After two disastrous matches to start the 2017 Indian Premier League (IPL) there has been a massive uptick in fortunes for the Gujarat Lions, who smashed Rising Pune Supergiant by seven wickets with 12 balls to spare in Rajkot. A tinkering with the team that saw the bowling stocks increased with the introduction of Andrew Tye and Ravindra Jadeja allowed the team to look a lot more rounded. The result showed that they played better too.
Having packed their top-order with big-name overseas batsmen, the Lions looked extremely top heavy. When that much vaunted batting failed miserably, the weak bowling line-up was obliterated, taking just one wicket across the first two matches. That all changed in this match as eight Pune wickets fell in their 20 overs, including a Tye hat-trick in the 20th over. A couple of changes and suddenly things have started to click into place.
Tye’s IPL debut could not have gone any better, picking up a wicket with his fifth ball when makeshift opener Rahul Tripathi drove at a slower ball that was caught at mid-off. Tye was taken out of the attack after his first over and when he was reintroduced for the 13th over of the Supergiant innings and he was back in the wickets. His first ball of the new spell was another slower ball which got Ben Stokes. He had 2-4 from seven balls and finally the Lions were getting wickets.
But it wasn’t until the last over of the Supergiant innings that Tye produced his best work. First Ankit Sharma was caught at long on, then Manoj Tiwary was caught on the midwicket boundary off another slower ball. When Shardul Thakur walked to the crease it seemed almost inevitable what would happen. Sure enough, a yorker smashed into his stumps to give Tye the second hat-trick of the day after Samuel Badree managed three in three during the day game.
Many had called for James Faulkner to come into this side, myself included, but the inclusion of Tye worked out brilliantly. He added class and guile to the pedestrian bowling attack that has been battered for the first two matches.
Tye’s selection also allowed for a much needed rethink of the batting order. Jason Roy is a class act who can do brilliantly at the IPL, but the Dwayne Smith/Brendon McCullum opening partnership was so successful last year that changing it never really made much sense. Smith batting down the order was a waste of someone who has a brilliant track record in this tournament up top. As soon as last year’s openers were reunited they re-found the magic that had seen the Lions top the table in 2016.
94 runs in 8.5 overs was the kind of start that allowed the Lions to be so good last year, and both men made quickfire 40s to break the back of the chase and allow the Lions to set up a straightforward win. They were absolutely cruising in the first half of their innings, but three quick wickets falling in the space of just 17 runs allowed for the possibility of a wobble.
A 61-run partnership between Aaron Finch and Suresh Raina meant that it was little more than a slight quiver as the RPS total of 171 for eight was overhauled with two overs to spare. Sometimes it isn’t radical change that is needed to fix things, it is just a slight alteration in team makeup and approach.
While Tye’s inclusion and Smith’s return to the top of the order certainly contributed to this result, there were also runs from the four of the top five. Up until this match a lack of partnerships and too many batsmen from the top order failing had been a major issue. On Friday night, the bowlers could have conceded another 20 runs and a firing Lions top six could have chased that down. They have unreal hitting ability. But having to chase a total that is on par, or slightly under it, makes a big difference.
The importance of the return of Jadeja cannot be underestimated either. While his figures of 1-40 are far from amazing, he adds valuable balance to this team. He can contribute with both bat and ball and in the continued absence of Dwayne Bravo that is hugely important for the Lions going forward.
That one wicket for Jadeja was that of MS Dhoni whose wretched form for Supergiant continues. He averages 11 with the bat at a strike-rate of 73 this year. In 15 innings for the team he has managed just one half-century and only 312 runs. The talk is that when Chennai Super Kings return in 2018, Dhoni will be on the top of the list of the people that will welcome this.
Now that the Lions have stumbled on a formula which works, they can look to build on it. They have to fight hard to make the knockout stages now because their net run rate has taken such a hit as a result of two punishing losses, but they have shown tonight why they were fancied for a top four finish before the season got underway. Teams have recovered from worse starts to go all the way to the final of the IPL, there is no reason why the Lions cannot do the same.
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Updated Date: Apr 15, 2017 09:10:44 IST