Synopsis: Ex-CSKians Dwayne Smith and Brendon McCullum hurt former skipper MS Dhoni, whose underwhelming bowlers, especially the listless Ravichandran Ashwin, render Steve Smith’s maiden T20 ton futile. The end though is frantic, but like against Delhi, Gujarat keep their nerves.
Ex-CSK pair hurt ex-captain
Among the first set of players Gujarat Lions aggressively haggled for in the IPL auction was Dwayne Smith. They eventually snapped Smith, who had attached a base price of Rs 50 lakh, for Rs 2.3 crore. The reason they were so desperate to own him was obvious, for he Smith and Brendon McCullum, who they had purchased earlier, had formed an indomitable opening pair for Chennai Super Kings. In 2014, they aggregated 42.75 per match in 12 outings at a strike rate in excess of 120. McCullum racked up 405 runs while Smith excelled him with 566 runs. The subsequent edition saw them plunder 436 and 399 runs respectively, reaching a collective crescendo en route piling up 109 runs in 7.2 overs against Mumbai. So reuniting them made much logic.
For some reason, Smith wasn’t even in the eleven for the first three matches. But against RCB, the prolific pair was reunited and they immediately showed their menace, combining 47 runs in just 5.2 overs. In the next match, against Delhi Daredevils, they propelled their side to a breakneck start, reeling off 112 runs off 11.4 overs. They continued on their same destructive form against Pune, plundering 93 off 8.1 overs in a steep pursuit of 195 runs. Smith was the quieter of the lot-albeit comparatively-while McCullum toyed with Pune’s bowlers, muscling away to 43 off 22 balls. The foundation was so strong enough that even some shakiness at the fag end didn’t matter much in the end.
Ravichandran Ashwin, who has been such an influential figure in almost every other MSD side, has been a largely uninspiring figure in this tournament. Prior to this match, he had taken only two wickets in six matches. He didn’t add another to his tally in this match either. Though he hasn’t been very expensive, what Dhoni would want is Ashwin the wicket-taker. On Friday, he was expensive as well, leaking 37 runs in four overs.
Maiden ton goes futile
Steve Smith wasn’t in the middle of a wretched run, but he was not quite making contributions that mattered to the team, or swung their fortunes around. The odd 30 wasn’t benefiting his team. The 36-ball unbeaten 46 in the previous match had telegraphed that he was slowly rekindling the sort of lethal form he had been enjoying for most part of the last two years. The sort of lethal form that could give the newbies a fresh impetus in their otherwise flailing campaign, more so in the absence of Kevin Pietersen.
On Friday, he produced arguably a knock that could have a more lasting, almost redemptive, impact on his team, though they eventually lost the match. He gave the much-needed combustibility to a side that has over-relied on opener Ajinkya Rahane. The latter is a reliable batsmen in this format, but not quite the one who psyches out bowlers, which Smith is most capable of. He began by de-fanging the understated cunning of Praveen Kumar, who was a picture of measuredness against Delhi Daredevils. His pronounced back and across sucks bowlers to target his middle and leg-stump. But by doing so, they are just playing into his strengths, as he is near infallible on the leg-side.
Kumar understood this the very first ball he faced. The very first ball Smith faced, he gently feathered the inswinger through fine-leg for a boundary. Kumar tried to over-compensate by bowling outside the off-side, but the lack of pace and swing meant that Smith could take a few liberties. He shimmied down the track to smear him over cover. The slightly shaken Kumar then gift-wrapped him a leg-side half-volley, which he tickled through fine leg.
For most part of his rein at the crease, bowlers were quite confused as where to bowl at him. As have found better bowlers in the past one and a half years in all forms of the game, there isn’t quite a specific weak zone in his rather unique technique. Only in England where the ball holds its line after shaping in has he looked a little hassled . Even then, it wasn’t a vulnerability, as he soon soon found a way around it. In fact, it was debutant chinaman bowler Shivil Kaushik who surprised him on a few instances. He, in fact, castled him-though it was Smith’s own fault, as he tried to slog-sweep one from outside the off-stump-only for the replays to affirm the umpire’s suspicion that it was a no ball.
At one stage, Gujarat Lions seemed to accomplish the target without any fuss. At the start of the 17th over, they required 35 off 24 balls with a well-set Suresh Raina and Dinesh Karthik. But two Ashok Dinda overs restored suspense. In the first, he took out Karthik, in the second, he dismissed Dwayne Bravo before Saurabh Tiwary ran out Ravindra Jadeja. Suddenly, they needed nine runs off the last over-quite an achievable task-but Thisara Perera nailed Suresh Raina before Ishan Kishan was run out. But James Faulkner, on his birthday, wrapped off the match for the Lions.
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