Many experts felt that first-timer Gujarat Titans have assembled the weakest team for the Indian Premier League, or at least that’s what they looked like on paper. Other than Hardik Pandya and Rashid Khan, there were no proven match-winners, and their batting order looked totally out of depth. Moreover, doubts were raised about appointing Hardik Pandya, who was clearly struggling with recurrent injuries, as the captain. 

The first season is always viewed as an experimental phase for the franchise, where they can chop and change, try out different combinations, assess the weak link and sharpen their strong suit. This is where Hardik Pandya’s role as a captain was going to be an important one. It was perhaps a big ask from someone who has never led the team on such a big stage, but almost two months into the tournament, it feels like Pandya has passed this test with aplomb. You don’t even need to look much further to understand how the security and freedom provided by the franchise has helped them bring the best out of players.

On Tuesday, David Miller’s scintillating half-century propelled Gujarat to a seven-wicket win that sealed their spot in the IPL 2022 final. Miller came out and changed the complexion of the game with his powerful hitting. It’s not easy being a finisher in T20s, a role where you fail more often than not by design. After his breakthrough season with Punjab Kings in 2014, Miller had never managed to reach the same height in the next seven editions of the tournament. 

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This season he was ignored by everyone in the first round of the auction before Gujarat Titans snapped him in the next round. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say Miller has been the driving force in their run to the final. Last night he struck three successive sixes against Prasidh Krishna to kill the game with three balls to spare. 

So what has changed for Miller this season? “I think opportunity firstly,” Miller told Star Sports. “I have been given a good role and a good extensive run in the team. I felt extremely backed from the onset. My personal game, I am really enjoying my role. I have been playing for many years now, and I think I am just understanding my game a lot better.”

“I think in high-pressure situations you tend to sort of go away from your game plan but I feel like I am trying to keep everything together as close as possible to my game plan.”

Miller has been delivering on a consistent basis for the franchise, having scored only four runs less than Gujarat’s leading run-scorer Hardik Pandya. Against Chennai Super Kings, he smashed an unbeaten 94 to keep the Titan’s juggernaut rolling. 

Pandya too talked about how the role clarity and consistent backing has helped him get the best out of Miller. “A lot of people counted David Miller out but for us he was always a match-winner from the time we bought him at the auction,” said Miller.

“What he did today we always expected from him. But for us it was important to give him the importance, give him that love and give him the clarity as to what we expect from him. And if he fails, it’s okay; it’s just a game.”

But this is not only about Miller, as different players have stood up against different opponents in different situations. Even though Matthew Wade is going through a lean patch, the franchise have carried him throughout, and the Aussie wicket-keeper scored a well-measured 35 to set up the foundation against Rajasthan Royals. 

Similarly, despite blowing hot and cold throughout the season, Wriddhiman Saha has managed to retain his place. It was Saha’s unbeaten 67 that secured a top-two finish for the Titans. He will be opening the innings along with Shubman Gill in the final of the tournament. 

It has been a season of dominance for Gujarat Titans, and their policy of showing unwavering faith in their players have put them on the verge of winning the whole team in their first attempt. Hardik Pandya has always maintained that there’s no hierarchy in the team, and has taken every defeat with utmost grace, not panicking and blaming individuals. 

“We win as a team, we lose as a team – we won’t blame this, that player for a lose,” stated Pandya after a defeat to Lucknow Super Giants. This very much sums up the core philosophy of Gujarat Titans. Irrespective of what happens in the final, the IPL 2022 has blessed us with a previously unseen version of Hardik Pandya – calm and composed, and sensible.

Featured Image Credit: @Gujarat Titans