Scouting the Teams – Gujarat Lions

Despite being the IPL’s leading side throughout the round robin phase, the Gujarat Lions faltered in the Eliminators and left a lot to be desired by the Lions owner, 26-year-old entrepreneur Keshav Bansal. But we’re here to talk fantasy and the Gujarat Lions seem like a settled franchise with a combination of a solid Indian base and reliable overseas options, led by a captain-coach makeup of the experienced Suresh Raina and ‘new kid on the block’ Brad Hodge.

Establishing the Core

The Lions batting line-up is unlikely to see much change from last years group of players with Jason Roy the only truly notable addition to the top order. However he is likely to face heavy competition for an opening role with Aaron Finch, Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith already established opening options for the franchise.

But who should will open the innings? Let’s take a history lesson…(skip to ‘Filling the Blanks’ for this part)

screenshot-2017-02-23-at-14-52-27Besides from the openers the rest of the batting lineup pretty much picks itself. Captain Suresh Raina will assume his usual role at #3, forming the base of the innings following the (likely) departure of the hit or miss Lions openers. His susceptibility against the short ball is worrisome and his IPL9 form was somewhat disappointing as Raina registered just three 50+ scores despite coming in during the power play and getting starts in most games but his opportunity here makes him a prime fantasy candidate given the uncertainty surrounding the Lions openers.

There was a surprising resurgence from wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik following a torrid IPL8 in the lower order at RCB. DK played multiple matchwinning knocks from #4 for the Lions, possessing slogging skills at the death but his fantasy potential relies on situation, particularly Gujarat batting first and him likely getting a bat towards the end of the innings or the Lions facing a large total to chase as he is somewhat ineffective coming in during the early overs, take these things into account before selecting DK as your Lions option.

Indian talent Ishan Kishan might be given exposure in this IPL edition but i’d be hesitant to invest in him from the off. Kishan’s ability to slog spinners out of the park might see him as a flexible option in an unflexible Lions batting line-up, with spinners generally deployed in the middle overs his fantasy prospects depending on the success of the upper order, otherwise he may not come in. Again, his situation is too rocky to give reliable off points.

Despite a downturn in his batting in recent years DJ Bravo’s skills as a death bowler, showcasing his deceptive slower ball variations will continue to keep his name among overseas fantasy options, even after a disappointing IPL9 in my view. Don’t get me wrong, 17 wickets is a good haul for an IPL campaign(maybe not after 26 in the prior campaign) and saw him ranked =5th in that department but both his average of 29.05 and economy rate of 8.82 are below par, his economy rate being the worst in the top 20 wicket takers in the IPL. It will be interesting to see whether he returns to his matchwinning best but a hamstring injury in the Big Bash may see him miss the start of the tournament at least.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed. Bravo may not be available for the full season. I am in constant touch with him as he is undergoing the final phase of rehab in Miami,” said Keshav Bansal before the auction.

DJ Bravo’s compatriot Dwayne Smith is likely to be deployed in a middle order pinch hitting role, his ability against pacers should see him capitalise on the vital death overs but this situation is unlikely to see him as a fantasy option as his role is far too hit and miss to invest in.

James Faulkner‘s dire showing last year should deter the Lions thinktank from his selection given his ineffectiveness outside the death overs, but with DJ Bravo’s injury his death bowling could see him as a placeholder during Bravo’s layoff, beware as his fantasy potential is very limited to death bowling success, forget his supposed ability as a ‘finisher’ as the Lions already have players in that role.

Drafted in after two games last season, Dhawal Kulkarni proved to be the Lions’ MVP after collecting 18 wickets @20.22 with an ecomony rate of 7.42 rpo. However his fantasy season was anything but MVP worthy with four of his games accounting for just under 70% of Kulkarni’s fantasy points.

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So take this as your BIG word of warning before you go picking Dhawal Kulkarni based on his IPL 2016 overall score, unless however you managed to pick the four games in which he bowls a maiden, picks up 2-4 wickets and is extremely economical, and I don’t fancy picking those.

Left arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja remains a surefire starter in the Lions XI as an economical middle over bowler. Sir Jadeja only managed 8 wickets in 15 appearances last season and used somewhat sparingly by Raina, frequently not bowling his full quota and his inability to take wickets will take him off the table as a fantasy option under the current scoring format.

