Buttler mania: Jos Buttler, the current Orane Cap holder with 824 runs, will pose the biggest threat to Gujarat Titans on Sunday. He has four centuries in IPL 2022, the joint-most for any player in a T20 series or tournament. Virat Kohli also scored four centuries during the 2016 edition of the IPL. Buttler’s hundred against the Royal Challengers Bangalore in Qualifier 2 is only the second in an IPL playoff match while chasing. Chennai Super Kings’ Shane Watson scored an unbeaten 117 against Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2018 final. It is also the first century for Rajasthan Royals in an IPL playoff match. Buttler’s ability to accelerate the scoring rate without taking too many undue risks and take down the opposition’s best bowlers set him apart. His knock against the Gujarat Titans in Qualifier 1, though in a losing cause, was the perfect example. He had trudged to 30 off 31 at one stage but finished on 89 off 56. Royals hammered 64 off the last five overs with Buttler alone hitting 52. That should keep the Gujarat bowlers on their toes.
Trial by pace: Prasidh Krishna and Obed McCoy picked up three wickets each to restrict Royal Challengers to 157 for 8 in the second Qualifier. On a pitch that offered extra bounce and movement in the air and off the surface, the Royals’ pace duo got good purchase from a good length and short of good length deliveries. Prasidh bowled an impressive 19th over during which he removed the in-form Dinesh Karthik off the first ball and then clean bowled Wanindu Hasaranga with a yorker. This was after Prasidh, in his first over, had Virat Kohli nicking behind. McCoy and Prasidh, in the company of Yuzvendra Chahal, conceded only 25 off the last four overs. Their match-up with Gujarat Titans’ finishers, who have been going at 10.82 runs per over from 17-20, could de decisive.
Spin trouble: Chahal and Ravichandran Ashwin went for 76 runs in their combined eight overs against RCB in Qualifier 2 and took just one wicket. However, against Gujarat Titans, which has the third-worst run rate against spin this season (7.76), Chahal and Ashwin’s role in the middle overs becomes doubly important. Chahal, tied with Wanindu Hasaranga (26) for most wickets this IPL, will also look to take hold of the Purple Cap and reaffirm his status as one of IPL-15’s most influential performers.
The PowerPlay expert: Incidentally, both Royals and Titans have taken most wickets in the first six overs this year – 26. Titans though have Mohammed Shami, who has 11 wickets in this phase, most by any bowler this season. They’ve also come at an economy rate of 6.57. Shami’s battle with Royals’ in-form opener Jos Buttler could decide the course of the game.
The trump card: Gujarat Titans’ leg-spinner Rashid Khan will be its biggest weapon when it takes the field against the Royals on Sunday. Against the same opposition, in Qualifier 1, Rashid finished with 4-0-15-0 while troubling them with his wrong’uns and pace. At his post-match press conference, Hardik Pandya, Gujarat Titans’ captain, had said this when asked about Rashid’s impact. “When I give him the ball, I just relax and let him do his magic.” Rashid has 18 wickets in 15 matches at an economy rate of under seven. His match-up with the Royals batters, who have the best run-rate (8.50) against spin in IPL-15, could have a telling impact on the game.
Hardik Pandya, the captain: More than Hardik the bowler or the middle-order batter, it is Hardik the captain that has emerged as one of the biggest surprises of IPL 2022. Not only has he taken the new ball on numerous occasions, he has also created a new role for himself with the bat at No. 3. Hardik’s field awareness and bowling changes have been on the mark. In the contest against Kolkata Knight Riders on April 23, he asked the pacers to use the short-ball ploy while defending a total of 156 as Titans won by eight runs. Hardik will hope for a dream finish to his debut season as captain.