Shubman Gill had not even celebrated his 11th birthday when Chennai Super Kings had won their maiden IPL title, way back in 2010. But the sparks of his future fireworks were perhaps ignited around that time only when (as per an ESPNcricinfo article) former India left-arm seamer Karsan Ghavri spotted a kid batting impressively against bowlers much older than him at a pace bowlers’ camp organised by the Punjab Cricket Association.
Ghavri had told Shubman’s father, Lakhwinder, then that his son was a “special talent”. He was not wrong, Shubman, now 23, has bloomed into a very special batter who has won admiration from even the best in the business with his craft. So special is Shubman currently that even though Sunday’s IPL final features a legend like Mahendra Singh Dhoni and a superstar of a cricketer in Hardik Pandya, much of the pre-match talk is centred around the Gujarat Titans opener, who has smashed three hundreds in his last four games.
Sunday’s Titans versus Chennai game at the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad should have been all about Dhoni. The former India captain, in his last lap as a cricketer, has the glorious chance to walk into the sunset as a champion. Given what Dhoni has achieved on the cricket field, he perhaps deserves it. Take away Dhoni from IPL and the most popular, most lucrative cricket tournament on earth would lose a chunk of its sheen. Such has been the aura of Dhoni.
But even as Dhoni straps up his wobbly knee for one final shot at glory — unless, of course, he stumps the world to return as a player again in next year’s IPL — a star has emerged who threatens to steal the spotlight from him with the magic of his strokeplay.
Statistically too, Sunday offers Chennai and Dhoni many milestones. With one more trophy, Chennai can go equal with Mumbai Indians (five IPL titles). Dhoni himself will be playing his 250th IPL game on Sunday and it will also be, quite unbelievably, the 11th time that the 41-year-old will be playing in an IPL final. Barring once, all of them have been in Chennai’s colours.
All that doesn’t matter to Shubman though. He is batting like a Rolls-Royce at the moment, taming the T20 beast with deft touches. His stylish aggression has left bowlers of all kinds flat on the turf. Unless Chennai have plans in place to stop the Titans opener from getting into his drive, Dhoni’s fairy tale might just not have the ideal ending.
But how to stop Shubman? There’s no one weakness which the Chennai bowlers can target. However, if one has to think of reining in Shubman’s flamboyance, perhaps it will be a good idea to pepper him with short stuff aimed at the body. The moving ball, especially one that comes in, can restrict Shubman from going into top gear. And when that happens, T20 is a format which sucks in batters, increasing the scoreboard pressure with almost every ball.
Deepak Chahar has been in good rhythm of late and has to tie up Shubman with the new ball, while Matheesa Pathirana, the slinger assassin, will have to be accurate with his toe-crushers at the death if Shubman manages to go unscathed in the first half of the innings.
But will that be enough to chain someone who doesn’t need a dagger to be murderous? The Ahmedabad pitch, which this season has produced high totals, makes matters tougher.
So simple strategies might not be enough to tackle a batter who is in extraordinary form. Herein comes Dhoni, the master tactician.
While Shubman surely appears to be the ‘Superman’ at the moment, let us not forget what Dhoni, one of the finest white-ball captains, can do. He may not be the finisher with the bat who made headlines, but he still has the brain to plot fine moves in the face of pressure.
But for that, Dhoni would need his men at his best. Ravindra Jadeja must use his experience to counter Shubman’s step-outs, while with the bat, Ruturaj Gaikwad, Devon Conway, Ajinkya Rahane and Shivam Dube must do enough to give the bowlers the ground to fight.
Sunday will either see the Titans winning back-to-back titles, or Chennai giving Dhoni a grand farewell. Or, maybe, a “special talent”, who is just 123 runs away from eclipsing Virat Kohli’s record for most runs in an IPL edition, may have his own party.
IPL final today
■ Gujarat Titans vs Chennai Super Kings, 7.30pm, Ahmedabad, live on Star Sports & Jio Cinema
■ Playoffs record: Played 4 Won 3 Lost 1
■ Final record: Played 1 Won 1
■ Best batter in 2023: Shubman Gill — Runs 851, SR 156.43
■ Best bowler in 2023: Mohammed Shami — Wkts 28, Econ. 7.95
■ Point to note: Titans first side in IPL history to reach consecutive finals in their first two editions
■ Playoffs record: Played 20 Won 13 lost 7
■ Final record: Played 9 Won 4 Lost 5
■ Best batter in 2023: Devon Conway — Runs 625, SR 137.06
■ Best bowler in 2023: Ravindra Jadeja — Wkts 19, Econ. 7.41
■ Point to note: CSK on Sunday will be playing their 10th final, the most by any team in IPL history