Pune: IPL newcomers Gujarat Titans had a fairy-tale entry into the IPL 2022 playoffs. Though they were not given much of a chance by the critics following the mega auction in February this year, the Hardik Pandya-led Titans qualified with two league games remaining, thrashing Lucknow Super Giants by a massive 62 runs in what was one of the most commanding displays this season while defending a meagre total.
Defending just 144, built largely due to the efforts of young Shubman Gill's unbeaten 63, the Titans' self-belief was the key as they restricted their opponents to just 82.
Spinner Rashid Khan accounted for four wickets and the likes of Yash Dayal and Ravisrinivasan Sai Kishore taking two wickets each.
Gill conceded that not many people had put their bets on the side coming into the season.
"It feels great. Coming into the season, not many people gave us much of a chance. Not many people thought we'd qualify. But here we are, sitting on top of the table. It feels pretty great," said Gill, the Player of the Match.
The team that's made it a habit to come back from the death, is now set to get two chances to qualify for the IPL 2022 final on debut.
After the IPL mega auctions, people pointed at the Titans' batting. While the bowling looked pretty sorted, the batting looked somewhat fragile, with David Miller's relative lack of runs in the past few IPLs and Gill's patchy form a concern.
Also Rahul Tewatia too hadn't done much of note since his impact innings in Sharjah some seasons back. People hadn't seen skipper Hardik Pandya play till he arrived in the tournament with an elevated batting position and rejuvenated bowling.
"To be totally honest, when we walked away from the auction, we didn't at all think we have a weak batting line-up, in the slightest," team director Vikram Solanki said after the Titans' big win over LSG.
"Once we walked away from the auction, we were pretty pleased with the work we did. A lot has been made about our line-up, and I'm fine with that. People are absolutely entitled to their opinion. But I can assure you, at no stage did we think we had a weakened or a weak batting line-up."
The Titans knew what they were doing when they signed Pandya, spinner Rashid Khan and Gill -- a potent nucleus around which the team could revolve. The team then tapped into the potential of young, relatively untested players to bring out the best in them.
Add to that, Pandya's captaincy has been the understated factor. Even while defending just 144, the boys never lost sight of victory, meticulously working to push LSG into a corner and score a massive win.
"Really, really proud of the boys," Pandya said after the game. "When we started this journey together, I don't think... we obviously believed in our team, we believed in ourselves, but before the 14th game comes we have qualified -- it's a great effort and really proud of us."