No power in Titans

Titans’ PowerPlay is powerless.

The Royal Challengers Bengaluru team appeared to be leading the game convincingly at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium after just twenty-four minutes of play on Saturday night in the Indian Premier League. While this may sound like a post-facto oversimplification, Gujarat Titans had amassed 23 at the end of the first PowerPlay of the match, having lost three wickets more than they had hit boundaries throughout the period.

Mohammed Siraj, one of the host team’s fast bowlers, was particularly adept at taking use of the conditions’ zip, movement, and bounce. Nevertheless, there was no reason to think that the location that took back the title for the highest T20 score would also see the season’s lowest PowerPlay score in the very next match. Unless someone was closely observing the PowerPlay patterns of the Titans.

They were the only side in the competition with a percentage of balls hit for boundaries under 20 in the PowerPlay, and they were the team that scored the fewest runs in the first six overs of the match even before it started. On the eve of the game, these figures were asked to the team’s assistant coach, Naeem Amin.

Amin stated, “It’s not a big concern for us.” We all know what kind of player Wriddhi [Wriddhiman Saha] is because of him. You people in particular don’t really need me to educate you on Shubman [Gill]—we all know what he’s capable of. All we need to do is really play at the speed we want to be at. We’re hoping to reach 300, as everyone seems to be talking about. But on a surface like this, we’ll be there or thereabouts.”

Now, it is not necessary for a coach to acknowledge in the media prior to a game the specific shortcomings of his team. However, when the stats provide such a dire picture as the Titans’, there may be reason for alarm and perhaps even a shift in strategy and personnel. As it happened, after a thorough net practise on the day of the game, Saha kept his place behind his captain. And together, the two of them responded defensively to six runs in the game’s first over, which was the only one bowled by a spinner (Swarpnil Singh) during the PowerPlay.

Halfway through the next over, Saha fell, edging a delivery from Siraj to the wicketkeeper. For the veteran, whose work ethic belies his 39-year-old frame but whose returns accentuate the shifting seasons narrative in the IPL, it has been that type of a harsh season. He was present for the 2008 IPL opening match. In 2014, he scored an IPL final century while he was here. He finished the ten years on a seven-ball 1 with a 17.0 season batting average. The only player with a lower average among the 21 players who have started at least five games this season is Ajinkya Rahane (16.0).

The T20 hitter Saha has never been one to settle for mediocrity. His career IPL PowerPlay strike-rate was 133.65 going into the season. The benchmark for T20 batting, Chris Gayle, scored 134.75 runs in the first six overs. Since returning to the opening position late in the 2020 season for Sunrisers Hyderabad, which was looking for a new balance to their overseas combo, Saha’s approach has been to clear the in-field during fielding limitations, get off to a quick start, and then hand the ball over to the power players.

His recruitment by the Gujarat Titans in 2022 appeared to be a last-minute decision made by a new team that had put off finding a wicketkeeper until the very last minute. However, this too turned out to be shrewd, just like their prior actions. In the sixth game, Saha replaced Matthew Wade, gave the Titans permission to add another foreign bowler, and returned to his role as a disruptor of the PowerPlay for a club full of middle-order hitters.

Having spent his entire career waiting on and being second fiddle to MS Dhoni, Saha was in an unusual position in his 17th season as the Titans’ first choice. The injury to Robin Minz, the goalkeeper Titans had acquired for INR 3.6 crores in the 2024 auction, was the reason for this. As it happened, Saha’s decline coincided with Gill’s decline at the most inconvenient time for the Titans administration, who had been occupied with filling other obvious gaps like the loss of their captain, an Indian seam bowler who also happens to be their best fast bowler.

The Titans’ issues have just gotten worse because IPL 2024 has seen the largest batting jump in years. In the first six overs, they have been scoring at a pace of 7.54, while the league average for the season is higher at 9.45. With the field up, GT are scoring an average of 45 runs, but SRH have raised the stakes to an 11.21 rate with an average score of 67.

IPL 2024: Numbers for Batting PowerPlay [After Match 52]

TeamRunsRun RateSRWickets lost4s/6sBoundary %

Even in their two trips to the final, the Titans were never the side with the fastest PowerPlay scoring average (7.70 and 8.70, respectively), with the increase in the second coming from career-best returns from Gill and Saha. Even though a T20 innings only consists of three balls, the PowerPlay frequently makes a difference in games. Up until this year, the Titans’ explosive group of finishers and strong bowling assault allowed them to cover the rest of the game. However, as a result of their comebacks at the top, the league as a whole has advanced rapidly, creating a gap that is too great to be concealed.

These back-to-back matches against RCB, who, incidentally, decided to bat more dynamically in the middle of their own struggling season, highlight their stagnation more than anything else. Titans’ 200/3 score (42/1 after six overs) in last week’s match in Ahmedabad was surpassed in 16 overs. Virat Kohli and Faf du Plessis, the openers for RCB in Bengaluru, destroyed 92 in the PowerPlay to put an end to the Titans’ pursuit and diminishing chances of winning three straight titles in the finals.

But the Titans will surely be remembered as this cycle’s best team unless CSK wins this season. Even though they are just three years old, the IPL is a cutthroat competition, as this game and the season have demonstrated. Furthermore, often 24 minutes are sufficient to reveal serious shortcomings.