The Lions show in Saurashtra

IPL debutant Gujarat Lions almost scripted a fairy tale, they lost in the virtual semifinal, but they won many hearts not only in Rajkot but everywhere they played, but undoubtedly the foundation was laid at the Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) Stadium in Khanderi. A look at all their five matches which they played in one of the most magnificent stadium in the world…

Match No 1

Lions off to a great start
The home team started their campaign in Rajkot with a crushing seven-wicket win against Rising Pune Supergiants. It was billed as the match between MS Dhoni versus his boys as most of the Gujarat Lions players this year are former Dhoni’s team mates when he was leading the now disbanded Chennai Super Kings team.

Batting first Supergiants looked set for a score in excess of 180, but a superb display of defensive bowling towards the end turned the contest in Lions' favour. Aaron Finch and Brendon McCullum then effectively killed the game by pillaging 62 in the Powerplay, during their chase of 164.

MS Dhoni had pulled back some momentum for Supergiants by contributing to a 20-run last over in the first innings, but his bowlers threw it all away. Loose deliveries stacked up, and the Lions openers duly dispatched them. Four fours and two sixes off the seamers, RP Singh and Ishant Sharma, meant Dhoni turned to M Ashwin in the last over of the Powerplay, but Finch took the legspinner for four fours in a 19-run over.

Finch then hit medium-pacer Rajat Bhatia for two sixes over long-on in the seventh over, but holed out to square leg in the ninth, for 50 - his second half-century of the season. By then, though, the damage had been done.

McCullum continued to latch on to wayward bowling, as the spinners failed to extract much from the patchy surface. Supergiants' day was summed up when Dhoni missed a routine stumping with McCullum well short of his crease after R Ashwin had yorked the batsman.

After McCullum top-edged an attempted pull to cover off Ishant, the captain Suresh Raina and Dwayne Bravo produced cameos as Lions reached the target with two overs to spare.

Supergiants' batting was a tale of two halves. Faf du Plessis and Ajinkya Rahane continued from where they left off against Mumbai Indians, using exquisite timing to plunder five fours in the first 21 balls. After Pravin Tambe trapped Rahane lbw in the fourth over, Kevin Pietersen and du Plessis ensured a productive Powerplay with a bunch of boundaries.

The pair added 30 off 13 balls to end the Powerplay at 57 for 1, with du Plessis being particularly aggressive down the ground. Even as the field spread, the boundary was found regularly and their stand stretched to 83.

But just when Supergiants looked to accelerate, Bravo brought out his slower balls to stall the charge. He bowled four of them in succession in the 14th over, the last of which forced Pietersen to drag on. Suddenly, one wicket brought three as the spinners found their lengths. Ravindra Jadeja, who has played most of his domestic cricket at this ground, varied his pace effectively to concede just four off the 17th and 19th overs to finish with figures of 2 for 18.

The situation may have been a lot worse had Dhoni not given Supergiants a late surge - he took Bravo for a six, two fours and three twos in the last over. In the end, Supergiants' 163 was nowhere near enough as they tasted their first defeat in the IPL.

Brief scores: Rising Pune Supergiants 163 for 5 (Du Plessis 69, Pietersen 37, Jadeja 2-18) lost to Gujarat Lions 164 for 3 (Finch 50, McCullum 49, M Ashwin 2-31) by 7 wickets.

Match No 2

It’s a David, Dhawan blockbuster 

It was David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan’s brilliant batting that paved the way for Sunrisers Hyderabad's 10-wicket win over the home team in their den. Warner, who slammed 74 off 48, combined with Shikhar Dhawan, who struck a fifty of his own, for an unbroken 137-run opening partnership after his bowlers, led by Bhuvneshwar Kumar's 4 for 29, kept Lions to 135 for 8.

Warner began the chase with two fours off Dale Steyn, who was playing his first match of this IPL, and kicked into high gear with three fours off Praveen Kumar in the fourth over. Spin didn't stem the run-flow either as Warner cut and pulled Suresh Raina to the boundary. The Sunrisers captain brought up his half-century in 29 balls, by which time his team needed less than a run a ball for victory.

