IPL 2023: Will Gujarat Titans include Kane Williamson for absent David Miller? Who will be CSK ‘keeper if MS Dhoni sits out?

Ahead of the two-month feast lined up, there is a bit of uncertainty about what to expect from the starter. Injuries and unavailability to key players mean defending champions Gujarat Titans and Chennai Super Kings are busy scrambling at the eleventh hour leading up to their Indian Premier League opener at the Narendra Modi Stadium on Friday.

The only time Gujarat Titans played at their home ground in Ahmedabad last year, they ended up lifting the IPL crown. As they gear up for their first home game of the season, there is an air of expectation that they would only grow from strength to strength. In a format where balance and match-winners hold the key, skipper Hardik Pandya has quite a few in his hand that he can use to unlock tough situations.

And then there is Chennai Super Kings. The four-time winners are known for the big occasions, had an enviable track record till 2020, being the only team to make the play-offs in every season they played. Since then, they have finished second from bottom twice in 2020 and 2022. The first time they did so, Chennai bounced back by lifting their fourth title. There is overall anticipation as to what is in store for them, especially if they would be able to give skipper and talisman MS Dhoni a fitting farewell.

The missing pieces

Gujarat are missing David Miller, who played several match-winning knocks in the middle order last year. It would be interesting to see if they slot Kiwi stalwart Kane Williamson in the top order.

Apart from Mukesh Choudhary who is ruled out of the tournament with an injury, Dhoni is a doubtful starter for the opening match. Chennai are also without mystery spinner Maheesh Theekshana and fellow Sri Lankan pacer Matheesha Pathirana. They will also miss the services of South African Sisanda Magala, known to be a reliable death bowler.

Top gear

Last season, Gujarat surprised everyone, particularly with how they managed their resources with the bat. In the absence of a reliable No. 4, Pandya put his hand up and delivered with aplomb, leaving the finishers’ role to Miller and Rahul Tewatia. With Miller missing for the first game, Gujarat would be tempted to include Williamson in the middle order, handing Pandya more responsibility. With spin being Chennai’s strongest suit, how well Gujarat’s top and middle order performs could determine the outcome.

Watchlist: In Shubman Gill, Titans have an in-form player likely to be a contender for the Orange Cap and his match-up against Ravindra Jadeja and Moeen Ali would be one to watch out for. Similarly, keep an eye on Gujarat’s attack, which includes Rashid Khan, Mohammed Shami, Alzarri Joseph, R Sai Kishore and Yash Dayal.

Left is right

Despite being found wanting last season, Chennai have not tweaked much. They have only added Ben Stokes, who single-handedly strengthens them. But with his arrival, Chennai will have only two right-handed batsmen in the top seven. In case Dhoni is not available, they have a choice to make over the captain and wicketkeeper. In all likelihood, Devon Conway will take the gloves and open alongside Ruturaj Gaikwad. Chennai have to solve their batting order as well, because holding back Stokes may not be a good idea as he can get going against spinners early in his innings.

Watchlist: All-rounder Jadeja was off-colour last season as captain and the team struggled. With Dhoni not being the finisher he was, Jadeja is expected to don that hat. In spinner-friendly conditions, an in-form Jadeja would further strengthen their spin-bowling unit which includes Moeen, Prashant Solanki and Mitchell Santner.

Pitch tales

Unlike other teams, Gujarat have a luxury at home. With different types of pitches at the disposal at their home ground, they can pick and choose ones depending on their opposition. They can use that unfamiliarity to keep testing the visitors and their spinners can also use the long boundaries to their advantage.

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