Two teams that only exist because of the suspension of the Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings, and two teams that have put in some decent performances at this year’s IPL but look set for mid-table mediocrity, met in Pune on Monday night. The Gujarat Lions looked to have made a mess of winning a match that would at least give them a theoretical chance to reach the latter stages of this tournament when they were bowled out for 161 on a pitch that looked placid for the most part against Rising Pune Supergiants.
From looking like they would struggle to defend a total that seemed below par on what was a very good surface the Lions started brilliantly with the ball. They had RPS 10 for three in the second over and 42 for four in the sixth. Having underperformed with the bat they looked like finally winning a game with the ball courtesy of their homegrown bowlers. Then Ben Stokes scored 103 not out from 63 balls while suffering with cramping calf muscles and the Lions lost yet again.
The Lions started well with the bat as Ishan Kishan and Brendon McCullum set off at a decent rate in the batting powerplay. They had reached 55 without loss when Kishan lost his wicket to the last ball of the sixth over to the leg-spin of Imran Tahir who was once again the best Supergiants bowler.
A run out in Tahir’s next over saw Suresh Raina go for a run a ball eight before Tahir took two wickets in two balls to see the end of Aaron Finch and Dwayne Smith to reduce the Lions to 94 for four at the end of the 10th over.
Smith came back into the side to replace the injured Andrew Tye, who is out of the rest of the tournament after injuring his shoulder in the Super Over loss to the Mumbai Indians on Saturday, and the West Indian’s terrible IPL continued with a golden duck and three wicketless overs. Smith has a batting average of 13.42 and a bowling average of 60 with an economy of 10.9.
If Tye was still available Smith wouldn’t be getting a game, and if Dwayne Bravo hadn’t missed the entire tournament he would have been left out sooner. That Jason Roy has been sat on the bench as Smith has continued to struggle is mystifying. If the team were winning you could understand the insistence on sticking with Smith, but with the Lions having been on the brink of elimination for the last three weeks not having a go with Jason Roy in the side when he was available has been very odd, even with him heading back to the UK to play in the ODIs against Ireland.
Roy has certainly been frustrated with his lack of chances despite his team sitting toward the foot of the table.
“I'm discussing with Andrew Strauss, whether to come back out here to the IPL or to get cracking with Surrey in the Royal London [one-day cup],” Roy told the Daily Mirror. “I think it is probably a good idea to get my head round 50-over cricket as much as possible especially if I'm not really playing a huge amount out here in India, it is just a bit of a waste really.”
Twenty-nine runs from Dinesh Karthik and 19 from Ravindra Jadeja allowed the Lions to get to 161 before they lost their 10th wicket off the penultimate ball of their innings.
It certainly didn’t feel like the Lions had enough runs, but at 10 for three and then 42 for four they certainly had a chance of claiming a win before Stokes scored his maiden T20 hundred and thereby winning his team the game.
In truth, their bowlers didn’t do that much wrong. There was no repeat of their first three matches where the Lions bowlers and fielders seemed keen to get the match over as soon as possible and thought the best way to do this was to concede runs as quickly as was humanly possible. Pradeep Sangwan looked pretty good in his first game of the tournament, Basil Thampi’s star continues to rise as he stands out as the best local bowler in this Lions team. They have been much, much worse than this.
Stokes is a ridiculous talent, and we saw that in Pune on Monday. This exact situation is why the England management want their players in tournaments around the world. As an overseas star there is expectation and pressure to perform in front of sell out crowds against top players from other international teams. While Stokes made 103, the next highest score was the 26 from 33 balls that MS Dhoni made. Sometimes a player just shines so bright that you can’t help but be blinded.
While the talent that Stokes possesses has been evident ever since he was spoken about in hushed tones by those that saw his brilliance as a young man playing for Durham, but it is only in the last two years that he has found consistency to back that up. The experience of winning games of cricket in India can only be good for him and English cricket going forward.
For the Lions, their fate is no longer in their hands. They need to win all of their remaining games and hope that Sunrisers Hyderabad don’t win again and that Rising Pune Supergiant don’t win more than once while massively improving their own run rate. Realistically, their season is over.
Maybe they should just let Roy stay at home.