Aadam Patel is a freelance sports reporter who has written for BBC Sport, the Daily Mail, ESPNcricinfo, the Cricketer and other publications @aadamp9
For Mushtaq Ahmed, it is a third season in the hot seat at the Deccan Gladiators and perhaps, it is a case of third time lucky for the former Pakistan spinner. In 2019, the Gladiators fell short at the final hurdle, and earlier this year a tame effort saw them eliminated before the play-offs.
This time around, things are a little different. They will go into the Abu Dhabi T10 final on Saturday as the favourites, having topped the league stage and brushed aside Delhi Bulls in the first qualifier.
Led by the experienced Wahab Riaz and a bowling attack that possesses international quality in Tymal Mills and Wanindu Hasaranga, they have managed to bowl out three sides and taken 61 wickets across the ten-game league stage. Their West Indian allrounders, Andre Russell and Odean Smith have both picked up regular wickets throughout the tournament, as well as starring with the bat.
Hasaranga is the joint top wicket-taker this season with a tally of 19 and has resumed exactly where he left off at the T20 World Cup, baffling the opposition with his variations. In a format that strongly favours the batters, the Sri Lankan has had the chance to bowl five hat-trick deliveries thus far. With 5 for 8 against the Bangla Tigers in the league stage, Hasaranga now also has the best bowling figures in T10 history.
With the bat, they have had contributions across the order. At the top, the three Toms in Kohler-Cadmore, Moores and Banton have all played match-winning knocks. Kohler-Cadmore's 96 has undoubtedly been the knock of the tournament and is also the highest score in T10 history.
Going into the final, Mushtaq insists that his message will remain simple to the players.
"Remember your strengths first of all. We're lucky to have a very good analyst [Prasanna Agoram] and he gives the team lots of information on the opposition, in terms of bowling variations and the strengths and weaknesses of batters. That's why analysts are playing a huge role in cricket," Mushtaq said. "When you prepare to win a tournament like this, a lot of it is very simple - you have to aim for less dot balls and more boundaries with the bat and vice versa with the ball. In this format, you need a bit of a luck too, but that you can't control. I tell the boys to make sure they control what they can."
In an interview with Ten Sports, Prasanna spoke about how much he has been impressed by Smith, who he believes "has all the ingredients to succeed" and become "the next Andre Russell." He added how Kohler-Cadmore was one of the first names he recommended to Mushtaq and that given his wide range of shots, an England debut can't be far off.
Mushtaq certainly appreciates and values the role of the analyst in modern-day cricket, yet as part of a generation that grew and developed without such assistance, he insists that players need to trust their own instincts too.
"The analyst helps you to execute plans better, but in my time, we used to use our own brain. I was saying to the guys the other day, we didn't have an analyst but we used to read the opposition ourselves. If you can feed lots of things into that laptop or computer, you can feed your own programme too if you concentrate on the opposition and that's why cricketers in the 80s and 90s were very very smart. They could read a batsmen while they were fielding and waiting to bowl."
"Now, all of the teams rely on analysts to get information, which is rightly so, but at the same time, sometimes young cricketers don't rely on their own thinking and their own brain and that's why sometimes the process of becoming a better cricketer comes later."
"In my era, I think we were more street-smart, because we didn't have those sources. We had to assess the conditions very quickly. Using your own brain allows you to make mistakes and that helps you to learn and improve quicker and I think that's a big difference between now and when I played."
In Hasaranga, Mushtaq believes that the Gladiators possess one of those street-smart players. "He reads batters so quickly, in terms of who is looking to hit him where and he is very proactive with his variations. I'm very impressed."
The Sri Lankan has been the standout bowler of the Abu Dhabi T10 and if the Gladiators again deploy his weaponry well in the final, his two overs could end up being the difference between another final defeat and a first ever T10 title for the franchise.