Dhawan took the opportunity to bide his time and recover some of his form. He wasn't always fluent, but a paddle sweep off Dwayne Bravo in the 12th over changed that. At one point 25 off 24, Dhawan completed his half-century in 40 balls and though he didn't indulge in much celebration, he did so a couple of balls later. Warner sealed the victory with six overs to spare and time was ripe for a twirl of the 'tache.

That Lions were tied down, despite Raina's 75 off 51, was Bhuvneshwar's doing. He swung the new ball handsomely, as Aaron Finch found out in the first over when his stumps were splayed by an indipper, and when he couldn't get movement through the air, his mixture of slower balls were hard to put away on a large outfield. Bhuvneshwar took three wickets in the final over of the Lions innings, including Raina's, to cap Sunrisers' strong comeback.

Mustafizur Rahman played a hand in Lions' slowdown as well. He was saved for the final six overs again and still gave away only one boundary - when Warner misfielded at long-on. The Bangladesh seamer finished with 1 for 19, the mystery of his cutters no closer to being solved. Sunrisers also benefited from part-time offspinner Deepak Hooda and left-arm spinner Bipul Sharma rushing through five overs and picking up two wickets.
Lions, who had raced to 50 for 1 in the Powerplay, only managed 85 runs in the remaining 14 overs.

Raina eased his way back to form, scoring his first T20 fifty in 31 innings. On display were his typical shots: lofted drives on the bent knee, firm pushes through cover and wristy flicks off the pads. But the other Lions batsmen struggled for timing. McCullum mis-hit a slog sweep to deep midwicket and fell for 18 off 17 balls, Dinesh Karthik was dismissed for 8 off a full toss and Dwayne Bravo, also on 8, picked out deep square leg after being deceived by a slower ball. Bhuvneshwar's triple-strike in the final over meant Lions lost seven wickets for 79 runs, and slipped to their first defeat.

Brief scores: Gujarat Lions 135 for 8 (Raina 75, Bhuvneshwar 4-29) lost to Sunrisers Hyderabad 137 for no loss (Warner 74*, Dhawan 53*) by 10 wickets
Match No 3

Rajkot witness Kohli’s magic, but Lions have the last laugh

Virat Kohli’s brilliance was in full flow but it Dinesh Karthik and Brendon McCullum’s calculated batting gave the home team their second win in three home games in their den.

Kohli is a calculating batsman. It shows in the way he plays pure cricketing shots and maximises their impact by picking gaps. He was furious at himself after scoring 80 in Royal Challengers Bangalore's victory two days ago because he thought he should have used 10 balls fewer. A man so in tune with his game insisted he never thought he would score a hundred today. But he did; his first in T20 cricket, achieved by hitting a wide yorker for four off the final ball of the innings. Thereafter, he wouldn't have thought his team would lose. But they did, after putting up 180 - a total Kohli thought was 25 runs above par.

There are not many batsmen who can go toe-to-toe with the Royal Challengers captain. He averages 110 and strikes at 141 in Twenty20s this year. So Gujarat Lions had to work together, and work as perfectly as possible. The Rajkot pitch was slow and strokeplay wasn't particularly easy. With the new ball, however, you can always bank on runs. Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith, who replaced Dale Steyn belted 72 in the Powerplay - a record for this season - to provide a fine start to the chase.

Suresh Raina and Dinesh Karthik built a sensible half-century stand - using the long boundaries at the SCA stadium to scamper twos to keep the asking rate in check. Karthik, who was 28 off 26 when that partnership was broken in the 16th over, accelerated to 50 off 39 and was unbeaten when the winning runs were struck with three balls to spare.

Royal Challengers had a chance to remove Karthik in the 18th over, Kane Richardson deceived the him with a slower ball but was unable to hold on to the return catch. An equation of 26 off 16 balls could have been taxing on a new batsman. As such, the set batsman Karthk kept finding the gaps, a fresh Ravindra Jadeja made sure the twos kept coming and the chasing team won for a 16th time in 19 IPL matches this year.

