Gujarat Lions roped in seasoned batsmen Suresh Raina, Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch and Dwayne Smith. Even then their batting appeared disjointed. With Finch, McCullum and Smith, all regular openers, it appeared top heavy. And when Raina decided to bat at No 3, the middle-order became non-existent.
Then, to comeback and finish at the top of the table is commendable. There are shades of Rajasthan Royals’ in the way they have stumped opponents in the opening season. Like Shane Warne’s 2008 team, the Lions have managed well with limited resources.
Apart from Raina, a lot of credit should go to coach Brad Hodge. Most impressive has been the way how he has got the middle-order going in the absence of options. At various stages he has plucked men from the top order and pushed them down,and on most occasions it has worked. In the middle part of the league, Finch was asked to adjust and in the last two games it is Smith. Only Dinesh Karthik is a regular in the middle overs, and given the responsibility to hold the innings together, he has not done badly.
On Tuesday, against RCB, with the entire top-order flopping, it was Smith (73 runs) and Karthik’s (26) performance which prevented Gujarat from a rout. From a dismal return of 23 for three in the first six overs of field restrictions, it was Smith’s 85-run partnership with Karthik which helped them recover to 158. These were the type of plans which were the hallmark of Warne’s warriors in the opening season.
Playing a rampaging RCB at home was always going to be an uphill task and they crashed under pressure, but their consistency in the league stage means the Lions will have another chance for a shot at the final.
For Hodge, it has helped relive the Rajasthan Royals days. Along with Warne, he was among the few seasoned players in that blue brigade and they lifted the youngsters.
With Dale Steyn going through a lean patch, their bowling attack too has lacked a clear spearhead. But, if Royals had Sohail Tanveer, Lions have Praveen Kumar and Dhawal Kulkarni to give the early breakthroughs.
Heath Streak, their bowling coach, declared that not banking on one person has been the key. “It’s been the catalyst for us. Everyone has contributed. That’s a nice thing and hopefully we can put a good team effort. That’s why we’ve ended where we have.”