The presence of several all-rounders of proven ability elevates new entrants Gujarat Lions to the status of being one of the most exciting teams in the ninth edition of the Indian Premier League. James Faulkner, Dwayne Bravo, Ravindra Jadeja will all form the nucleus of the side, as also will skipper Suresh Raina, and other impact players like Brendon McCullam, Dwayne Smith, Aaron Finch, Dale Steyn, Dhawal Kulkarni, Dinesh Karthik, Praveen Kumar, etc.
The fact that Gujarat have managed to put together such a brilliant squad of cricketers makes them a genuine title contender in their debut IPL season.
Kudos then to young Keshav Bansal, owner of Intex, the company that bought the franchise, and his team for picking and choosing a marvelous set of confirmed talent.
The Lions, along with Rising Pune Supergiants, were the two new entrants this year, and were allowed to pick players part of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals. The Lions went for Raina, McCullum, Bravo, Faulkner and Jadeja, all five blessed with all-round skills, even if the presence of Karthik means McCullum wouldn't need to don the wicket-keeping gloves.
In Faulkner and Bravo, they have two of the best death overs bowlers in world cricket, provided, of course, that the Aussie does not have to bowl to Virat Kohli! Then there is that pace ace Steyn, always a dangerous opponent. However, the one bowler whose exploits would be keenly followed will be mystery left-arm spinner Shivl Kaushik, a raw, untested hand unearthed while playing in the Karnataka Premier League.
Kaushik bowls chinaman, top spinners and googlies with a Paul Adams-type release, unfathomably described as a "frog in the blender" action. Kaushik is taller and better built than Adams and bowls at a quicker pace. On pitches that crumble, he could be a handful to many batsmen. His fielding, though, could be an eyesore, especially in a team consisting top-notch fielders like Raina, Jadeja, Bravo and McCullum.
Jadeja himself will come into play with his bowling on dry, crumbling pitches this summer. It is this enviable variety in bowling and the array of big hitters that makes the Lions such a formidable team.
Raina's roaring success as batsman in IPL cricket will give him the confidence to put behind his poor form in the ICC World T20, where he managed just 41 runs from four matches. Along with McCullum, Smith, Bravo and Finch, he can flay the bowling while Faulkner has proved time and again that he is one of the better finishers in world cricket.
Thus Lions seem to have both their batting and bowling covered. The bench strength of the Indian players may not be great, but it is the playing eleven that looks particularly impressive.
Interestingly, coach Brad Hodge is himself an accomplished T20 cricketer. He has played 256 T20 matches, substantially more than anybody else in the world. He has turned out for 16 domestic teams in professional leagues around the world and his tally of 6,998 runs is the second highest in this format. He recently played in the Pakistan Super League and is very much on the ball.
Apparently, he had called up Bansal and offered his services as coach. Bansal says he directed him to an uncle in Australia, to whom Hodge made a very impressive Powerpoint presentation. Following this, Bansal spoke to a few players who vouched for Hodge. The expectation is that he will turn this bunch of proven individuals into a fine team. At the same time, his wealth of experience would ensure that he does not miss a trick in the book.
Sure, Gujarat have come to the IPL party late. But they have just the team to ensure they catch up pretty quick. Watch out for this pride of marauding Lions.