From having their chances almost universally dismissed to winning the IPL title in their debut season, Gujarat Titans went on a thrillingly unexpected ride. The concerns around their squad following the auction weren't entirely unjustified, but in a 10-team tournament, every squad had its problem areas. Titans proved to be the best of them both at maximising their strengths and finding ways to work around their weaknesses.
And over the two months of the IPL, a span of time in which poor form isn't easy to turn around - witness the impact of Kieron Pollard's struggles on Mumbai Indians, for example, or of Ravindra Jadeja's on Chennai Super Kings - most of Titans' key players found their rhythm at the right times. This set in motion a chain reaction that turned their eclectic collection of talents into a team with a repeatable formula for winning matches.
Miller defies history
In the immediate aftermath of the auction, an ESPNcricinfo panel including former international cricketers Wasim Jaffer and Daniel Vettori put together a potential starting XI for Titans, and found no room for David Miller. This was before Jason Roy's withdrawal, of course, but Miller's recent IPL form hadn't given the panelists much of a reason to pick him anyway.
Scratch "recent". Of the 58 batters to face at least 500 balls across the six IPL seasons from 2016 to 2021, Miller had the second-lowest strike rate - 118.65.
Few, then, would have imagined that he would end IPL 2022 with 481 runs at an average of 68.71 and a strike rate of 142.72. Miller must have put in an incredible amount of work behind the scenes to achieve these successes, and Titans' coaching staff may also have had a hand to play - not least for backing him, which he has highlighted more than once - but you wonder if he would have started the season at all had the squad contained one or two higher-profile middle-order options.
Aakash Chopra deciphers David Miller's technique against spin
'Changed mindset against spin in the last three-four years' to credit for Miller's IPL success
Hardik's dual impact
Hardik Pandya didn't bowl a ball during the 2020 and 2021 seasons, so whether his body could hold up to any sort of bowling workload was a genuine concern before Titans began IPL 2022. As it turned out, he bowled in 10 of their 15 games, sent down an average of 3.1 overs each time he bowled, and executed his skills brilliantly: he finished with eight wickets at 27.75, and an economy rate of 7.27, bettered only by Rashid Khan among Titans' regular bowlers.
Hardik also assumed a new role with the bat, turning himself into an anchor at No. 4, and ended the season as Titans' highest run-getter with 487 at an average of 44.27 and a strike rate of 131.26.
His successes had knock-on effects on the rest of the team. Titans had one of the worst-performing top threes in the tournament - Wriddhiman Saha's belated entry alleviated this issue in the second half of the season - but they only rarely suffered top-order collapses. Titans' Nos. 5 and 6 faced more balls (493) than the batters in those positions from any other team, but only 13% of those balls came during the first 10 overs of innings. Of all teams, only Sunrisers Hyderabad (12%) and Rajasthan Royals (9%) had their Nos. 5 and 6 facing a smaller proportion of their balls during the first 10 overs.
It meant that Miller and Rahul Tewatia were not just in form but were also, for most part, getting to the crease at just the right times. It wasn't a coincidence that the only time Miller had to bat during the powerplay - it became the platform for his best innings of the tournament - was when the injured Hardik missed a match against Chennai Super Kings.
The workload Hardik took on with the ball, meanwhile, allowed Titans to hide Tewatia from the bowling crease. They used his legspin for only six overs through the entire season - and these were spread over five games - and his lack of bowling rhythm (he finished with an economy rate of 12.66) might have hurt them significantly if they had been forced to turn to him more often.
Their lack of faith in Tewatia's bowling was made clear when Hardik missed that match against Super Kings. Rather than replace him with a batter, they played the extra bowler and made Rashid bat at No. 7. And they stuck with that combination for the rest of the season, even after Hardik returned.
