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Magnificent Raina leads Gujarat revival

Wisden India logo Wisden India 21-04-2017

Languishing at the bottom of the points table of the Indian Premier League 2017, Gujarat Lions found inspiration in Suresh Raina, their skipper, to beat Kolkata Knight Riders by four wickets at the Eden Gardens on Friday (April 21), and revive their campaign.

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After seeing Sunil Narine hit nine fours and a six to make 42 off the seamers in the first three overs of the match, Raina brought himself on to take the pace off the ball and had Narine caught just outside the 30-yard circle at midwicket.


Then, he took a well-judged high catch to send Gautam Gambhir back, and made good bowling and fielding changes to restrict Kolkata to 187 for 5, though at one stage they looked like touching well in excess of 200 on the back of Robin Uthappa’s 48-ball 72. Dropped by Uthappa off Narine on 1, Raina rode on his luck to make 84 and steer a tense chase. He could have been bowled at least twice in his 46-ball knock, but luck was on his side as he hit nine fours and four sixes while rotating the strike easily despite seeing four wickets fall on either side of a rain-break. Aaron Finch and Brendon McCullum laid the foundation for Raina with an opening stand of 42 runs in just 3.3 overs.

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Gujarat needed just two balls to hit top gear when McCullum hit Shakib Al Hasan, playing his first game this season, to the fence straight past him. The openers hit six fours and two sixes in the first three overs from Shakib and Narine to take required run-rate out of the equation. When Nathan Coulter-Nile followed up three slower balls with a fast short delivery that Finch pulled to Manish Pandey at square-leg, he had set the tempo with 31 off 15 balls. The feature of Finch’s first knock as an opener this season was how he got under the bounce of the ball against the spinners and lifted it over the in-field for percentage scoring. His return to form has given Gujarat an added option of what their ideal team composition could be when Dwayne Bravo is back from injury.

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There followed a short rain break during which the covers were brought out, but which was short enough to not see overs docked. McCullum and Dinesh Karthik fell shortly after the break, but once Gujarat had reached 72 for 1 at the end of Power Play it was a matter of batting sensibly. Raina took up the mantle with his highest IPL score as a captain, and had a defining 58-run stand with Ravindra Jadeja for the sixth wicket. Jadeja, who remained unbeaten on 19, hit the winning boundary to take Gujarat to 188 for 6 in 18.2 overs. Like Raina and the openers, Gujarat’s bowlers deserved credit for pulling things back after Narine got the home crowd excited.

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Once Raina sent him back, the run-rate fell despite Gambhir and Uthappa adding 69 runs in 8.1 overs. It dipped even further after Gambhir fell for 33 to give James Faulkner his first wicket in his season’s first match. Uthappa used the pace of the delivery to collect his boundaries easily. The short-arm jabbed six to midwicket off Dhawal Kulkarni was top class, and the scoop against Jadeja took him to his second half-century in three matches. But with Pandey taking time to get going in their 55-run stand, Gujarat pulled things back well. Faulkner was canny and Basil Thampi continued to impress with his slower balls and pacy, accurate yorkers, one of which disturbed Pandey’s stumps in the 20thover.

Before that, Praveen Kumar had Uthappa caught in the deep as Kolkata scored only 46 runs in their last five overs. Thanks to their start, Gujarat needed just 42 runs in their last five overs and despite a wobble, they got there with ten balls to spare. Raina fell with eight runs needed, but before that he had swept Kuldeep Yadav against the turn over the midwicket fence to go past Virat Kohli as the Indian with the most T20 runs.

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