IPL 2023 Final: Will Gill Ruin Dhoni’s Farewell Party?

IMAGE: Gujarat Titans’ opener Shubman Gill is proving to be unstoppable with three centuries from his four innings. Photograph: BCCI

Mahendra Singh Dhoni would be hoping for a memorable farewell but Gujarat Titans’ run machine Shubman Gill would try and do everything under his control to prevent Chennai Super Kings from beating Gujarat Titans to its fifth IPL title, in the title clash in Ahmedabad, on Sunday.

Nearly 19 summers back when a young Dhoni was making his first strides in India blue, a four-year-old Gill was taking stance on a vast farmland in Punjab’s Fazilka village on Pakistan border, with a handmade customised bat, prepared by his doting grandfather.

On Sunday, at the 132,000 seater Narendra Modi Stadium, the soon-to-be 42 Dhoni will have one last assignment in his favourite Canary Yellow jersey — to stop Indian cricket’s megastar-in-waiting and complete a record-equalling five IPL titles.

IMAGE: Mahendra Singh Dhoni would be aiming to sign off with the IPL title in what could be the final match of his legendary career. Photograph: BCCI

Three hundreds and 851 runs don’t happen in every season but on a batting belter at the Motera, it will be interesting to see Dhoni’s strategy to rein in Gill, who has hit three centuries in his last four innings.

Will it be Deepak Chahar’s or Tushar Deshpande’s swing or Ravindra Jadeja’s wicket-to-wicket bowling? Will Matheesha Pathirana bowl some incisive toe-crushers at the death? ¬†

A technically near-perfect batter against a captain known for thinking out of the box. It can’t get more exciting than this.

His die-hard fans might expect him to come back again next year but even Dhoni, who has played the entire season with a heavily strapped left knee might find it extremely difficult to keep up with the demands of the shortest  format.

IMAGE: Matheesha Pathirana has been CSK’s most potent weapon with the ball in IPL 2023. Photograph: BCCI

In this CSK set-up, he could afford to bat at No. 8 in most games but entering the final with a bowling line-up that missed Chahar for the better part of fist half and had to turn a profligate Deshpande into a dependable wicket-taker.

Turning an inconsistent Shivam Dube into a six-hitting bully or overseeing the return of Jadeja, the T20 bowler, the legend of Dhoni will never cease to exist. It will only grow and his captaincy stories will also be burnished with coats of myth decades down the line.

They say familiarity breeds contempt but contempt would be the last word in Dhoni and CSK’s mind when they face Hardik Pandya’s Titans, whom can they afford to take lightly at their own peril.

After 73 games, the two of the most consistent teams are pitted against each other in the grand final at the Narendra Modi Stadium — the world’s biggest cricket stadium.

IMAGE: Gujarat Titans’ skipper Hardik Pandya is targetting a second successive IPL title. Photograph: BCCI

No team has emulated the structural and team building ethos of Chennai Super Kings as minutely as Gujarat Titans, another team, where cricketing decisions are based on sound logic, consistency and no interference from overbearing owners.

There is a skipper in Pandya, whose calm and composed captaincy style has evoked comparisons to the great Dhoni.

Batters win matches but bowlers win tournaments is an old saying and it couldn’t be more apt when one tracks Titans’ performance.

Mohammed Shami (28 wickets), Rashid Khan (27 wickets) and Mohit Sharma (24 wickets) have executed plans more often than not and thus it hasnt really effected the Titans that second highest run-scorer after Gill’s 851 runs is skipper Hardik Pandya (325), who is more than 500 runs behind.

Wriddhiman Saha, a keeper-par-excellence, has only one fifty-plus score for a total of 317 runs in 16 knocks but he is a man who excels under pressure. He was the first batter to hit a century in the IPL final, when he smashed 115 from 55 balls for Punjab Kings but they were beaten by KKR in 2014.

IMAGE: CSK’s opening pair of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Devon Conway have been quite consistent right through the tournament. Photograph: BCCI

And herein, Dhoni would try to seize the opportunity. If they can get Gill our early, none of the other batters have shown wherewithal to fight hard and bowlers would need a decent total on board.

Under Dhoni, if players like Ajinkya Rahane (299 runs in 13 matches, two fifties) and Shivam Dube have found their groove this season, youngsters bowlers such as Sri Lanka’s Matheesha Pathirana (17 wickets in 15 matches) and India’s uncapped Tushar Deshpande (21 wickets in 15 matches) have also been able to find their feet at the IPL stage.

In CSK’s batting line-up, Devon Conway (625 runs in 15 matches, six fifties) and Ruturaj Gaikwad (564 runs in 15 matches, four fifties) have time and again provided CSK with resolute starts at the top.

The big-hitting Dube (386 runs in 15 matches, three fifties) is the second joint-highest six-hitter for CSK in this IPL with 33 sixes, joined by Gill in the list.

There are no clear favourites and it could be one of the most exciting final in the history of IPL.

Teams:

Gujarat Titans: Hardik Pandya (captain), Shubman Gill, David Miller, Abhinav Manohar, Sai Sudharsan, Wriddhiman Saha (w/k), Matthew Wade, Rashid Khan, Rahul Tewatia, Vijay Shankar, Mohammed Shami, Alzarri Joseph, Yash Dayal, Pradeep Sangwan, Darshan Nalkande, Jayant Yadav, R Sai Kishore, Noor Ahmad, Dasun Shanaka, Odean Smith, K S Bharat, Shivam Mavi, Urvil Patel, Joshua Little, Mohit Sharma.

Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (captain, w/k), Devon Conway, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ambati Rayudu, Moeen Ali, Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane, Sisanda Magala, Shivam Dube, Dwaine Pretorius, Ajay Mandal, Nishant Sindhu, Rajvardhan Hangargekar, Mitchell Santner, Subhranshu Senapati, Simarjeet Singh, Matheesha Pathirana, Mahesh Theekshana, Bhagath Verma, Prashant Solanki, Shaikh Rasheed, Tushar Deshpande.

Match: Starts at 7.30pm IST.

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