Gujarat Lions refused to be intimidated by the target of 164 set on a wicket the ground staff felt was overused in the season and would not really facilitate authentic strokeplay and reckless hitting.
The pitch had not received a drop of water in the last two days and the coarse surface was predicted to bring the spinners into play in a big way.
But Lions’ two fearless openers — Aaron Finch and Brendon McCullum — not given to bring the pitch into the equation, blasted shots off R.P. Singh, Ishant Sharma and leg-spinner M. Ashwin in spectacular fashion as Gujarat Lions surprised Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) by seven wickets. The win took the team to the top of the Vivo-IPL-9 points table. Finch and McCullum, between them, had 10 boundaries and five sixes.
There were many spellbinding parts to the engaging tussle between the “offshoots” of Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals at a nearly-packed house at the Khanderi Village Stadium here.
The 20th over duel between RPS captain M.S. Dhoni and Lions’ hero of the first match Dwayne Bravo held everyone’s attention, as the most celebrated Indian captain outwitted the smart West Indian to notch up 20 runs — 4, 2, 2, 6, 2, 4 — and helped his team recover lost ground.
On its way back to the dug-out at the end of the first session, the home team may have wondered if had let slip the grasp it had on the match after Bravo, leg-spinner Pravin Tambe and left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja had struck blows after the half-way mark. At that stage, it appeared that Dhoni’s 10-ball cameo would turn out to be a game-changer.
After being clobbered by Kevin Pietersen and Faf du Plessis for two sixes — 16 runs came off the last PowerPlay over sent down by Bravo — Lions’ captain Suresh Raina did not summon the West Indian to bowl again until the 14th over when Supergiants looked poised to take off at 112 for two.
With his reputation rocketing after the four for 22 at Mohali, Bravo won a one-on-one contest with Pietersen. Soon Tambe won his battle with du Plessis and then Jadeja got rid of Steve Smith, who holed out to James Faulkner at deep cover.
A PowerPlay score of 57, in which Ajinkya Rahane played his part, gave a rousing start to RPS’s innings. du Plessis and Pietersen went after left-arm spinner Shadab Jakati who was just playing his second IPL match in two years. Then Pietersen turned around to put away Bravo’s first ball over backward square-leg for a six.
The second-wicket pair added 86 off 61 balls before Bravo, bowling his second over, with a clever change of pace outfoxed Pietersen. The fall of the former England player’s wicket saw the Lions roar back into the match.