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All-round Gujarat top table after clinical win

Wisden India logo Wisden India 14-04-2016

A large contingent of Rajkot’s youth population spent the Thursday (April 14) morning dancing on the streets celebrating Dr BR Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary, and then turned up with their orange flags at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in the evening to mark the city’s Indian Premier League debut. What they saw must have left an indelible impression on them, as Gujarat Lions marked their homecoming with an authoritative seven-wicket win over Rising Pune Supergiants.

Brendon McCullum (49) and Aaron Finch (50) mesmerised the almost full house with a batting performance befitting the occasion. Their opening partnership of 85 runs in 8.3 overs ensured that Gujarat never faced any hassles in their chase of 164, and strolled to their second win within the first week of the competition, achieving victory with two overs to spare.

Pune’s bowlers lacked the wherewithal to test Gujarat’s formidable opening pair, as they toyed with the bowlers at will. McCullum made Rudra Pratap Singh look like a schoolboy. Then, Finch mastered M Ashwin with four fours in the sixth over before taking a liking to Rajat Bhatia. By the end of the seventh over, Gujarat were 75 for no loss, and the end result of the game was never in doubt after that.

As spectacular as McCullum and Finch were, the game was won and lost in the middle overs of Pune’s innings after they elected to bat first on a run-filled track.

Pravin Tambe, one of the three changes Gujarat made to their line-up from the previous game, got a tentative Ajinkya Rahane leg before with a googly in the fourth over before Faf du Plessis and Kevin Pietersen put up an aesthetic batting display. The manner in which they attacked Dwayne Bravo in his first over, taking the most experienced T20 bowler across both teams for two sixes, was symbolic of their control during an 86-run stand off just 61 balls.

Pune were 111 for 1 in 13 overs when Suresh Raina brought Bravo back from the pavilion end. A master of taking the pace off the ball, Bravo once again displayed his canniness that effectively curtailed the momentum of the innings when he bowled Pietersen with a slow in-dipper with the last ball of the 14th over. Bravo broke into a ‘Champion’ dance jig, the dismissal looking almost predictable as the batsman walked back with a knowing smile.

That was the second of the four bowling changes made by Raina that fetched Gujarat a wicket, and the most important one. Du Plessis was elegant during his knock of 69, but he was stumped when Tambe cramped him for space in the 16th over. Then, four balls later, Ravindra Jadeja bowled a wide delivery, which Steven Smith dutifully hit to the sweeper cover fielder. Jadeja bowled Mitchell Marsh with a faster one and conceded just two runs in the 19th over as suddenly the bearings came off Pune’s innings. The 31 balls starting from Pietersen’s departure produced just one four and six and cost Pune four wickets, as Gujarat made a grand comeback to their own party.

Things could have been much worse for Pune had Gujarat not missed three run-out chances and Mahendra Singh Dhoni not shown his trademark street-smarts to collect 20 runs off the final over bowled by Bravo to take his team to 163 for 5.

At the mid-innings break, Raina’s move to not give Praveen Kumar and James Faulkner, who together conceded 27 runs in their four overs, their full quota was debated, but McCullum and Finch did not give critics a chance to question their captain’s strategy.

Soon after reaching his second consecutive fifty in the competition, Finch was caught at fine-leg when M Ashwin changed ends in the ninth over. McCullum added 35 runs with Raina before du Plessis held on to a skier at cover. M Ashwin had Raina stumped, but it was fitting that Bravo and Jadeja, the local boy, who had both brought Gujarat back to the game on the field and were Dhoni’s key men at Chennai Super Kings, finished the job in a game that, on the Tamil New Year Day, was dubbed the #CSKDerby on social media.

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