Having finished top of the league stage of last year’s Indian Premier League, a lot was expected of the Gujarat Lions in this year’s tournament. In their opening match they have been absolutely destroyed by the batting of Guatam Gambhir and Chris Lynn who made an IPL record opening stand of 184, and the 15th highest partnership in T20 history.
This was the highest total ever chased down with 10 wickets left in the history of T20 cricket and this was a demolition. The Lions have claimed in the lead-up to this tournament that they would roar. Instead, they couldn’t even manage a meow.
The Lions tactic of loading the side with top-order batsmen who are instructed to swing hard has the potential to be devastating, but it is not without risk. Brendon McCullum, Jason Roy, Aaron Finch and Dwayne Smith all open the batting. By having four openers in the top six, you are always going to have two of them batting out of position. Opening in T20 cricket has many risks associated with it, but also some big advantages. The hard ball and fielding restrictions allow for a certain type of shot-making. Asking those players to bat in the middle order can cause you problems as they try to start their innings in a very different way.
The two batsmen given the opening role in this game were McCullum and Roy, and they got off to the kind of start that you should expect from batsmen of their quality, but it didn’t last with Roy departing to the first ball of the third over. McCullum looked to be doing a decent job at covering up for his teammate’s departure, but just as he was looking well set and capable of going on to a really big score he was done in by a Kuldeep Yadav ball that turned just enough to dismiss him LBW.
It was Suresh Raina that was given the job of batting at three and he top scored with 68 from 51 balls. It was his innings that prevented the Lions falling apart as wickets seemed to fall at exactly the wrong moment for the home team. While Raina finished not out at the end of the innings, it was a stay in the middle that was hilariously lucky. On another day, he would have been caught three or four times when the ball fell safe or was dropped. Quite how he wasn’t run out when there was a horrible mix up with Dinesh Karthik is anyone’s guess. Kuldeep just didn’t seem to see the chance to dismiss him.
The Lions’ innings could have petered out to a sub-par 160-odd if it hadn’t been for the brisk 47 from 25 balls from Karthik, who continued his fantastic efforts this season. But for his intervention this loss could have been even heavier. It was a fine counter-attacking knock from a man in the form of his life.
With Karthik at five that meant that Smith was batting at six and he didn’t face a ball. You can’t help but think of that as a bit of a waste. Smith is one of the more destructive batsmen in world cricket, and while he can bowl some useful medium pace, hiding him down the order isn’t making the best use of the talent that the Lions have available to them. Smith at three would work better, but that would be unfair on Raina. Quite how you balance this Lions top order is a massive quandary.
183 for four was a par total at best, but realistically, the Lions looked short of runs on a superb Rajkot track that was brilliant for batting. Their inability to put together a really big stand to set up a large total meant they were always up against it, even more so when you consider that they bowling is by far their weakest suit even without the loss of Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja to injury.
Still, there are some experienced men in the Lions attack. Praveen Kumar is a skilful operator, Dhawal Kulkarni was brilliant in the 2016 tournament and Shivil Kaushik’s unorthodox bowling has caused problems for opponents in the past. They have the bowling that means they shouldn’t allow the oppostion to chase down 184 chased in 14.5 overs without once taking a wicket. That is embarrassing.
As Lynn and Gambhir showed the world just how good this pitch was the Lions looked ragged. If the KKR fielding had been disappointing, the Lions efforts bordered on the farcical as Lynn raced to 93 from just 41 balls.
There are times when you are just beaten by a better team, and KKR were much better with the bat at least, but there are times when you play a part in your own demise. On Friday night in Rajkot, the Lions came close to seppuku.
As the 1990s British pop ensemble D:ream once sung, things can only get better, and the Lions will know that the IPL is long enough that one defeat is not enough to derail your chances of making the playoffs. With Bravo not too far away from a return to action, and the powerful batting lineup capable of scoring serious runs this one loss should be shrugged off fairly easily. But too many more nights like this and what could be the Lions last year as an IPL team could be one to forget.