After opting to bat, Royal Challengers lost Shane Watson early when he skied an offcutter from Dhawal Kulkarni to Jadeja running in from sweeper cover. But Kohli and de Villiers put up their fifth fifty-plus stand in as many innings to regain the advantage.

Kohli was sublime on the drive, especially through the covers where he found 30 runs. He was equally adept with the flick through midwicket - 37 runs came from that region. De Villiers, much like the sell-out crowd, was quite content to watch. The duo put on 51 off 36, but the show came to a premature end when de Villiers chipped an innocuous delivery from legspinner Pravin Tambe to short cover.

The tempo of the innings began to falter. KL Rahul struggled for timing and his captain had sprained his ankle while turning for a second run. But Kohli has said he trains so that fitness issues do not affect his performance. At the World T20, after a phenomenal innings to beat Australia in the league stage he said, "I like to play for when I'm tired, I should be able to run as fast as when I'm on zero." Today after an innings of 100 not out off only 63 balls on an injured leg, he said "that was where fitness counts, the other muscles took over."

The last five overs yielded 65 runs for Royal Challengers, as Rahul recovered to post 51 off 35 balls, with three sixes. Kohli slapped Bravo for six, four and four off the last three legal deliveries to push the total to 180.

Smith responded with 32 off 21, including three fours and two sixes, McCullum pillaged 25 runs off the sixth over and Lions had dragged the required rate down to 7.78. South Africa's chinaman bowler Tabraiz Shamsi did well to keep Royal Challengers' hopes up with 4-0-21-1, but his team-mates leaked 158 runs in the other 15.3 overs.

Brief scores: Royal Challengers Bangalore 180 for 2 (Kohli 100*, Rahul 51*) lost to Gujarat Lions 182 for 4 (Karthik 50*, McCullum 42) by six wickets.
Match 4

A Gujarati boy scripts Gujarat Lions downfall

Axar Patel took four wickets in five balls, including the first hat-trick of the season, to pave the way for Kings XI Punjab's 23-run win against table-toppers Gujarat Lions in Rajkot. Axar's burst reduced Lions to 57 for 6 in their chase of 155, setting up the side's second win of the season. Both sides suffered batting collapses but Lions were poorer as they stuttered to their second loss of the season.

Kings XI's defence of 154 got off to an ideal start with the early wickets of Brendon McCullum and Suresh Raina, as both batsmen missed straight balls from Mohit Sharma. After a slow Powerplay, Axar was brought on in the seventh over, his second of the innings. Off the third ball, Dwayne Smith muscled a lofted drive and found Gurkeerat Singh at long-off. Two balls later, the left-arm spinner got one to skid through and Dinesh Karthik's inside edge clattered into leg stump. Dwayne Bravo chopped the first ball he faced onto his stumps and the over ended with Lions at a shaky 39 for 5.

Brought back in the 11th over, Axar then got his first ball to dart past Ravindra Jadeja's outside edge. It seemed like bat had hit pad, but the umpire raised his finger. This was Axar's first T20 hat-trick, and the 14th of the tournament.

Thereafter, Lions were always behind the climbing asking rate. Kings XI's new captain M Vijay rotated his bowlers continuously. Ishan Kishan and James Faulkner added to Lions' score but the slide had taken much of the game out of their hands.

At the halfway stage, however, it did not seem like Kings XI had enough. Despite a flying start from Vijay and Marcus Stoinis, Kings XI collapsed to 154. Vijay's sweetly timed drives and flicks off Lions' seamers, Dhawal Kulkarni and Praveen Kumar, helped the side score 34 off the first four overs. Vijay contributed 31 of those. Stoinis, then, cut loose and Kings XI plundered 59 off the Powerplay, their highest this season.

In the seventh over, Stoinis ran past a slider from Jadeja and the wicket sparked another Kings XI collapse. Chinaman bowler Shivil Kaushik's whippy action forced Kings XI to look for pushes and nudges. Shaun Marsh could not keep one of those flicks down and found midwicket. On a pitch with a bit of grass, Kaushik found no turn, but his quick-arm action caused the ball to skid off the surface. One ball after Marsh was dismissed, Glenn Maxwell missed an attempted a cut off Kaushik and the ball snuck under his bat. Dinesh Karthik belted out an appeal and the umpire raised his finger, much to Maxwell's bewilderment.

