‘Gujarat seem to have most bases covered’
“Hehehehe,” comes an amused voice. It belongs to Dale Steyn and he becomes the epicenter of a storm of humanity. There are cries of “please, please, selfie, selfie!” They couldn’t let him go just yet. “One minute, wait please.” Eventually, it is just noise, and a lot of jostling. The policemen can barely maintain a perimeter, but Steyn doesn’t mind. The video ends with him grinning from ear to ear. Both he, and the Indian Premier League, have finally arrived in Rajkot.
The locals here have only seen six international matches across a decade. They can now expect almost as many IPL matches, featuring some of the best cricketers in the world, in a single season. Fostering cricket in smaller centres has been one of the tournament’s aims since its inception – hosting matches in Dharamsala, Raipur, etc and their fan-park venture last year are fine examples – and after eight years, with Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals suspended, they have got a franchise based in one of these smaller centres.
It is unclear if Gujarat Lions will persist when Super Kings and Royals’ suspensions lapse. But the team that the owners Intex – a Delhi-based electronics company – have cultivated from a player draft in December and the full auction in February does seem formidable, if a little dependent on overseas talent.
You wouldn’t expect the likes of Brendon McCullum, two-time world champion Dwayne Bravo, and James Faulkner to be fazed by responsibility though. Tagging along with them are the uncapped Indians, most of whom hail from Uttar Pradesh, the state that captain Suresh Raina is from. Local boy Ravindra Jadeja should help in rounding up good crowds as much as he would in knocking off oppositions.
Lions have ticked most boxes necessary to be a good T20 team. They have explosive batsmen, and they can disperse them through the order. Some of them – like Raina and Bravo – can anchor or attack. All-round options are aplenty – Bravo, along with Faulkner, is a high-quality, end-overs bowler as well. But then again, playing cricket always seems that easy on paper.
“No matter how much love you get in this new family, how can you let go of all the love you received over the last eight years from the Chennai family? The city had become a second home to all of us,” Raina told Times of India. Coping with a new team and new roles, not to mention fronting up against old friends might feel strange. Lions have had a couple of days to practice and gel together, but would that be enough ahead of a two-month tournament?
How will they handle the 12 uncapped Indians in the squad? Some of them like Pravin Tambe and Shadab Jakati have had IPL experience before, Ishan Kishan led India in the Under-19 World Cup in February, Paras Dogra’s contract with Himachal Pradesh probably has a line that says “hit double-centuries, or else”. Others like chinaman spinner Shivil Kaushik, Akshdeep Nath (a former U-19 WC winner) and Umang Sharma (over 1000 runs in the 2015-16 season) are still finding themselves in the Indian domestic circuit.
Barring Steyn – who may not find a place among the four foreigners allowed in an XI – Lions are made up of medium-pacers, who may become cannon fodder if the Rajkot pitch reverts to its old, road-like tendencies.
The go-to men
Lions seem to be obsessed with failsafes. McCullum is one of the fiercest openers at the top of the order, but if he goes kaput, out comes the highest run-getter in IPL history, Raina. That combination would also be working overtime on captaincy matters. Then there is Bravo to keep things tight in the middle and end overs but if he can’t, Faulkner’s around for back-up. Those two could probably invent a new slower ball by the time this season ends. And finally Jadeja, who owned any team that set foot on Rajkot in the Ranji Trophy and won his place back in the Indian team.
Shivil Kaushik will be paid INR 10 lakh for two months’ work. While that may be a lot of money for a 20-year-old, it is near negligible for an IPL franchise. Lions may well get a lot of bang for their buck considering Kaushik is a left-arm chinaman spinner in the mould of South Africa’s Paul Adams. He took five wickets in seven matches at the Karnataka Premier League, which was his first taste of competitive cricket, and his coach at Hubli Tigers Anutosh Poll said, “He’s a back-of-the-hand bowler. He himself confesses that he doesn’t know which one will turn which way.”
No known injuries at this time.
Head coach – Brad Hodge, bowling coach – Heath Streak, Performance coach – Monty Desai
“We’ve already started being diplomatic with each other while discussing IPL. I’ve been looking at ways to ask him about his team’s preparations, he’s been doing the same. At dinner tables, at the nets, during practice, both of us are asking each other a lot of things but not revealing anything to each other.”
Gujarat Lions captain Suresh Raina on the changes in his relationship with MS Dhoni
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Source: ESPN Crickinfo