With a lukewarm crowd response at the established centres, the Indian Premier League is banking on the new venues to improve gate sales.
In what should help infuse some life into the tournament, the Gujarat Lions treated their fans to the kind of excitement associated with the slam bang version of the game. They made a perfect start at home by winning the match-up between the two debutant teams at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium.
Suresh Raina’s men came up with a fine all-round performance to stump Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Rising Pune Supergiants by seven wickets. After local favourite Ravindra Jadeja’s brilliant effort of 4-0-18-2, openers Aaron Finch and Brendon McCullum smashed 85 runs in 8.3 overs to take Gujarat to the top of table with two wins in two matches.
In a game lifted by fine performances from some former Chennai Super Kings players in both sides, it turned out to be a game of two halves after Dhoni won the toss.
In the first 10 overs, the Pune Supergiants took control with a calculated assault from Kevin Pietersen and Faf du Plessis. But in the next 10 overs, the seasoned bowlers of Gujarat turned the tables with a series of tight overs. From 87 for one in 10 overs, to finish on 163 for five was poor batting. But for Dhoni’s heroics in the 20-run final over, it would have been even more difficult for the purple brigade.
If Pune harboured ambitions of defending their runs, their confidence was quickly punctured by the Gujarat openers. Failing to make an impression in the first game for his new outfit, McCullum launched into a trademark assault on the new ball to provide the early impetus to Gujarat’s innings.
Finch complemented the Kiwi well. He stood in his crease and targeted any width given by Ishant Sharma and RP Singh, by playing shots over the in-field on the off-side. It was an effective strategy. Both Ishant and RP looked rattled.
After 38 for no loss in four overs, Dhoni was forced to fall back on his spin spearhead, R Ashwin, for the fifth over. The off-spinner started well, restricting the openers to four runs.
However, Dhoni seemed to have erred in team selection by going for a pace-heavy attack while Gujarat had mapped the conditions well and added two spinners to their line-up, changing a winning combination.
From the other end, Dhoni could offer little support for Ashwin. Rookie leg-spinner M Ashwin had a good debut against Mumbai Indians. Here, Finch gave him a reality check, greeting him with four fours in a 20-run over. At the end of the Powerplay, the hosts had raced to 62 for no loss at a run rate of 10.33.
To add to Pune’s problems, their medium-pacers lacked the guile and control of the likes of Bravo and James Faulkner and became easy prey to the Gujarat openers. On a sluggish wicket, the batsmen loved it against the pacers as the ball came nicely onto the bat.
M Ashwin came back well to pick up couple of wickets, but the openers had already done the damage.