Gujarat Lions is undoubtedly the team to watch out for in the upcoming edition of the cash-rich IPL. Apart from making its debut on the big stage, the side has quite a few T20 specialists in its ranks, who can seriously raise the entertainment quotient to a new high altogether. Coached by the dynamic Brad Hodge, himself a T20 veteran across the globe, this new look outfit looks extremely promising and has the ability to go the full distance in the league.
Gujarat, along with another new franchise, the Rising Pune Supergiants drafted the first five players in a dynamic drafting process and named IPL’s leading run-getter Suresh Raina as the skipper of the team. The Lions have several T20 specialists in their ranks that have set the IPL on fire in the past. The likes of Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Dwayne Bravo, James Faulkner and Ravindra Jadeja are all genuine match winners in this format and their past IPL record suggests the same.
The Lions will play their home games at two different venues. Their primary home ground will be the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot, while the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur will also host two games for the new outfit.
The primary and the fundamental strength of any T20 side lies in the side’s batsmen and the presence of genuine power hitters just amplifies that. The Lions too have based their core strength upon this very aspect, as their side is full of destructive batsmen, who can decimate any bowling attack in the competition. With Brendon McCullum at the top, one of Aaron Finch and Dwayne Smith will accompany him. McCullum might have retired from international cricket, but he remains to be a T20 marauder across the globe. McCullum had a fantastic 2015 IPL as he demolished the Sunrisers Hyderabad to score a rapid ton at Chepauk.
With McCullum bound to set the Lions off to a flier, the presence of Suresh Raina at number 3 further strengthens the team. Raina might have had a forgettable outing in the recently concluded World T20, but he continues to be a lethal package in the IPL. Raina, with 3699 runs is the IPL’s leading run-getter and he would be eager to carry out his role efficiently, like he did for the now disbanded Chennai Super Kings.
The likes of Faulkner and Bravo too are game changers and the Lions can rely on them to finish off the games. To sum it up, batting is the key strength of this promising side and it will be interesting to watch their batsmen go about the business.
The one apparent and visible weakness on this side is that barring Suresh Raina and the unreliable Dinesh Karthik, there are no proven Indian batsmen in the ranks. The likes of Ishan Kishan and Eklavya Dwivedi are untested at the IPL level and as a consequence of having few Indian batsmen, the Lions will have to use up their foreign reserves in the batting department. This is bound to leave them with few options in the bowling department.
Another loophole could be their bowling front. Praveen Kumar, Dhawan Kulkarni and Dale Steyn in all probability will be the three pacers which the team will include in the playing XI. With Steyn in the twilight of his career and nowhere near his best, the pace bowling sector looks a tad weak. Kumar bowls at a moderate pace and on the flat deck of Rajkot, he could be belted for plenty. Kulkarni too has a similar case like Kumar. The all round duo of Faulkner and Bravo will need to step up in literally each and every game, to ensure that the bowling remains competent enough.
Players to watch out for:
- Brendon McCullum:
McCullum is a T20 legend and is no stranger to the IPL. He found tremendous success with the Super Kings, and once he is given full freedom at the top of the order for the Lions, he can single-handedly change the outlook of a game. With reduced burden of international cricket, one can expect this brutal and brash Kiwi to come out all guns blazing for the Lions.
- Suresh Raina:
The previous edition of the IPL was Raina’s worst edition, and the southpaw will be eager to make amends for that. Raina also has the added responsibility of leading the side and with his stocks down, the IPL is a perfect opportunity for Raina to be back at his best. He fixed his spot in the Indian team after a spectacular outing in the 2008 IPL. Who knows, 8 years later, destiny might have come a full circle for this southpaw?
Likely playing XI:
- B. McCullum 2. A. Finch 3. S. Raina (c ) 4. D. Karthik 5. D. Bravo / J. Faulkner 6.E. Dwivedi 7. R. Jadeja 8. D. Steyn 9. P. Tambe 10. P. Kumar 11. D. Kulkarni
Considering that it is their first campaign and the intense competition from the other sides, the Lions are expected to finish anywhere in the mid-table.
Previous outings: First season.