The extra bowler gave Titans enviable flexibility, allowing them to use certain bowlers only if the match-ups demanded it. It showed in how they used R Sai Kishore. Of all left-arm orthodox spinners to bowl at least 30 balls in IPL 2022, only one - Punjab Kings' Harpreet Brar - bowled a smaller percentage of his deliveries to left-hand batters than Sai. In the final, Titans kept Sai out of the attack until Shimron Hetmyer's dismissal off the last ball of the 15th over. Then, with only right-hand batters at the crease, they brought him on and he took 2 for 20 in his two overs.
Rashid has a monster season
Rashid's ability with the bat was put to test in the very first game when he was required to bat at No. 7, as he walked in with Titans 87 for 5, needing 83 off 44 to win. Who knows how Titans' season would have gone if Rashid had been out early that day - not just from the standpoint of the two points they had probably have lost, but also the possible impact it may have had on their combination in later games.
As it happened, Rashid played an innings for the ages that day, and showed it was no flash in the pan when he clattered an unbeaten 31 off 11 in a similarly dicey situation against Sunrisers ten days later.
It goes without saying that Rashid was a massive contributor with the ball, too, and perhaps his greatest impact came in the death overs. Yuzvendra Chahal (78 balls) and Wanindu Hasaranga (36 balls) were the only spinners to bowl as many balls or more than Rashid's 36 in the last four overs, but where they ended up with economy rates of 9.46 and 7.33 in that phase, Rashid went at 6.83, conceding just two fours and one six across the six overs he bowled.
Those efforts played a significant role in Titans finishing with the best death-overs economy rate of any team this season.
IPL 2022: Karthik, Tripathi, Livingstone in Aakash Chopra's team of tournament
This explosive batting line-up shows no respite for bowlers
Shami bosses the powerplay
Mohammed Shami began the season with a first-ball, Test-match dismissal of KL Rahul. It was to be the first of 11 powerplay wickets for him, the joint-most in the tournament alongside Super Kings' Mukesh Choudhary.
And where Choudhary combined his wicket-taking with an economy rate of 8.53, Shami was frugal too, going at just 6.62 per over. In a tournament where the pitches had something in them for the new ball from start to finish, Shami could bowl Test-match lengths at the start, threaten both edges, and simply not allow batters to get away.
While Shami was both incisive and frugal in the powerplay, Lockie Ferguson (8.33) and Yash Dayal (9.33) were on the expensive side but picked up six and five wickets respectively. It meant that while Titans were only the sixth-best powerplay team in terms of economy rate (7.63), they had the best strike rate (21.33) of any team in that phase. Nothing allows a bowling team to control a T20 game like early wickets, and Titans took them more often than any other team.
Fortune smiles when it needs to
Luck plays an influential but little-spoken-about role in T20. It was refreshing, therefore, when Miller said this, after steering Titans to a dramatic victory over Super Kings: "We could have probably lost four out of six [matches], and we've won five out of six. The dice has definitely rolled onto our side."
Close results, by definition, can go either way, and while Titans enjoyed their share of luck in the early part of their campaign - most outrageously when Odean Smith conceded a needless, final-over overthrow to keep Titans' mathematical chances alive - they also had the skill to capitalise on those moments. Titans, for instance still needed 12 off two balls after that overthrow, and Tewatia hit two sixes to seal a dramatic finish.
But it also helps to be lucky with the coin, and Titans won 10 of their 16 tosses - their opponents in the final, Royals, won just four out of 17. Only Sunrisers (10 out of 14) and Mumbai (nine out of 14) won a greater percentage of their tosses than Titans did.
On one occasion, in their second meeting with Kings, Titans decided to bat after winning the toss, in order to "put ourselves in difficult situations". The decision backfired in that match, but, if you believe in that sort of thing, it gave them karma points.
Titans went on to redeem those points on the biggest day of the season. Royals, so unlucky with the toss all season, won it in the final and batted. Royals made that decision even though they had won the only other match at the venue - Qualifier 2 against Royal Challengers Bangalore - while chasing, even though Titans had chased and beaten Royals in Qualifier 1, and even though Titans had a 7-1 record while chasing and a 4-3 record while batting first.
Titans went on to win one of the more one-sided finals in IPL history, and improve that chasing record to 8-1.