When the Chennai Super Kings were ousted from the IPL a couple of years ago for reasons that brought disgrace to the tourney, a lot was talked about who or rather which of the two new teams would bag the dynamic duo of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Suresh Raina. These two had been pillars for the Super Kings right from the beginning and it was only obvious that the two would be bagged separately by the teams and given the responsibility to lead the respective sides.
While the former Indian captain went to Pune, his most trusted comrade became the leader that Gujarat Lions had been looking forward to. They picked a balanced side last year, slightly batting heavy but still good enough to defend targets, and blazed through opponents facing a road block in the playoffs. The team continues to have a settled look and except for minor glitches, look good to go in this edition too.
Gujarat Lions probably has the strongest batting line-up in the tournament after Royal Challengers Bangalore. While Bangalore is missing out on the services of a few due to injuries and national commitment, Gujarat almost a full strength squad, making them the most potent side batting-wise, for the first half of the tourney.
With a top order comprising of Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Suresh Raina, Aaron Finch and Jason Roy, the opposition bowlers would be praying hard for at least a couple of them to have a bad day against them. Because all of them fire as a unit, lord save the opponent. They also have one of the best wicketkeeper batsmen in the country in the form of Dinesh Karthik, putting any batting headaches at rest.
While they spent more money into a batting line-up that was already strong enough, they ended up with a bowling line-up that doesn’t inspire confidence. One could certainly argue about the potency of a certain Praveen Kumar and Dhawal Kulkarni, both of whom have been great assets for their respective states in the national level tournaments, but the Indian Premier League is a different ball game altogether.
Sure, PK is known to be among the few bowlers who can keep the runs down in a format that is ruthless to his kind but would that be enough without a match winner in the ranks to back it up with regular wickets. Dwayne Bravo who is out with a hamstring injury did that and the Lions looked a completely different set-up. Until Bravo arrives and delivers like he did last time, things look bleak for them in this department with players like Jakati, Shivil and Manpreet Gony to do the backing.
Suresh Raina has recently stated about how Virat Kohli feels that he still has some cricket left in him to represent India at the highest stage. Having been among the top batsmen in the league throughout the seasons, this could be the season for the Gujarat Lions skipper to set it up nicely for a comeback in the Champions Trophy that would follow. It is also another opportunity for Shivil Koushik to ply his trade and get under the selectors’ radar after a good tourney last time saw him get some hype.
As already mentioned, Gujarat Lions would need a supreme effort from the batting unit to nullify the weak bowling that they have. Considering that a lot of teams in the tournament are heavily balanced, they could find it tough to find their feet in the initial stages. While they could make a comeback with Bravo getting back from his injury, one would hope that the damage done until then is not too much to be fixed. The absence of Jadeja, who looked in prime form throughout the home season, could also hurt their chances a fair bit.
Suresh Raina(c), Ravindra Jadeja, James Faulkner, Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch, Dwayne Smith, Dinesh Karthik, Dhawal Kulkarni, Praveen Kumar, Andrew Tye, Ishan Kishan, Pradeep Sangwan, Shivil Koushik, Shadab Bashir Jakati, Jaydev Shah, Manpreet Gony, Nathu Singh, Jason Roy, Munaf Patel, Chirag Suri, Akshdeep Nath, Basil Thampi, Shubham Agarwal, Tejas Baroka, Pratham Singh, Shelley Sanjay Kumar Shaurya, Dwayne Bravo.