Lions hurt by inability to defend totals
Where they finished
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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