Last season the Gujarat Lions finished top of the Indian Premier League at the end of the group stage and Royal Challengers Bangalore finished second. This year both of these teams have been dumpster fires and everything that the coaches have done to try and change things has been like pouring gasoline on the flames. No one would have expected that this would be the a bottom of the table clash, but here we are, watching two teams full of very good players struggling for anything approaching form or consistency.
In 2016 there was talk of the RCB top order of Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers being the best that ever graced a T20 match. In the match against the Lions on Thursday night the combined talents of that top three managed 23 runs between them at a strike rate of 67. The Lions bowling attack that has been so brutally exposed in this edition of the IPL were made to look like world-beaters as RCB stumbled to 134 all out from their 20 overs.
Finally, after making it halfway through their season with a team that made little sense, the Lions have finally picked the best team based on the players that they have available to them. After starting off picking four openers in the team, they started picking just three with Dwayne Smith in the middle order. Smith has never settled into the lower middle order batting position, with the softer ball and spin bowling not to his liking. When he was left out for this game it was something of a blessing in truth.
With Dwayne Bravo still injured having Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch, Andrew Tye and James Faulkner as the four overseas is the best option considering the players that are available to them. There is an argument for switching Finch for England’s Jason Roy, but that is really like for like replacement rather than a significant improvement in the team makeup.
Tye impressed again, picking up ridiculous figures of three for 12 from his four overs including 13 dot balls. The decision to leave him out for James Faulkner earlier in the season continues to mystify.
That the Lions are still searching for a winning combination was further exemplified by their promotion of Ishan Kishan to the top of the order as they began their chase of 135 for victory. Kishan’s move up the order gave his team 16 runs from 11 balls before he was pinned LBW trying to sweep Samuel Badree. Quite why the Lions are so adverse to having a set opening partnership utilising the one big plus they have in this squad with their four excellent openers is confusing. Even when Kishan went, it was Suresh Raina that came out at three inside the powerplay rather than Finch.
Raina struggled. He is one of those players that when he is in form he looks calm, assured and aesthetically pleasing. When things aren’t going well for him he can appear as a batting novice playing in his first game of street cricket. Here it was the tape ball version of Raina that was on show only finding any sort of fluency towards the end of the game. Despite going from brilliant to ropey he is now the leading run scorer of the 2017 IPL. Remarkable.
By contrast, Aaron Finch was batting on a different pitch altogether as he smashed a 22-ball fifty on his way to a match winning 72 from 34 balls. The Australian has the highest ever score in international T20 and is perhaps underestimated when the best players in this format are being discussed. He was resplendent in Bengaluru and by the time he was dismissed by Pawan Negi the required run rate was around two an over.
Victory was achieved with 37 balls to spare as the Lions put together their most complete performance of the 2017 IPL so far. The bowlers took advantage of an RCB team that have completely lost their batting mojo in recent weeks. Sometimes what you need to finally get yourself going as a team is to face the right opponents at the right time. Perhaps battering RCB with their best available team is what will allow the Lions to find some consistency.
The Lions are up to six points now, and they have a theoretical 12 points still available to them. It would take a remarkable set of results and a similar performance to this one against teams at the top of the table, but it isn’t completely impossible.
The problems that have plagued the Lions haven’t disappeared. They still have a weak bowling attack and an inconsistent top order, but there is little to criticise them from this match. Perhaps the decision to open with Kishan was a poor one, but ultimately they have just dismantled RCB and moved above them in the points table. What more can be asked of them?
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Updated Date: Apr 28, 2017 09:38:36 IST