Two teams, who made their debut last year and had contrasting journeys thereafter, return on equal footing, as they prepare for a season that could be their last as a franchise. At this point, both Gujarat Lions and Rising Pune Supergiants are languishing at the bottom of the points table, desperately needing an injection to bring them back to their senses.
The Lions, in particular, have looked hopelessly out of depth this season, failing to get the right start after the first two matches. However, it is a long tournament, and the way Suresh Raina’s troops went uphill with a string of wins last season, they might end up doing something similar this time as well.
Here’s the probable XI for their game against Pune:
It is time for McCullum to shine. He got off to a start in the first game, but had a poor second encounter. His each failure puts more pressure on the next batsmen to get the runs flowing, for the Kiwi, when in form, can totally tear the bowling attack apart.
While the English opener can set the ball rolling with a few boundaries upfront, he becomes exposed against the spin attack, a feature that is one of the strengths of the Pune outfit. If he indeed is dropped, Dwayne Smith, who lends balance with his medium pace, could get a look in at the top of the order.
The lynchpin of the batting line-up, captain Raina showed the way with a stroke filled half century. He is now the leading run-getter in all of IPL, and needs to keep the spirits up of a side that might be bogged down by the poor start.
An assured glovesman and a dependable middle-order player, Dinesh Karthik is one of the most vital components of the Lions’ batting line-up, possessing the ability to change gears as and when the situation demands. He came close to scoring a 50 in one of the two games, and will look to add to his tally of 12 IPL fifties.
He might have announced his retirement from international cricket, but Dwayne Smith, who recently turned 34, is still a force to reckon with in the IPL. A bits and pieces cricketer, Smith’s hard hitting came to the fore in the previous match against Sunrisers Hyderabad, but the West Indian went for 23 runs in the only over he bowled.
Perhaps, the man Lions needed to reverse their fortunes, Ravindra Jadeja, the toast of Team India’s 13-Test home season, finally returns to the IPL. The world’s no.1 bowler in Tests, Jadeja is a lethal weapon in T20Is as well, hurling deliveries with pin-point accuracy that can choke the best of batsman. Add to that his recently improved batting, and you have the complete package the Lions desperately needed.
It might be high time to unleash the Australian all-rounder in this season, for the Lions look very insipid in their bowling department. Known for his back of the hand slower deliveries and hard hitting that can change the game in a jiffy, Faulkner who was recently part of Australia’s ODI and T20I fixtures, can be an X-factor to the Gujarat franchise.
A nippy fast bowler who can bowls in the 140s, Thampi is also an able batsman who can wield the long handle when required, like he showed against SRH. However, he failed to impress with the ball, not being able to stick to the right lines in the face of a David Warner onslaught. The think tank should keep faith in him, at least for one more match.
One-half of the new ball bowling attack, Dhawal Kulkarni is one of the few Indian bowlers to have played all editions of the IPL. His sly off-cutters can be useful in the death overs, so can be his swing with the brand new ball in the powerplays.
He might have changed quite a lot since his IPL hattrick days in 2009, but Praveen Kumar, with his shrewd mind, can still make the ball talk. A bowler who relies more on mind power than raw pace, Praveen Kumar has got enough experience to devise instant plans to stifle the run-flow, and get the odd batsman out to his guile.
He might not be as big a mystery as he was last year, but Shivil Kaushik, who has so far been wicketless this season, certainly brings another dimension to their bowling attack. He doesn’t play first class cricket and isn’t their best fielder, factors that might limit his participation in the tournament, should he fail again.