Kings XI's situation worsened when Gurkeerat Singh, one of four changes for Kings XI, was run out after an acrobatic effort from James Faulkner at point. Kings XI stuttered from 65 for 0 in the seventh over to 73 for 4 in the ninth.

David Miller and Wriddhiman Saha, though, found the boundary regularly in their 39-run stand for the sixth wicket. They tried to build a platform for a late surge but that did not come as Dwayne Bravo and Praveen Kumar brought out their slower balls to flummox Kings XI's lower order. Lions conceded one four off the last three overs and picked up five wickets to bowl Kings XI out.

Brief scores: Kings XI Punjab 154 (Vijay 55, Saha 33, Kaushik 3/20) beat Gujarat Lions 131 for 9 (Faulkner 32, Kishan 27, Axar 4/21, Mohit 3/32) by 23 runs
Match 5

Pant, de Kock give finishing touch after DD bowlers restrict Lions to 149

In another clinical display, Delhi Daredevils' bowlers restricted table-toppers Gujarat Lions to 149, setting up a convincing eight-wicket win in Rajkot's last game of the season. In the chase, Rishabh Pant and Quinton de Kock blazed a 115-run partnership off 81 balls - the side's joint-fourth highest opening stand - to help Daredevils breeze to the second spot on the points table. Despite successive losses, Lions retained their place at the top. It was the 24th win by a chasing side in 31 games this season.

After opting to bowl, Daredevils' bowlers set up an advantage in the first four overs. It looked like Shahbaz Nadeem had trapped Brendon McCullum in front in the first over, but umpire Chris Gaffaney indicated that the batsman had got an inside edge. After facing three of the first 16 balls, McCullum charged at a Zaheer Khan slower ball. Like most of Zaheer's offcutters this season, it beat McCullum's wild swing and clipped the off stump.

Two balls later, Dwayne Smith chipped a long-hop from Nadeem to long-on. In the same over, Aaron Finch, who replaced an injured Dwayne Bravo, got a leading edge off his attempted sweep to short fine leg. Lions' three overseas batsmen were dismissed and already the middle order was limited to playing for singles and twos into Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium's large pockets. The score at the end of six overs read 35 for 3, Lions' lowest Powerplay returns of the season.

Apart from a well-timed uppercut for six, Suresh Raina struggled to find his timing. Dinesh Karthik, though, accrued his runs through well-placed sweeps and flicks in the vast outfield. Just when it looked like Lions had consolidated after the early jolt, Raina was stumped after misjudging a googly from Amit Mishra.

Thereafter, Ravindra Jadeja and Karthik resorted to the same modus operandi as the previous few overs. The pair, however, set up a solid platform for the end overs. Lions found at least one boundary in every over after the 13th, except the penultimate one.

The last five overs yielded 50 with hard-run twos contributing to the Lions score. Yet, the extent of the damage in the first four overs was so severe that Lions could only muster a sub-par 149.

De Kock and Pant, promoted to the opening slot, effectively finished the game by plundering nine boundaries in a 61-run Powerplay. Pant was particularly dominant with scythed cuts off the seamers' wide offerings. When the ball was straight, Pant used his strong bottom hand to whip fours through the arc at midwicket.

After matching Pant in the Powerplay, de Kock laid anchor and milked the bowling for singles. Pant, though, did not slow down. He used his feet to smear and swipe towards the long-on region as he struck his first limited-overs fifty, off 25 balls.

Both Pant and de Kock were dismissed after across-the-line heaves, but Sanju Samson and JP Duminy, who returned after regaining fitness, took Daredevils home with 16 balls remaining.

Brief scores: Gujarat Lions 149 for 7 (Karthik 53, Jadeja 36*, Nadeem 2/23) lost to Delhi Daredevils 150 for 2 (Pant 69, de Kock 46) by 8 wickets.