So far, the Gujarat Lions campaign in the tenth season of the IPL seemed tailor-made for their owner Keshav Bansal. He would be seated with the ‘stars’, interact with the big wigs and manage a smile even when their chips were down. He was by far their most prominent character.
But thankfully, that is now starting to change. Suresh Raina, Aaron Finch, Andrew Tye and Brendon McCullum are starting to bring the focus back on cricket, back on winning even as Bansal starts sporting some camouflage.
The win against the Royal Challengers Bangalore might be turning point of their campaign this season. It wasn’t just the margin of victory – seven wickets with 37 balls to spare – but the manner in which they achieved their goals sets the win apart.
Gujarat has been so bad with the team combinations that when they actually got it right it seemed like a minor miracle in its own right. Gujarat fans have been shouting themselves hoarse, wanting Suresh Raina and the team management to pick Andrew Tye and James Faulkner in the playing XI but for the longest time, it must have seemed like they were talking to a brick wall.
It got so bad at one point that when Gujarat did eventually pick Faulkner, they somehow decided to drop Tye who had been their best bowler to accommodate a woefully out of form Dwayne Smith.
Took a long time coming
It was a decision that no one in their right minds could fathom as Smith’s bowling has deteriorated to a point where one can’t even call him an allrounder anymore. Faulkner, on the other hand, was a much better bowler (one that GL needed) and more than a handy batsman lower down the order. It was frustrating to watch them fumble, frustrating because it was so obvious.
Gujarat started the season by loading their side with batsmen. Hard-hitting, match-winning, opening batsmen. The number of opening batsmen they had in their line-up was such a joke that when Dwayne Bravo was ruled out of the tournament, VVS Laxman (on Hotstar) joked that maybe they should pick another opener as replacement. All their foreign slots were given to batsmen – James Roy, Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch and Dwayne Smith.
If all of them fired, perhaps no total would be out of reach. But their bowlers were executing their plans so badly that no total was out of reach for the opposition as well. It was in this scenario that Andrew Tye stepped up and got five wickets in match against the Pune Supergiant on April 14.
Two matches later, he was dropped in favour of Faulkner for the game against KKR. Then, Tye was got back in for the game against Kings XI but Faulkner was dumped out. Just what were they thinking? Nobody knew. Not even the Gujarat Lions themselves.
On Thursday night, when they finally did play the two Aussies together, they seemed like a different team. Rather, they looked like a team. They had some balance and Raina had some bowling options.
“We have been searching for the right combination and we did well today,” said Raina after the game. “It wasn’t easy dropping Smith as he is such a great guy but it worked for us today.”
It wasn’t easy but it needed to be done a long time back. A balanced team gives Gujarat a fighting chance even if they put up a below par total. Ravindra Jadeja is starting to find his rhythm, Nathu Singh has looked good in the two games he has played, Tye and Faulkner’s slower ball variations are superb, Basil Thampi has pace and they even have a mystery bowler in Ankit Soni. That suddenly looks like a decent bowling attack.
At the same time, it doesn’t weaken their batting. Jadeja and Faulkner can be pretty dangerous lower down the order and the rest of their batting is top class too.
Finch’s innings was a magnificent example of just how dangerous the Australian opener can be in the first six overs. Raina has notched up another 300-run season already. McCullum and Dinesh Karthik have been good too. Ishan Kishan has shown potential and is capable of doing a Nitish Rana for Gujarat.
Suddenly, it looks more like the Gujarat of last year – the one that surprised many established teams on the way to the Qualifiers.
In sport, momentum can be a fickle friend but it would be foolishness not to ride it when you have a chance. For Gujarat, this might just be the moment, they roar back into the reckoning.