Table-topping Lions start as underdogs in RCB’s fortress

Gujarat Lions Brendon McCullum (L) and Aaron Finch pump fists during the 2016 Indian Premier League(IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Gujarat Lions and Rising Pune Supergiants at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Rajkot on April 14, 2016. ----IMAGE RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - STRICTLY NO COMMERCIAL USE----- / AFP PHOTO / INDRANIL MUKHERJEE


How do you beat Royal Challengers Bangalore in Bangalore? How do you do this when they’ve won four games on the trot? How do you do this when, in those four matches, Virat Kohli has scored 109, 75*, 113 and 54*? And how do you beat that scary, Kohli-powered Royal Challengers side, on their own turf, when your last attempt at doing so resulted in the worst defeat in all IPL matches, by a brutal 144 runs?

Those questions will preoccupy Gujarat Lions as they prepare for Tuesday’s Qualifier 1. It is unusual for a table-topping team, who are one win from a place in a final, to seem like underdogs, but that is what Lions are.

For a table-topping team, Lions have had a strange sort of season, with only Kings XI Punjab, the bottom team, ending the league stage with a worse net run rate than them. It reflects the fact that Lions have suffered a few heavy defeats – including that mauling at Royal Challengers’ hands – and won some exceedingly tight games, with three of their matches going down to the last ball. But the fact that Lions won all three of those last-ball finishes, as well as their one other match that went into the last over, would also suggest they have won the clutch moments, a welcome quality in any team.

Lions will need to summon up all that clutch ability – though readers of Moneyball will helpfully point out that it is a myth – on Tuesday, and come up with some sort of plan to contain – or somehow outscore – Royal Challengers’ batting line-up.

This is T20, of course, and all you need is one good day – a blazing opening stand, perhaps, with Brendon McCullum and Aaron Finch taking apart what is still, despite a couple of encouraging recent displays, an average Royal Challengers bowling attack; or a Suresh Raina special; or a new-ball burst that leaves the home team two down early, with Kohli one of the two batsmen dismissed, and AB de Villiers, maybe, the other. These things can happen. Lions will certainly hope they can.

In the spotlight

Given the Chinnaswamy’s small boundaries and flat pitch, an ability to move the ball through the air is priceless. Praveen Kumar has that ability, and the street-smarts to bowl to one of the most imposing T20 line-ups ever assembled. He comes into the Qualifier with a bit of form behind him: he’s gone for six an over or less in three of his last four matches. The one match when he did go for runs, however, was against Royal Challengers, in Bangalore – his figures read 4-1-45-2, and Gujarat Lions conceded 248.

Yuzvendra Chahal has found a place in India’s ODI and T20 squads for their tour of Zimbabwe, but before he can celebrate, he will need to produce another spell of wicket-taking legspin with his home venue stacking the odds against him. With two left-handers in their top six in Suresh Raina and Ravindra Jadeja, Gujarat Lions may plan to target Chahal and, if he plays, Iqbal Abdulla as well.

Team news

Dale Steyn has played only one match this season, and James Faulkner only seven, with his last appearance coming on May 3. It will be a difficult decision for Gujarat Lions to play either of them, since their four regular overseas players have all done well of late. But it is a sacrifice they may have to contemplate, if they want to strengthen their bowling against the best batting line-up in the tournament. It seems unlikely to happen, though. Likelier is the inclusion of Ishan Kishan, a left-hand batsman, in place of Eklavya Dwivedi, in order to go after the legspin of Yuzvendra Chahal and/or the left-arm spin of Iqbal Abdulla.



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