenge for his bowlers.
"He (Pandya) is an exceptional player. He's led his side really well. They're an exceptional team, highly-skilled, really well-settled, and performing at the peak throughout, so it's going to be a tough challenge. But you've got a day off, relax with this game behind us. The first talk about it, accept what happened, appreciate it, and then put it behind us and get ready for the next game. We understand this but we just have to be ready and skilful enough. Let's see what happens," said Sangakkara.
Tewatia hasn't got a chance so far to get into this battle, but he is adept at playing spin. He is the one who set the ball rolling for Titans, instilling self-belief with a nerveless knock. "It has been a good season, really good season. But for me, the standout has been Tewatia. You are talking about the games that haven't sort of been Man-of-the-Match awards, but his two sixes, we needed 12 off the last two balls, he won the game (vs Punjab Kings)," Miller said, referring to their third game.
Royals rely heavily on Jos Buttler, but Yashasvi Jaiswal has also started to make an impact. Skipper Sanju Samson, Devdutt Padikkal, and Shimron Hetmyer also give RR a formidable look. Any one of them can make it count.
Titans bowling will be led by Mohammed Shami and Rashid Khan. When there is some help from the surface, Shami can be lethal even in the T20s. He would have loved to watch Prasidh Krishna extract bounce on the Motera pitch with the new ball on Friday.
Rashid was the difference between the sides in the high-scoring Qualifier 1, conceding just 15 runs in four overs.
However, Titans will play their first game at the venue while Royals would know the conditions better after Friday's win. Both sides would have noted that many batters were caught on the boundary--Glenn Maxwell, Rajat Patidar and Dinesh Karthik among them. Despite the Buttler show, the bowlers will draw confidence from that.