Filling the Blanks

Ok so you want that history lesson?

Finch & McCullum formed the opening partnership for the first four games prior to Aaron Finch’s injury, which subsequently meant Dwayne Smith replaced Finch for the next four games. Dwayne Smith found form at the top of the order with scores of 53(30) & 63(37) and when Finch returned the Australian was at one drop for one game before assuming the ‘finishing’ role at #5 and he was a success there, scoring 25+ in all four of his middle order knocks. Smith’s form tumbled and the roles were reversed, Finch opened oncemore in the final round robin game and the Qualifier 1 but after scores of 0(2) & 4(6) he joined Smith in the middle order giving Dwivedi the opening berth. (All of this happened whilst McCullum opened in all 16 of GLs games)

*And breath*

Ok so what we can assume from this is that Hodge & co. are BIG on McCullum opening as the dropped both Dw.Smith AND Finch into finishing roles. What’s curious about this is how adept a finishing role would be for McCullum given his ability to smoke pacers, his incompetence against spin and successive inabilities to convert starts into match winning knocks. Whereas Dw.Smith and Finch have shown capabilities to produce match winning performances opening the innings and are somewhat competent against spinners in the middle overs(at least in comparison to Baz). But wait, where does Jason Roy fit into this? Well Roy, like McCullum, faces struggles against spin, particularly first up in an innings. Whilst the duo opened together in the PSL, an IPL franchise cannot be that silly enough to have two players with similar flaws opening the innings can they? Besides, McCullum even dropped himself down the order in one game due to his lack of form and constant dismissals against spin.

TL;DR?

Ok, we *probably* haven’t got anywhere but if I had to call the opening duo right now I think Finch & McCullum will resume their opening partnership as Hodge intent from the start of IPL9 with Dw.Smith coming in at #5. Saying that I wouldn’t entirely rule out Jason Roy as a starting option. Finch is the better bet of the likely openers, with McCullum susceptible to spinners early on even if it isn’t spinning and continuous slogging regardless of match state suggests a largely boom or bust output from the Kiwi. Finch is also a liability against spin but if there is nothing from the pitch you’d back him to make multiple matchwinning knocks, similar to last season where he somewhat overachieved. Finch is a pitch dependent player.

There are a couple of bowling slots to fill for Gujarat alongside Bravo/Faulkner, Kulkari and Jadeja and the Lions made multiple additions in the IPL auction to add competition in this department.

After an injury plagued campaign for Mumbai Indians last year pace bowler Nathu screenshot-2017-02-24-at-15-12-08Singh was picked up for 50 lakhs and is spoken highly of with Anil Kumble saying he’s “one for the future”, he is a rare Indian talent who has the ability to hit 140kmph consistently and possess a high, quick action with a bit of swing early on. Medium paced seamer Basil Thampi set GL back 85 lakhs and boasts an impressive 22.19 average through 23 T20 games in his young career. 33-year-old Manpreet Gony provides a more experienced option for the Raina led side after a 60 lakhs purchase. Praveen Kumar remains at the Lions but i’d be surprised to see him keep a permanent spot over young pacers Nathu Singh and Basil Thampi despite an OK IPL9 season.

Nathu Singh should get the nod and his likely cheap price will see him attract plenty of suitors for his talents, I wouldn’t expect too much too early but his wicket-taking prowess as the Lions first change bowler shouldn’t go unnoticed. The only downside to Singh is his tendency to overstep which is very costly in T20’s elite competition.

One player that we haven’t talked about is left-arm chinaman Shivil Kaushik, still only 21 years of age and regarded as a mystery spinner due to his unorthodox action he saw action last year, picking up 6 wickets @ 32 in 7 games with an economy rate of 8.34. Whilst still a raw player, Kaushik should play on the basis of the Lions not purchasing another spinner for competition.

What have we learnt?

Picking an IPL team is really hard when you’re not an ITK and this just shows it. There are quite a few permutations that will determine the shape of the Lions team but there is a group of electable fantasy batsman from the off in Aaron Finch, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik. The shaky bowling line-up should certainly be avoided until we have further clarity as to DJ Bravo’s injury and whom of the Indian talentpool will be selected alongside him. The Lions are an average IPL team who should be competitive throughout, making them a good side to invest in and against.

 

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