If Gujarat Titans captain Hardik Pandya was their hero on the field, off the field it was the support staff led by former India pacer Ashish Nehra that played a crucial role in GT winning the IPL title in their first attempt. When Shubman Gill pulled Obed McCoy for a huge six over long leg to lead GT to a 7-wicket victory over Rajasthan Royals at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, Nehra etched his name on the history books. The former left-arm pacer became the first Indian head coach to win the IPL. In all the previous 14 editions of the Indian Premier League, the title-winning side had a foreign head coach but Nehra broke the pattern with GT this year.

Nehra also became only the third cricketer to have won the IPL both as a head coach and as a player after Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne. The former India left-arm seamer played for Sunrisers Hyderabad when they won IPL in 2016 under David Warner’s captaincy. Ponting was a part of the Mumbai Indians squad when they won their maiden IPL title in 2013. In 2015, he was MI’s head coach when they won their second title.

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The legendary Shane Warne was both the coach and captain of the Rajasthan Royals when they won the inaugural edition in 2008.

Talking about Nehra’s contribution, GT wicketkeeper-batter Matthew Wade said the former cricketer had ensured everbody gets equal opportunities in the practice sessions. “I just (loved) the team environment, very relaxing. We didn’t have a hero although Hardik, Rashid and David Miller had outstanding seasons. It was a family atmosphere, everyone felt welcome, Ashish [Nehra] ensured that. Here everyone gets net time, everyone gets a chance. It has been amazing, hopefully we can come back next year in front of these fans,” he said after the final on Sunday.

GT pacer Lockier Ferguson echoed Wade’s sentiments. “Just like Wade said, it was a fantastic team environment. Led by Hardik and coach Nehra, we were always backed,” he said.

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Nehra was well-supported by former South Africa opener Gary Kirsten, who was a part of the GT support staff as a mentor. Nehra and Kirsten had worked together in Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2019 when the former was the bowling coach.

“You never stop learning as a coach, every IPL is a learning experience, that’s what I enjoy. I’ve loved working with Ashish (Nehra), he’s really strong tactically – trying to put a gameplan together on the fly is not easy,” told the IPL host broadcaster.

Kirsten, who coached India to the 2011 World Cup title, was all praise for Hardik who excelled both as skipper and player in the team’s very first season.

“He has been fantastic, I’ve looked working with him. He’s a high-profile player in India but he’s incredibly humble, wanting to learn as a leader and engage with his players which I think is really, really important. He’s tried to help the youngsters, he’s come in and played a different responsibility,” he added.

“You’re looking for good balance, good depth in the auction but most importantly you’re looking for players who can do different roles, the one thing we’ve learnt with Ashish is finding guys who were versatile, and at 4, 5 and 6 – we’ve got that.

“We all got energy out of it, we’ve had a great bowling attack – through the end we went a bowler strong and a batter light, but we were always confident, just to get good balance in the team,” Kirsten said.

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