Ahemdabad: Defending champions Gujarat Titans (GT) will take on four-time winners Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the final of 2023 IPL at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Sunday.
Both the teams built their campaigns around continuity, consistency in selection and role clarity, and have deservedly earned the right to battle for the coveted title. MS Dhoni-led CSK won the first round of the duel when they had defeated GT by 15 runs in Qualifier 1 in Chennai and are likely to have a slightly upper hand, having had few extra days to prepare for the final.
GT defeated Mumbai Indians in Qualifier 2 on Friday, riding on the brilliance of opener Shubman Gill and Hardik Pandya-led team will try to defend the title at home. The last time any team that played the final twice in succession on their home ground was CSK in 2011 and 2012 at MA Chidambaram stadium. While Chennai won in 2011, it lost to Kolkata Knight Riders the next year.
The final is likely to revolve around two main characters. A match-winning knock in the final and Gill will establish himself as the next big star of Indian cricket.
Another title and Dhoni will equal Rohit Sharma as the most decorated IPL captain with five titles. These two players are in completely different phases of their careers and naturally have different strengths. Gill at 23 is hungry for runs as only a youth can be. Dhoni, on the other hand, is 41. He still has the shrewdest mind in cricket and is perhaps the only cricketer who turns a cricket match into a game of chess. Dhoni has always led his team from the front and it is this trait of this cricketing genius that makes him the icon he is and GT will certainly be wary of that. Dhoni is not only world cricket's best finisher with the bat but also closes out games with remarkable ease when captaining.
On the other hand, Hardik-led GT Gujarat topped the league phase of the tournament. This season has been impeccable for the holders, riding high on Gill, Rashid Khan, Mohammed Shami and Mohit Sharma's performances.
The 2023 IPL season started with GT taking on CSK in Ahmedabad with Titans coming out on top in the opening game. Last week, CSK leveled the score with a comprehensive win in Qualifier 1. But that match was played on a slow, spinning surface in Chennai. The pitches in Ahmedabad have been much more batter-friendly, with the ball coming onto the bat nicely. CSK have lost all three games they have played in Ahmedabad so far. This is the only venue in the IPL where they have played at least three games and are yet to register a win. Titans, meanwhile, have six wins in nine outings here.
Apart from this being a battle between two sides built around the same philosophy - of keeping things simple, backing their players, and creating a relaxed team environment - there is the sub-plot of Hardik, the protégé, looking to trump Dhoni, the mentor . Sunday's game will be Dhoni's 11th IPL final (his 10th with Super Kings); no player has featured in more.
Hardik has been a part of five before 2023; he has never finished on the losing side. Hardik has always said he has learned a lot, not just about cricket but also life, from Dhoni. Sunday evening will be a test of all that he has learned over the years. Both teams are expected to be unchanged. One of Gill and Josh Little will be Titans' Impact Player, depending on whether they are bowling first or batting.
For CSK, Shivam Dube and Matheesha Pathirana are likely to be in similar roles.
Likely teams (including impact player):
Gujarat Titans: Shubman Gill, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Sai Sudharsan, Hardik Pandya (capt), Vijay Shankar, David Miller, Rashid Khan, Rahul Tewatia, Noor Ahmed, Mohit Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Josh Little
Chennai Super Kings: Ruturaj Gaikwad, Devon Conway, Shivam Dube, Ajinkya Rahane, Moeen Ali, Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, MS Dhoni (capt, wk), Deepak Chahar, Tushar Deshpande, Maheesh Theekshana, Matheesha Pathirana