Like Rising Pune Supergiants did in the tournament opener against Mumbai Indians on Saturday, Suresh Raina’s Gujarat Lions, too, made it a maiden appearance to remember in the Indian Premier League 2016, registering a convincing five-wicket win over Kings XI Punjab at the PCA Stadium in Mohali on Monday (April 11).
Set a target of 162 for victory, Gujarat raced past the target in 17.4 overs riding on Aaron Finch’s blistering 47-ball 74 and Dinesh Karthik’s unbeaten 41 from 26 balls.
Raina, who chose to bowl after winning the toss, did admit that he expected the prominent green tinge on the track to help his swing bowlers extract two-way movement. To be fair to Raina, that did happen, but only for the first two overs.
Praveen Kumar’s eyes lit up when the first ball he bowled at M Vijay curled sharply into the batsman, getting an inside edge and rolling down to the fielder at midwicket. Praveen made the ball move both ways for the rest of the over, and Pradeep Sangwan, bowling from the city end, followed in his footsteps, troubling the batsmen with four swerving dot deliveries. But just when it looked like the bowlers were on top, Vijay smacked the fifth and sixth balls of the over for a six and a four. There was no noticeable swing on offer for the Gujarat bowlers for the rest of the evening, and Vijay and Manan Vohra were quick to pick that up.
The two took Punjab to 71 in eight overs, before Vohra finally fell to Ravindra Jadeja’s left-arm spin, edging one to Karthik, who had to sprint to grab the ball that had ricocheted off the batsman’s pad after hitting the inside edge of the bat.
But the fall of the wicket didn’t seem to make any difference to Vijay’s approach, as he continued to pick up the boundaries and rotated the strike regularly to keep the scoreboard ticking. He reached 42 off 34 balls with some elegant strokes but eventually succumbed to Jadeja, who bowled smartly to go past Vijay’s defence.
At the end of the 11th over, the scoreboard read 98 for 2, and the stage was set for some big hitting with David Miller and Glen Maxwell out in the middle. Sensing the potential threat, Raina tossed the ball to Dwayne Bravo, and the West Indian all-rounder did not disappoint. Two slow-dipping yorkers in his very over accounted for both Miller and Maxwell, rattling Punjab, whose hopes were then pinned on the last recognised batting pair of Wriddhiman Saha and Marcus Stoinis.
Saha (20) and Stoinis (33) did string a fifth-wicket stand of 55 in 45 balls to get their side past the 150-run mark, but a disciplined final over from Bravo, who returned career-best figures of 4 for 22, forced Punjab to end on 161 for 6 on the board. It could have been even better for Bravo—5 for 20—had Sarabjit Ladda not fluffed the simple chance from Axar Patel at short third man off the final ball of the innings.
Gujarat’s chase didn’t really get off to the best of starts, with the dangerous Brendon McCullum falling in the first over, stumped by Saha off Sandeep Sharma.
But Finch, who struck 43 off 34 balls against India just two weeks ago in a World Twenty20 clash at the same venue, looked in great touch, repeatedly sending the ball across the boundary ropes once he had set his eyes in.
At the other end, Raina struck two sixes and a four in his nine-ball knock of 20 before playing a slower delivery from Stoinis straight to Mitchell Johnson at mid-off, bringing Finch and Karthik together.
Finch piled up the runs to diffuse the pressure almost completely, but when Saha stumped him off Pardeep Sahu’s bowling in the 12th over, and Jadeja was run out by some nifty footwork from Johnson two overs later, there must have been a few nerves in the Gujarat camp, with Karthik in the middle with young Ishan Kishan to get Gujarat over the line.
Karthik, who had been picked up by Gujarat for Rs 2.3 crore at the auction in February despite an average season with Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2015, held firm and completed the job, keeping the chase on track despite the few hiccups towards the end.
Mint has a content partnership with Wisden India for the IPL 9 season.