IPL 2017 auction: Gujarat Lions must invest in a world-class bowler, quality Indian players to bolster squad

Gujarat Lions made a strong debut in the Indian Premier League in 2016 when they marched to the play-offs at the expense of some seasoned campaigners. The Suresh Raina-led outfit took the league by storm as they hit the ground running with six wins from their first seven matches.

Their flying start, however, suffered a few roadblocks as they lost three out of their next four games. Eventually, the Lions, who had some key components of the consistent Chennai Super Kings side, registered a crucial win over Kolkata Knight Riders to book a play-off spot.

File photo of the Gujarat Lions team from the 2016 IPL. Sportzpics

File photo of the Gujarat Lions team from the 2016 IPL. Sportzpics

As the Lions seemed to get their act together, they ended up on the wrong end of two brilliant individual displays and they bowed out of the tournament in the second qualifier.

First, it was Royal Challengers Bangalore's AB de Villiers who took them to the cleaners, before a masterclass from David Warner in the second play-off game brought about their demise in the competition. Despite that, it was a season on which the Lions can look back with pride.

The Lions' squad was hailed by many as the most balanced squad in the league and more often than not, it proved to be the case. Packed with all-rounders like Dwayne Bravo, James Faulkner, Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Smith, the Lions had a great mix of varied skill sets.

The Gujarat outfit released just eight players from their roster from last season and it included just one foreigner in the shape of Dale Steyn. The South African pacer has been struggling with injuries recently and is now a mere shadow of his former illustrious self.

So, the fact that the Lions retained the core of their squad doesn't come as a big surprise considering the number of Twenty20 specialists the squad boasts of.

But, if there has been one area that the squad has been found wanting, it's been the bowling department. The Lions have relied heavily on their batting to see them through in games. They had a good variety in their bowling, but always lacked a big wicket-taker last season, who could win them matches when they failed with the bat.

When the players go under the hammer on 20 February in Bengaluru, Lions will be on a hunt for a top bowler. While Raina has quite a few options in the pace bowling department, when it comes to spin bowling, he has to rely heavily on Jadeja to deliver the goods.

With spinners always proving handy in Indian conditions, the Lions could do with recruiting a top quality spinner, who can work in tandem with Jadeja. In that aspect, one can't look beyond the No 1 T20I bowler South African Imran Tahir.

Tahir has been in great form off late and picked up six wickets in the three-match T20I series against Sri Lanka. He carried that form into the one-day internationals as well, where he constantly troubled the Sri Lankan batsmen.

The veteran South African could pose a different kind of threat as compared to Jadeja, and teams could find it very difficult to deal with the two. His presence is certain to take the pressure off Jadeja, making him even more dangerous.

The other options that the Lions could look at in this department would be New Zealand duo of Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner. The duo impressed during the World T20 in India last year and could provide a good foil for Jadeja. Among the Indian spinners, Pervez Rasool who recently made his India debut, could be an alternative.

With the departure of Steyn, the Lions are without an express fast bowler and could look to add in that department too, if they decide that pace, and not spin, is the way to go. Mitchell Johnson who had a fantastic Big Bash League is among the first names that comes to one's mind. But his base price of Rs 2 crore might put the Lions off as they have only Rs 14.35 crore left in their purse, a total that beats the tallies of just two other teams.

The Lions could also look at Kagiso Rabada or Trent Boult to bolster their team. But none of these options would come cheap. The Lions, who are short on Indian players after they released seven of them recently, could look at some domestic pacers to fill that void.

All-rounder Irfan Pathan, who has put in some good performances in the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy, could be a good option for the Lions. Pathan's experience could be key for the Lions' bowling attack who have often been guilty of not finishing the job despite a good start last season. In addition, his big-hitting ability lower down the order would also be a welcome addition.

The Gujarat outfit packs a punch when it comes to their batting. Aaron Finch, Smith and Brendon McCullum can win games on their own. However, to add flexibility to the side and enable them to chop and change their foreigners as per the demands of the situation, they would benefit from having a few Indian batsmen on their roster. With the Lions batting being particularly top heavy, a big-hitting middle-order batsman would plug a hole in their batting line-up.

Saurabh Tiwary, who did well in the Syed Mushtaq Ali qualifiers recently, is apt for that kind of role. His experience in the competition also makes him a good potential target for the Lions. Ashok Menaria and B Indrajith are some other options.

The Lions don't need to make wholesale changes to the team, but would be boosted with few quality additions to their bowling department. A couple of top foreign bowling recruits is a must, in addition to buying a few Indian players, who would add variety to their attack. The focus, though, should be on quality rather than quantity.

The Lions are slightly handicapped with the limited money left in their purse but if they can target a few players and bid accordingly, they could end up as winners on the auction day.

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Published Date: Feb 16, 2017 10:51 am | Updated Date: Feb 19, 2017 12:18 pm

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