IPL 2016 May 28, 2016

Lions hurt by inability to defend totals

An over-reliance on the top order and Ravindra Jadeja's indifferent season with bat and ball affected team dynamics and stunted their progress despite being runaway leaders at the halfway mark

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Agarkar: Gujarat Lions faltered with their decision-making

Where they finished

Topped the league table, before losing their Qualifier matches against Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad.

How they got there

New entrants Gujarat Lions were, by and large, the most sorted bunch, and they had results to show for that. They did many things right, starting with the way they put together their squad. While four of their five draft picks were a formulaic assembly of ex-Chennai Super Kings stars, their auction strategy melded experienced pros, proven domestic performers and exciting youngster. With like-for-like replacements for most players, they had every base covered.

But, despite their might on paper, it was playing to potential that made them the pace-setters - with six wins from their first seven games, they were the first to stake a serious claim for a playoff spot. Their victories were mostly set up by booming starts from the top order: five batsmen - captain Suresh Raina, Aaron Finch, Brendon McCullum, Dinesh Karthik and Dwayne Smith - aggregated more than 300 runs, while others teams couldn't muster four such batsmen. They were also better than most sides at the clutch, with three of their first six wins coming either off the last ball or by one run.

But their form took a hit with back-to-back reverses at home, against Kings XI Punjab and Delhi Daredevils, and they went on to lose four of their last seven league matches. However, they lifted their game at the right time to win their two 'home' games in Kanpur and seal a top-two spot. Their weakness lay in defending totals - of the six times they batted first, they won only once - and it proved costly in the Qualifiers.

Highlights

Dhawal Kulkarni emerged as the surprise candidate for the team's best bowler. Not only did he finish as Lions' highest wicket-taker (18) and the most economical bowler (7.42), but he also achieved those with conventional seam-and-swing bowling and by hitting a good length rather than the format's current fad - wide yorkers. Along with Bravo, who took 17 wickets, and on occasions, Praveen Kumar and Kaushik, Kulkarni ensured the team wasn't overly dependent on its batting.

Dwayne Smith didn't get a game until Finch was injured, but he made himself hard to drop with impactful performances. He blasted three half-centuries and registered the highest strike-rate for any Lions batsman who had scored more than 30 runs. Smith had little trouble adapting when slotted in the middle order, and even delivered with the ball at times.

Disappointments

When James Faulkner picked up for INR 5.5 crore at the player draft, was expected to deliver as a finisher, apart from being a gun end-overs bowler. Faulkner, though, disappointed on both flanks - he tallied 77 runs from five innings and picked up only two wickets from seven matches at an economy of 9.82 - and was subsequently dropped.

Ravindra Jadeja had an underwhelming season, particularly with the ball. Despite a few tight spells, exploiting the long boundaries in Rajkot, he registered only eight scalps. That Raina didn't bowl Jadeja in the second Qualifier against Sunrisers Hyderabad pointed to a lack of faith in his striking potential.

Key stats

  • Lions were the only team to score 70 or more in the Powerplays till the end of the Qualifiers. They achieved the feat on four occasions.

  • They are the first team in IPL history to top the points table while having a negative net run rate.

  • Dhawal Kulkarni took 14 wickets in Powerplays - the most by any bowler this IPL.

Best win

Lions were cruising to what looked like a big win in Delhi before Chris Morris unleashed a stunning late assault. With 18 runs required off 12 balls, it took a top-drawer, yorker-heavy 19th over from Praveen for Lions to steal a one-run win.

Worst defeat

After snapping a three-match losing streak with a win over Kolkata Knight Riders, Lions ran into Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Lions opted to field first and were buried under the weight of centuries from AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli. Six of their seven bowlers conceded more than 11 runs an over. Chasing 249, Lions folded up for 104 to hand Royal Challengers the record for the biggest margin of victory for a team in the IPL.

What they need to do next season

Throughout the season, Lions struggled to find a hard-hitting batsman in the lower middle-order, and played Ishan Kishan, Akshdeep Nath and Eklavya Dwivedi at different times. With Bravo and Jadeja inconsistent, it was a slippery route when the top-five batsmen didn't click. They would need to either blood one of the aforementioned three uncapped Indians in the role or find a competent finisher.

In his first full season as captain, Suresh Raina seemed to be on auto-pilot mode when his batsmen were on song, but withered when things deviated from plan. His field placements in the second Qualifier against a raging David Warner were questionable too, but it is possible he will be wiser for the experience.

Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Joe on May 29, 2016, 10:07 GMT

    Ravindra Jadeja needs a thinking Captain like Dhoni who would bring out the bets in him and bowl him at the right spells and send him at times as a pinch hitter as well.

    James Faulkner is also such a crucial player and unplayable when he is in form.

    Today t-20 really has become a team game and every player needs to chip in with Ball, Bat & Field as well.

  • Abhinav on May 29, 2016, 5:16 GMT

    I think that despite being a newbie team in the tournnament, GL has shown a lot of character. They are well balanced and have found an able skipper in Raina. Its unfortunate to not see them in the final but I am sure they will come hard next year. They have won several hearts and fans will be waiting to see them in action next year. Good luck to them.

  • sam on May 29, 2016, 5:06 GMT

    Dhawal Kulkarni of GL and Bhuvi Kumar of SRH have improved a lot. A lot more accurate yorkers, more bowling nous in foxing batsmen, subtle movement both ways (slightly more for Bhuvi), good line and lengths and adding a yard of pace to their previous medium pace (both can touch 140k now). I would like both to open the bowling in the test series in England in 2018; they will make a formidable opening combination. Bhuvi and Ishant (I don't trust Umesh's line and length) should open the bowling in WI tests and both Ashwin and Mishra must play as well in WI tests (and if one of the surfaces is a rank turner Jadeja should be included as 5th bowler).

  •   Cricinfouser on May 28, 2016, 19:10 GMT

    They did not play bad game but two great players warner and abd came out at very crucial time for their own team, after all 3rd best team is gujrat lions in this tournament . Well played GL,

  • J on May 28, 2016, 15:09 GMT

    Lets give credit to batsmen like abd and warner where it is richly deserved. Gujrat bowled quite to put the opposition team in a very tight spot but it was exceptional knocks by two great batsmen which led the opposing teams to victory. I would have loved to have seen Praveen tambe bowl more. He has the heart to take a beating from the batsmen and still try to bowl wicket taking deliveries.

  • Jayaesh on May 28, 2016, 14:09 GMT

    It is a minor miracle that a team which has Jadeja ,Bravo,Faulkner batting in top 6 reach the playoff's in 1st position no less ?? secondly if GL keep playing Top order batsman like Kishan,Dwivedi,A.Nath at no.8 then it's obvious there middle order will struggle. i know it's not there job but has GL over the course of this IPL season given young uncapped Indians a proper chance to showcase there talent ?? may be a Shivil Kaushik otherwise can't thing of anyone else chance. BTW what is Jaidev Niranjan Shah doing in the squad ??

  •   Cricinfouser on May 28, 2016, 12:34 GMT

    Next time buy mahamudulla / nassir as a finishing alrounder.

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