Newcomers Gujarat Lions were largely the most sorted bunch of players, and they had the perfect results to prove that. They actually managed to do a lot of things right, beginning with the way they assembled the squad. While four among the 5 draft picks were simply a well-calculated assembly of former Chennai Super Kings stars, their auction strategy blended experienced match winners, proven domestic performers and exciting energetic new boys. With like-for-like replacements for most of the players, they found every base covered.
But, despite their mighty tagline on paper, it was playing to potential which made them the lethal force – with six wins from the first seven matches, they were tipped the first to throw a serious claim for a playoff berth. Most of their emphatic wins were actually based on booming starts from the top order: stats say five batsmen – captain Suresh Raina, Aaron Finch, Brendon McCullum, Dinesh Karthik and Dwayne Smith – aggregated more than 300 runs, while other teams couldn’t even have four such batsmen. Everybody started to believe that were better than the others at the clutch also, with three of their first six victories coming off either the last ball or by one run.
Unfortunately their brilliant form took a big blow with back-to-back defeats at home, against Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Daredevils. After that, it was a complete slip down losing four of their last seven league fixtures. However, they finally got back on track at the right time to win their two ‘home’ matches in Kanpur and confirmed a top-two spot. It was quite clear, their weakness laid in defending totals – of the six times they batted first, victory came only once – and it proved costly in the Qualifiers.
Where the dream run ended
Despite finishing at the top in the league stage, they lost the Qualifier matches against Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Players who excelled
Dhawal Kulkarni made his mark as the surprise candidate for Gujarat Lions best bowler this season. Not only did he ended the tournament as Lions’ highest wicket-taker (18) and the most economical bowler (7.42), but he also claimed those honors with conventional seam-and-swing bowling with good length rather than the wide yorkers, a T-20 bowler’s preferable weapon. Alongside Bravo, who picked up 17 wickets, and on few occasions, with Praveen Kumar and Kaushik, Kulkarni made sure the team wasn’t excessively dependent on its highly rated batting.
Dwayne Smith didn’t have a chance to make an impact until Aaron Finch was injured, but since inducted into the team, he made himself undroppable with some great performances. He smashed three half-centuries and even registered the highest strike-rate for any Lions batsman with more than 30 runs. Smith had very little trouble while adapting when he was slotted in the middle order and even showed some decent bowling spells at times.
Players failed to live up to the expectations
When James Faulkner was bought for INR 5.5 crore at the players draft, he was expected to deliver a top class finisher role, apart from being an effective death-over bowler. But the Australian all-rounderFaulkner disappointed on both ends – he scored only 77 runs from five innings and picked up just two wickets from seven games at an economy of 9.82 and was subsequently dropped from the team.
Ravindra Jadeja had relatively an underwhelming season, especially with the ball. Despite some tight spells to exploit the long boundaries of Rajkot, he only managed to scalp eight wickets. Raina’s reluctance to give Jadeja the ball in the second Qualifier against Sunrisers Hyderabad showed the lack of faith in his striking potential.
Stats in focus
Lions were the only team to score 70 or more in the Powerplays until the end of the Qualifiers. They achieved the feat on four occasions.
They are the first team in IPL history to top the points table while having a negative net run rate.
Dhawal Kulkarni took 14 wickets in Powerplays – the most by any bowler this IPL.
Most memorable win
Lions were going well to what seemed like a massive win in Delhi before Chris Morris came up with his blistering late assault. It was only 18 runs needed from 12 balls, and a top-drawer, yorker-heavy 19th over from Praveen Kumar helped Lions to steal a stunning one-run victory.
After they overcame a three-match losing streak with a win against Kolkata Knight Riders, Lions were up against Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. They decided to field first and were literally buried under the huge weight of centuries from AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli. Six of their seven bowlers conceded more than 11 runs an over. Chasing 249, Lions folded up for only 104 to gift RCB the record for the biggest margin of victory for a team in the IPL.
Next season mantra
Throughout the season, Lions had to play without a hard-hitting batsman in the lower middle-order and left with no other choice but to experiment with Ishan Kishan, Akshdeep Nath and Eklavya Dwivedi at different times. With Bravo and Jadeja being inconsistent, it was a disaster when the top-five batsmen didn’t play their exact role. They would either need to nourish one of the aforementioned three uncapped Indians in the role or find a competent finisher.
In his first full season as skipper, Suresh Raina looked to be enjoying an auto-pilot mode when his batsmen were in fine form, but seemed confused and clueless when things deviated from the plan. His field placements in the second Qualifier against a fearsome David Warner even raised many questions, but next season it’s quite possible he will be wiser for the experience.