It could be that we will never see the Gujarat Lions again. The Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals have spent the last two years sat on the naughty step due to senior officials from the franchises being involved in an illegal betting scandal. The Lodha committee, a judicial enquiry that is still having far-reaching consequences for Indian cricket, first showed its teeth when it suspended the two teams. The head of the committee, former Chief Justice RM Lodha, said when the Royals and Super Kings were suspended that “disrepute has been brought to cricket, the BCCI and the IPL to such an extent that there are doubts abound in the public whether the game is clean or not.”
Despite this the show needed to go on, and the Gujarat Lions and Rising Pune Supergiant(s) were created to feel the gap left by the two suspended teams. The initial deal was just for two seasons and no one has yet confirmed if the IPL will be a 10-team tournament or will be just eight sides in 2018, but it seems more likely that the Lions will go the way of Deccan Chargers, Kochi Tuskers Kerala and Pune Warriors India. The IPL goes through franchises like a spoilt child goes through toys.
If 2017 is indeed the last time the orange shirts of the Lions make an appearance in the IPL, it will be a bitter legacy as their squad selection at the auction and team selection at the start of the tournament have left them brutally exposed. Looking down the list of players that were available to the Lions at the start of this season you would have felt confident of them finishing in the top four. Yes, they were short of bowling and their bench strength wasn’t great, but the batting was undoubtedly exciting.
The issue with that batting was not that it wasn’t a powerhouse unit, it was that all the big name overseas batsmen that they selected were openers. With Aaron Finch, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith and Jason Roy they had four players that have plied their trade at the top of the order throughout their careers, so it meant that at least two of them would be out of position. With Suresh Raina rightly keeping the number three spot the highest two of those openers would bat would be four and five. Smith struggled badly in the middle order and Finch has under performed by his own high standards.
While the batting promised much more than it delivered, it was the bowling that was the big issue for the Lions. It became apparent very quickly that having all of your overseas players as batsmen, and with two of them batting out of position that they would struggle to be competitive.
The removal of Roy and the inclusion of Andrew Tye made an immediate impact when he took 5-17 against Supergiant, including a hat-trick. His knuckle balls and clever changes of pace brought much needed penetration. The Lions’ season was summed up when Tye got injured diving for a ball on the boundary. A dislocated shoulder meant he played just six matches. The Australian still finished as the leading wicket-taker for this team.
That the Lions didn’t have the services of Dwayne Bravo is a massive factor in their poor season. The West Indian all-rounder is the leading wicket-taker in the history of T20 cricket, and he has those at 23.93 a piece. His injury preventing him from taking the field at any point in this tournament not only cost the Lions wickets but it also made balancing their side more difficult.
The Lions squad had no real pace and no mystery spin and it resulted in them finding it impossible to defend a total. They won four matches in this year’s IPL and all of them came when they chased down a score. When they batted first, even when the batsmen had performed to their potential, they found keeping the scoring under control beyond them.
In their very first match they made a very decent 183 for four and the Kolkata Knight Riders chased that down with 31 balls to spare and without losing a wicket. In their second match they managed to take just one wicket as Sunrisers Hyderabad beat them with 27 balls unused.
Those opening two results were bad, but the most egregious example of the Lions’ complete inability to defend a score came against fellow strugglers, Delhi Daredevils. The Lions made 208 for seven from their 20 overs with fifties from Raina and Karthik. Not one Lions bowler went at less than 10 an over as the Daredevils reached their victory target from 17.3 overs thanks to 97 from Rishabh Pant. It was embarrassingly bad for the Lions, and it was there issues in microcosm. They had the batting to make big totals and a complete absence of wicket taking bowlers who could back the batting up.
If the Lions are back in 2018, and as things stand that seems unlikely, they need to rethink both their batting and bowling lineups. They need to lose at least one of the overseas openers and get a batsman who can finish matches at the death. Then they need to find an overseas player that either bowls with real pace or can turn the ball both ways so that it is not just all conventional spin and medium pace. Sure, the Lions had the very unorthodox left-arm wrist spin on Shivil Kaushik, but the young man is inexperienced and inconsistent. They need a top-class bowler who can be relied upon to perform more often than not.
Without these changes, the Lions may make the playoffs thanks to the power of their batting, but you win titles with bowlers taking wickets.
Updated Date: May 14, 2017 10:52 AM