IPL 2017: Gujarat Lions' surprise win over KKR papers over deficiencies in team makeup
The danger here is that the Lions will think that this lineup is the right one, when it could well see them come unstuck
Almost despite themselves the Gujarat Lions have won their second match in this year's Indian Premier League, defeating the Kolkata Knight Riders by four wickets with 10 balls to spare. The Lions have been pretty dreadful so far this season, and the reason has been their bowling. The solitary bright spark has been Andrew Tye who is their leading wicket taker and the most economical bowler in amongst a lot of guys that have been either poor or mediocre.
With that in mind it came as something of a shock when they dropped him for James Faulkner. There were people in rural communities in countries that have never heard of cricket that were asking each other why the Lions had decided to leave out Tye and retain three overseas openers.
One of those openers, Dwayne Smith, then didn’t open the batting which is by far where he does best. Instead he was put down the order, a position in which he has struggled. Smith made just five runs from four balls on Friday.
It was all very odd. Picking Faulkner in itself wasn’t a bad move, the strange part was that it was their most successful overseas player in the tournament that made way for him.
Faulkner opened the bowling and was under the pump straight away, conceding 17 runs from his first over. When he was brought back he picked up the wicket of Gautam Gambhir, but he rarely exerted the control that Tye has shown when he has been in the side. Faulkner finished with figures of 1-38. It wasn’t a disastrous spell, but it wasn’t brilliant either. Tye would have done better than Faulkner and picking Smith to bat at six makes almost as little sense as dropping Tye.
By the time the Kolkata Knight Riders had reached the end of the 15th over they has reached 141 for two with Robin Uthappa well set on 53 from 36 balls. From there they should have been targeting at least 200 but their efforts fell away somewhat. The much maligned Lions bowling attack actually did alright at the death conceding just over 10 an over. That represents an uptick in their fortunes compared with how things have gone for them so far this year.
They had a total that they could chase and they did just that. Still, this team makeup is a work in progress and the tournament is nearly halfway finished. This start is one that they are going to struggle to recover from and they still haven’t answered many of the questions that have been posed to them.
While the Lions are deserving of almost all the criticism that has headed their way so far this year a moment needs to be taken to give some praise to Basil Thampi. Few would have expected that he would be the most consistent of the Lions’ local bowlers, but his stock has risen a long way over the last few weeks. Thampi went at 11-an-over on Friday night, but the youngster did not look out of place and bowled better than some of his more experienced colleagues. He has a long way to go before he can start dreaming of an India debut, but his rate of improvement has been excellent.
When the chase got underway the Lions would have felt confident. KKR had managed 187 for five, a reasonable total but not a daunting one. This was a good Kolkata pitch and the outfield is lightning quick. Their batting lineup is a strong one, and as Brendon McCullum has shown he is still capable of scoring at a frightening rate given the opportunity.
With Smith down the order the Lions opted for Aaron Finch as an opener and he got off to a quick start. His 31 from 15 balls allowed the Lions to get off to a flyer, but Finch was gone inside the PowerPlay when he was dismissed by Nathan Coulter-Nile.
Not long afterwards rain arrived and took the players from the field which will have given the Knight Riders some time to regroup after a poor start that saw them concede 62 from the first five overs as McCullum took up the attack after Finch departed. When they came back out after the rain it was the Lions that were best placed to win this match, a position they have rarely been in this season.
McCullum went not long after the resumption when he absolutely drilled a length ball from Chris Woakes into the hands of Manish Pandey at extra cover. On another day that would have been six, and it sums up the Lions’ season that it went straight to the man on the fence.
Inevitably, the loss of McCullum saw the required rate creep up as Gambhir switched his bowlers on a regular basis in an attempt to make it difficult for the opposition batsmen to get set.
Suresh Raina once again overtook Virat Kohli as the leading run scorer in IPL history on his way to 84 from 46 balls as he helped get back up with the rate after the loss of McCullum. Raina took a while to get going, chugging alone at a run a ball for his first 10 runs, before accelerating on his way to a match winning innings.
The danger here is that the Lions will think that this lineup is the right one, when it could well see them come unstuck. As soon as this excellent batting order were chasing a total that was par at best they won with ease. The worry going forward is that this bowling line up will rarely give them this kind of total to chase.
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