The Gujarat Titans on Monday became the first team to qualify for the playoffs of the 2023 Indian Premier League with a comfortable win against the Sunrisers Hyderabad. The Hardik Pandya-led side have gone from strength to strength since winning the title last season and have laid down the gauntlet for the other teams in the league by guaranteeing a top-two finish for the second year in a row.

“Very proud of the boys. Two in two,” Pandya said in the post-match presentation. “Last year was a different year for us. We knew there’d be a lot of challenges this year. The way the boys have shown their character and put hands up in many difficult situations, I think we’ve rightly earned the spot in the qualifiers.”

Last season, GT won the IPL in their debut as a franchise. They got the better of established teams and serial winners on the way to the title. Coming into the 2023 season, expectations were high on the Ahmedabad-based side and they have delivered on them so far.

“Obviously that was one of the challenges,” Pandya said of the increased expectations on his team after winning the IPL last season.

“I spoke about where we stand and that there will be expectations and people would want us to come and show what is there next year. But for me it was important that we focus within the group and on what’s important. We ticked a lot of good boxes, we made errors in our journey but at the same time, we were very consistent. Even the games which we have lost, I don’t think a lot of teams could run through us. We were in the game and made some mistakes. At the same time, people focused on the things they were supposed to focus on and at the end of the day, that’s the reason we are here.”

In a side filled with talented players, Shubhman Gill has grown into a crucial player for GT. The 23-year-old has already eclipsed his total from last year’s season and sits second in the top run-getters list this season with 576 runs at this moment.

In a phase of his career which has seen him notch his first centuries in Test and T20I cricket as well as score an ODI double hundred, Gill scored his first hundred in the IPL against SRH days after missing out on a hundred against the Lucknow Super Giants. It was, like Gill said, only a matter of time before he got his first IPL hundred.

“It’s quite pleasing. I made my IPL debut against SRH and getting my first IPL hundred against them. I feel like it’s come a full circle. Hopefully I’ll get some more of these, hopefully in this season as well,” Gill said after winning the player of the match award.

“It’s all about the bowlers you are playing, it’s about the situation you are playing. I’m not the kind of person who dwells too much on my last innings. It doesn’t matter that I’ve scored a hundred or a fifty. It’s more about what I need to do in this situation and moment right now,” he added.

Unlike last year, when Gill, Pandya and David Miller were in the top 10 of the run-getters list, it has been Gill alone who has continued to score runs consistently this season. With their batters not firing as they did last season, GT have relied on their bowling attack to win them matches this season. Mohammed Shami and Rashid Khan top the wicket-takers list with 23 wickets apiece with Mohit Sharma seventh on the list with 17.

Pandya said, “For me, bowlers are very close to my heart. I always feel that sometimes batters take a lot of credit. But bowlers come in and kinda help you make sure that a couple of overs and a couple of wickets are always important. I’m a bowler’s captain and make sure they’re well prepared and always get credit.”

In their final league match, GT will face the Royal Challengers Bangalore on Sunday. SRH, who have been knocked out of playoff contention, will host RCB on Thursday.