Pandya prowess guides Titans to IPL glory after shock Mumbai release

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"All good things must end," reasoned Hardik Pandya when he was released by Mumbai Indians last December.

Well Hardik, it seems the good times are back.

On Sunday, at their home Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, Pandya captained Gujarat Titans to glory in the Indian Premier League final.

He took 3-17 with the ball and added 34 with the bat in an outstanding effort as the Titans beat the Rajasthan Royals by seven wickets with 11 balls to spare.

Pandya had struggled to stay fit and make an all-round contribution for Mumbai, whose four retentions ahead of the IPL auction were Rohit Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, Suryakumar Yadav and Kieron Pollard.

How did that work out for them? Well, Mumbai finished bottom of the table, while Pandya picked up the trophy as skipper of newcomers Gujarat, whose maiden season could hardly have gone any better.

Mumbai's decision might – just might – have been a misjudgement.

We all make those. Just ask Yuzvendra Chahal.

What might have happened here if Chahal had clung to a glorious chance from the fourth delivery of the Titans' reply to the Royals under-par 130-9, rather than let the ball escape his flailing grasp?

Shubman Gill escaped that scare off Trent Boult's bowling and went on to carry his bat, cracking the match-winning six off Obed McCoy to finish unbeaten on 45, sharing in partnerships of 63 with Pandya and 47 with David Miller, whose rapid-fire 32 not out from 19 balls steered the Titans to the brink.

Rajasthan's total looked for all the world like a losing score, and it proved that way, but for a while the Royals had to take heart from the fact Mumbai posted 129-8 in the 2017 final and still won by one run against Rising Pune Supergiant.

Jos Buttler made a team-high 39 from 35 balls for the Royals in this game, and that took the Englishman to 863 runs for the season, the second-highest total by any batter in a single edition of the IPL after Virat Kohli's 973 runs in the 2016 season.

But the Royals were looking for more from their talisman, who removed his helmet and shielded his face as he left the field, knowing his team were looking to him to provide an onslaught late in the innings.

Who removed him? Pandya, of course, with Buttler looking to glance away a lively delivery to third man but instead feathering through to Wriddhiman Saha.

Gujarat celebrated with understandable gusto. Buttler hit four centuries in the IPL season, as many as all other players combined, carrying them this far. But he was gone after 12.1 overs, angry with himself, and nobody else stepped up in his absence.

The Titans began their chase slowly but kept wickets in hand.

A dishy delivery from leg-spinner Chahal eventually removed Pandya, edging to slip from a ball that turned extravagantly. Pandya was despondent, but the Titans skipper knew he could rely on others to complete the job.

Pandya finished the season with 487 runs, his highest total in an IPL season, but most importantly he now has a fifth title of his career in this competition, after four with Mumbai.

"For me, my team is the most important thing, whichever team I play for," he said at the end of the game.

The Titans were thanking their lucky stars that Mumbai decided Pandya was dispensable. On this, and the season's evidence, Pandya is anything but.

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