IPL 9: Raina-led Gujarat Lions hope to roar on debut


The expectations from a debutant Indian Premier League (IPL) outfit may not be sky-high but it generates curiosity among cricket fans about how it will fare. Gujarat Lions, which is one of the two sides to be introduced this season, have a good mix of Indian and foreign players.
A praiseworthy aspect of the team is its choice of value-for-money players at a time it had just Rs 27 crore to spend during the auction.

With one of the most experienced IPL player, Suresh Raina, at its helm, the team has the likes of all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik and Praveen Kumar as the Indian players, while Dwyane Bravo, Brendon McCullum, Dale Steyn, James Faulkner and Aaron Finch are some of their prominent foreign recruits.
Among other Indians, they have a nice blend experienced and rookie domestic players, who, every now and then, have made their presence felt with their reliable batting and bowling. Veteran Pravin Tambe, Jaydev Shah, Shadab Jakati and Paras Dogra have been consistent performers either in domestic cricket or in the IPL. The team also has the likes of U-19 India captain Ishan Kishan, 20-year-old chinaman bowler Shivil Kaushik, Delhi-lad Pradeep Sangwan and Uttar Pradesh’s star batsman Eklavya Dwivedi, who have the chance to prove themselves.

Since the Gujarat Lions is a new outfit, it doesn’t bear the burden of poor performances or embroiling into controversies in the past.
Here we discuss some of the strengths and weaknesses of the team.

They have an experienced skipper in Raina, who has a proven record in the IPL and with Team India; fiery batsmen McCullum and Finch; seasoned allrounders in Bravo, who took the most number of wickets last season, and Jadeja; and good fast bowling options in Steyn and Faulkner, who can also bat well down the order.

All-round skills and bowling is their strength as, apart from Bravo and Jadeja, seasoned Jaydev Shah and IPL debutant Akashdeep Nath are also good with both bat and ball. Apart from Steyn and Faulkner, former India pacer Kumar, Sangwan, and Mumbaikar Dhawal Kulkarni strengthen the team’s fast-bowling department. While spinners Jakati and Tambe are veterans of many IPL seasons, young sensation Kaushik, a Chinaman who is yet to make his first-class debut, and leggie Sarabjeet Ladda consolidate their spin attack.
As far as individual performances are concerned, Gujarat have players of great importance.
Raina has played in the most number of IPL matches (132) and scored most number of runs (3699) in the eight-year history of the tournament. Under the captaincy of MS Dhoni at the Chennai Super Kings, he was part of the most successful IPL team which capped two titles and finished four times as the runners-up. He can inculcate the winning habit among Gujarat Lions teammates.
Bravo is an excellent seam-up option as he took 26 wickets last season. He is also the fifth in the list of highest wicket-takers in IPL with 105 scalps in 91 matches. While he can hit the big shots, Bravo can also help revive an innings in case the team’s top-order fails. He was a member of ICC World Twenty20-winning West Indies team and can carry the momentum into IPL Season 9.
Jadeja gained confidence as a Chennai Super Kings player under Dhoni’s captaincy and his count is among the best allrounders in the world. He has 1383 runs in 111 IPL matches at an average of 23.44 and a strike rate of 123.59. He has also taken 69 wickets at an average of 26.75 in the same number of matches.

The team has no major weakness but it has to think about batting options who can play well in the lower middle and lower order.
Their success will depend a lot on overseas players and it will be a tough choice to pick any four of them for a match. McCullum and Bravo seem obvious choice, and Steyn is most likely to get a permanent place since he is a quality fast bowling option, but in that case they will be left only with one more spot and a tough fight for that is expected between Finch and Faulkner.
Finch and McCullum can open batting, Raina can come at No. 3 and Bravo at No. 4. But if the illustrious top-order fails, Gujarat don’t have players to fall back on.

Chances: The team can’t be underestimated. Don’t forget that underdogs Rajasthan Royals won the first edition of IPL. The Gujarat Lions have players who can help the team upset giants and one can expect a good result from the team in its debut season

Squad: Suresh Raina (captain), Dwayne Bravo, James Faulkner, Aaoron Finch, Ravindra Jadeja, Dinesh Karthik, Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Andrew Tye, Dale Steyn, Praveen Kumar, Sarabjeet Ladda, Akashdeep Nath, Amit Mishra, Paras Dogra, Eklavya Dwivedi, Ishan Kishan, Shadab Jakati, Shivil Kaushik, Pradeep Sangwan, Jaydev Shah, Umang Sharma and Pravin Tambe

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