Gujarat Titans reaping early rewards for strong bowling core, Mohammed Shami, Lockie Ferguson, GT

Mohammed Shami couldn’t have had a more contrasting start to his journey in IPL 2022. In Gujarat Titans’ opening game against Lucknow Super Giants, the paceman delivered an unplayable delivery, getting the ball to leave KL Rahul just enough. No big outswing, no big seam movement. The outside edge was found and the LSG captain was dismissed on the very first ball of the game. In the second game against Delhi Capitals – a similar delivery that pitched just wide of off was creamed past point for a boundary by Prithvi Shaw.

Against LSG, Shami’s first spell read: 3-13-10-3. The only boundary being a result of a misfield at the third man fence. Against DC, Shami was taken off after leaking 2-4-18-0 with Mandeep Singh making merry in the second over with two boundaries. In both games, Shami didn’t do things differently. At the Wankhede, the subtle changes led to the downfall of the LSG top order. In Pune, when he went for runs early on after trying the same thing, pulled his length back a touch and was punished again.

When things went in favour of Shami, he was at his destructive best. And when they didn’t, GT found another enforcer in Lockie Ferguson against DC. Captain Hardik Pandya has stressed that they left runs on the table, Shubman Gill pointed it out and Lockie Ferguson too felt the batters could have added more in the second game. Pandya, however, was keen to stress that with the bowling unit he’s got, he doesn’t mind a score that is slightly below par because his bowlers can make things look “25 above par” on any day.

While it’s pretty early days for IPL 2022, teams that have their bowling unit sorted are already looking pretty strong. Rajasthan Royals have defended a score twice while Punjab Kings and GT have done it once. On the other hand, the lack of a settled bowling unit has left Chennai Super Kings struggling and has also taken some sting out of the Mumbai Indians line-up. GT, understandably, focussed a lot of their auction strategy on building a strong core bowling group. It was also one of the reasons they didn’t mind spending INR 15 crore from their purse for Rashid Khan as their second retention.

The plan became pretty evident through their auction spend trend as well. Most of their big-ticket buys were either bowlers or bowling all-rounders – the likes of Shami (INR 6.25 crore), Ferguson (INR 10 crore), Rahul Tewatia (INR 9 crore), Alzarri Joseph (INR 2.40 crore) or even uncapped bowler from Uttar Pradesh Yash Dayal (INR 3.20 crore) fetched handsome sums. That strategy did leave the middle-order a bit vulnerable but GT seem to be reaping the rewards of having a strong bowling nucleus.

The environment too has helped both Shami and Ferguson deliver impact performances. Shami, when with PBKS last year, had the support of just two bowlers – Arshdeep Singh and Ravi Bishnoi. There was no sustained pressure. For Ferguson, things were slightly different. He had to live under the shadow of Pat Cummins and that meant in a season, where regular members played 17 matches, he got just eight. The breaks weren’t a deterrent – as he showed with 13 wickets at a strike rate of 13.8 and an economy of 7.46 – but he wasn’t able to deliver to his full potential.

With clarity in their roles and opportunities plenty, both Shami and Ferguson have the potential to form a successful partnership like Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada did with DC. To add to that, the relentless Rashid, the experience of Varun Aaron and with Pandya steadily settling into bowling rhythm, the duo has the licence to be even more aggressive. “We have been 10 runs short but in this format, particularly in IPL, it can go either way. My job is to try and hit a good area and maybe try and find that nip off the pitch,” Ferguson had said after his Player of the Match performance against DC.

“The kind of bowling partners I have, (it) makes things very easy for me. It’s great (to have a potent bowling unit) and helps to spread calmness in the group. The pressure was coming from both ends with the ball and it has worked for us.

“If you look at our bowling attack, Vijay (Shankar), Tewatia has been bowling regularly in the last few seasons, there are so many guys who want those big moments. They’ve shown the courage to come and bowl those big overs. Hardik is always giving us the confidence to play the game that we want to play and it’s nice to have a captain who trusts your skills.”

Ahead of the season, Shami sounded pretty optimistic about the team’s chances. “Naya season hai, naya franchise and naye result ki umeed hai (it’s a new season, new franchise and I have hope for a new result as well,” he’d go on to say. If the bowling unit continues to do their job, the “new result” could well be on the horizon.

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