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Return with a Roar: A Gujarat Lions Post Auction & Pre-Season Review

Suresh Raina (image from espncricinfo.com)

Suresh Raina will lead the Gujarat Lions once again. (image from espncricinfo.com)

While the Gujarat Lions had an excellent season on the field in 2016, it is key to appreciate all the work they put in before the season even began, starting right from the Player Draft in December 2015 – where the spoils of the suspended Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals were divided between the Lions and the Rising Pune Supergiants. While Pune went for the batsmen, Gujarat picked five very all-round players, beyond whom they would not need to spend too much to build a strong team. This was an invaluable foresight, given that they had to build from scratch in an auction that not only had limited marquee players to begin with, but would also have to contend with other franchises with fewer players to buy, and more to spend. In the end, GL entered IPL 2016 with a squad closely resembling that of the Chennai Super Kings in 2015, with all their overseas strength invested in their top and middle order, and a robust Indian bowling lineup, even if not the best.

The results went their way, as they topped the table in the league stages before eventually bowing out after successive losses in the Playoffs to the eventual finalists Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad. Their key issue was that while their bowling lineup was – more often than not – solid enough to keep any opposing batting units to totals within the chasing range of their batting lineup. However, that same bowling lineup lacked the ability to defend totals posted by their batting lineup. This is shown as only 2 of their 7 losses came while chasing, but only 1 of their 9 wins came defending. Addressing this issue would have been their main concern in this auction. Here’s how they fared:

GL Auction Results - Property of IPLgeek.com.

On the whole, the only thing GL seemed interested in was strengthening their Indian bowling contingent. Barring Ekalavya Dwivedi, even all of their unsuccessful bids – Pawan Negi, Aniket Choudhary, Karn Sharma, and Varun Aaron – are all Indian bowlers. This indicates that they are looking to retain the same squad composure, with the beefed-up top and middle order, followed by a largely Indian bowling lineup. Chirag Suri – the first UAE player to be offered an IPL contract – was also a talking point from the Lions’ auction.

Once again, it was fairly smart auctioning from GL; they didn’t splurge on one player, but looked to pick up a wide range of different players to help remedy their situation. It will also be interesting to see Munaf Patel and Manpreet Gony back in the mix of things again – neither has represented an IPL team since 2013, but both offer skills and experience that will be invaluable to the GL lineup.

However, one key point they did not address was the issue of their overseas all-rounders. Their top order firepower is matched by few in the competition (especially when you add Jason Roy to the mix), but they did not address the issue of Dwayne Bravo. Bravo is still recovering from an injury he sustained in the Big Bash League, and is likely to miss at least the first few games for the Lions. It would have served them well to have an additional all-rounder – such as Chris Woakes, perhaps – to hold fort, especially considering James Faulkner had a fairly unremarkable 2016 season. Yet, nothing has suggested that Bravo’s injury is serious enough to keep him out of the entire tournament, which means that Faulkner could perform his duties until he returns.

GL had a pretty decent auction, picking up a truckload of Indian youth as well as some experienced faces, and should enter IPL 2017 ready to roar.Now, check out my dynamic for their playing XI:

GL Playing XI Dynamic - Property of IPLgeek.com.

Note: This dynamic represents possible scenarios of my own deduction, and have no direct affiliation with the actual plans of the GL team management.

Jason Roy is not likely to feature unless either Dwayne Smith, Brendon McCullum or Aaron Finch is injured or has a lean run. However, Roy’s aggressive technique and ability matches that of his colleagues, and having someone like him as a reserve will go a long way for GL. All said, however, an interesting move would be to play him ahead of Dwayne Bravo while he is injured. While this might disrupt the overall balance of the lineup while weakening the bowling, the prospect of a top order consisting of McCullum, Roy, Raina, Smith, Finch and Dinesh Karthik is undoubtedly very tempting. Regardless, GL fans will be hoping to see the belligerent Englishman plundering runs under their flag in 2017.

The bowling is likely to be a mix of old and new. Praveen Kumar and Dhawal Kulkarni – who had solid returns in 2017 – are likely to stay, and Nathu Singh is likely to make it in as a third seamer. He beats out Munaf Patel and Manpreet Gony on youth, and because his extra pace would bring a little more diversity to skipper Raina’s attack. Shivil Kaushik will likely play as the main specialist spinner, given pretty solid returns last season.

Chirag Suri made history as the first UAE player to receive an IPL contract, but if he was looking to make it into the playing XI there are few other teams in which he would have a lower chance of making it. Like Jason Roy, he would have to count on an injury/a poor run of form from one of the Lions’ first-choice overseas batsmen to make the cut. His best scenario would be if this were to happen while Dwayne Bravo is out on injury, and if the Lions’ bowling attack puts up solid displays, negating the need for James Faulkner. While it may be a long shot, it would no doubt be a memorable moment for Suri, his country, and the IPL at large, if he were to make it into the XI.

Given GL’s issues with all-rounders, the form of Ravindra Jadeja will be vital for GL’s success. Although ever-reliable with the ball, Jadeja has flattered to deceive with the bat (191 runs, SR 107.30), leaving the Lions’ lineup dangerously exposed beyond the top order. That said, he has played a number of gutsy knocks down the order for the Indian test side in recent times, and the Lions will hope he can do the same for them come game time.

The Gujarat Lions will make their first appearance of the season on April 6th, as they lock horns with the Kolkata Knight Riders at home.

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