Gujarat Lions walked into the 2017 Indian Premier League knowing this was probably going to be their last time together as a group, irrespective of the outcome at the end of the six-week spectacle. Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings are set to replace Gujarat and Rising Pune Supergiant next year, and while Steven Smith and Co. can still make their final bout a memorable one, Gujarat will be disappointed with their campaign, which saw them finish seventh on the eight-team points table with 10 losses in 14 games. To be fair, injuries played a big role in Gujarat’s downfall, with Dwayne Bravo ruled out of the tournament, Ravindra Jadeja missing out on the initial part of the competition and Andrew Tye hurt midway through.
By the time Gujarat travelled to Kolkata for the 23rd match of the tournament, they were already looking down the barrel with four losses in five games. The disturbing memories of a humiliating loss against the same opponent in their tournament opener came back to haunt them at the halfway mark, when the hosts, sent in to bat, posted an imposing total of 187 for 5 riding on Robin Uthappa’s brilliance in front of a packed house at Eden Gardens.
But the Gujarat top-order, led by Suresh Raina, finally played to their potential to decimate Kolkata’s formidable bowling attack and race to a four-wicket win with 10 balls to spare. The hurricane performance gave the fans hope of a redemption, but it didn’t last long, as they wilted once again, failing to utilise the momentum they had picked up.
What did not work for the team
Two big losses – the 10-wicket thumping in the hands of Kolkata Knight Riders and a nine-wicket capitulation against Sunrisers Hyderabad – at the beginning of their campaign rattled Gujarat’s confidence early into the competition. They tinkered too much in search of the ideal combination and despite Raina, Aaron Finch, Brendon McCullum, Dinesh Karthik and Jason Roy coming up with some solid individual performances, backed by Tye, who led the bowling charts for a while, Gujarat never succeeded in pulling off the collective team effort they needed to succeed in the tournament.
At the end of the league stage, Raina firmly held on to the fourth position in the batting charts with 442 runs scored at an average of 40.18 in 14 games. In the absence of consistent performances from the rest of his batting unit, he stood out and led from the front, keeping Gujarat in the hunt for victories that could have been achieved had their bowlers chipped in with better support. In the end, it was the first time an IPL season ended for Raina, the most capped player in the history of the tournament, at the league stage of the competition. Chennai, his previous team, had registered a top-four finish every year between 2008 and 2015 and Gujarat had topped the league stage last year before eventually finishing third overall.
Gujarat fielded four specialist openers – McCullum, Roy, Finch and Dwayne Smith as their overseas candidates in the playing XI for the first two matches, with Smith batting at as low as No. 6 both times. He racked up a few runs and was promoted to open against Pune, and he reciprocated with a quickfire 47 off 30 to play a hand in Gujarat’s seven-wicket win in that match.
But from then on, his scores read 0, 1, 5, 4, 0 and 9, adding to Gujarat’s lethal plunge into a rut they never came out of. He did finish with two half-centuries in his last three appearances, but even Smith knew he hadn’t done enough to keep his side afloat. “Still disappointed about my performances over the past games,” were his final words on record this year, and only time can tell if the big Barbadian, who recently retired from international cricket, will ever get a chance to redeem himself in the tournament again.
Highest run-getter: Suresh Raina – 442 runs 14 matches, strike-rate 143.97.
Highest wicket-taker: Andrew Tye – 12 wickets in six matches, economy 6.71.