When the batting is so heavily dependent on one batsman, as Gujarat Lions is on Brendon McCullum, it’s always going to be a challenge on occasions he fails to fire.
In Saturday’s game, Mumbai Indians huffed and puffed to a total of 143. In the Indian Premier League at the Wankhede Stadium, only a few teams have managed to defend such a total. However, Mumbai’s hopes soared when they prized out the former New Zealand opener with just 12 on board.
As expected, from there, it turned into a close contest. However, Gujarat’s other opener Aaron Finch emerged from his illustrious partner’s shadow to play a lone hand to keep his team in the hunt right till the end. It all boiled down to 11 off the last six balls and with Dhawal Kulkarni holding his nerves, Finch took his team through off the last ball and with three wickets to spare. In the process, battling cramps, the Australian import hit his third successive half-century as Gujarat made it three wins in three.
It was a heroic performance as the only real support Finch got was from Suresh Raina, who helped him put on 53 runs for the second wicket. Though wickets kept falling from the other end, Finch carried on.
Before Finch, it was impressive to watch Raina marshal his troops with confidence. After outwitting MS Dhoni at Rajkot, he proved equal to Rohit Sharma, both among the most successful captains in the IPL with two titles each.
The Wankhede wicket was helpful for the bowlers, but Raina was spot on with his bowling changes. At Rajkot, he started by rotating his bowlers furiously, hardly using them even for back-to-back overs. At the Wankhede, he used Praveen Kumar and Dhawal Kulkarni straight up through the powerplay overs. The two thrived in the challenge and Mumbai Indians were 31 for two at the end of six overs, at a run rate of 5.16. Kumar had 3-0-18-0, Kulkarni’s figures read 3-1-11-2.
The true test is about bringing the best out of your back-up bowlers. And, that is what Raina managed at the Wankhede. Apart from the opening burst by his new ball openers, the way he used Shadab Jakati was impressive.
Making a comeback to IPL after a long gap, Jakati was naturally nervous in his first game and went for 40 runs in Rajkot. The left-arm spinner, only playing because star bowler Ravindra Jadeja was unavailable, surprised everyone with a return of 3-1-13-1. In the two overs, the 44-year-old Pravin Tambe bowled, he prized out Parthiv Patel and Kieron Pollard.
Having played all his cricket so far under Dhoni, it could very well be the Dhoni influence. There is the Dhoni calmness, which is emotionless, and then we are seeing the Raina-calm, which is a smiling, cool face. He is extremely approachable for the youngsters, and being affable in the dressing room, his team is responding well to his style of captaincy.
Kulkarni, for whom it was the first IPL game of the season, will have similar words for his captain. For both his wickets, the trap was well set with the batsmen, Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya, playing straight to the square-leg fielder, Jakati. Raina bowled all his four inside 10 overs as Kulkarni finished with 4-1-19-2 against his home city team.
In Saturday’s game, the only time Raina didn’t look in control was the period from 16th to the 20th overs when Mumbai Indians collected 55 runs in 24 balls, New Zealander Tim Southee hitting a valuable cameo of 25 from 11 to give Mumbai Indians’ total a measure of respectability.