Gujarat Lions, led by Suresh Raina, will be looking to kick off their IPL campaign on a winning note as they take on hosts Kings XI Punjab in the third match of IPL 9 at Mohali on Monday. This being their IPL debut, the Lions may be slightly nervous, but they have a number of star players, match-winners to be specific, who have turned out for successful IPL sides over the years. They would also be inspired by the smashing victory of the other IPL debutants, Rising Pune Supergiants, against defending champions Mumbai Indians. As for Punjab, they finished at the bottom in the previous season, so there is definite scope for huge improvement.
Punjab have a new skipper in aggressive South African batsman David Miller. Aussie George Bailey, who was in charge of the team during the disastrous 2015, has been dumped. Miller doesn't have a lot of leadership experience, so this will definitely be a challenge for him. His leadership will also be interesting to observe as one doesn't quite know what to expect from him. Whatever he does, Miller will have to fire with the bat for the team. With Virender Sehwag having retired, and taking over as mentor, there will be additional responsibility on the likes of Shaun Marsh, Glenn Maxwell and Murali Vijay to deliver.
In the bowling department, Punjab will be led by Mitchell Johnson, who may have retired from international cricket, but must be keen to make an impact of the IPL, for this is one tournament, where he hasn't quite set the stage on fire. Johnson will have a big responsibility for their bowling is definitely on the weaker side. Apart from the Aussie left-armer, the other options for them are Mohit Sharma, who has been out with injury of late, the all-rounders Marcus Stoinis and Farhaan Behardien, as also left-arm spinner Swapnil Singh, who is a unknown quantity.
Gujarat will be keen to get off to a winning start. And while this will be their debut, most of the players wouldn't feel out of place as they are IPL veterans. The skipper Raina himself is among the most destructive batsmen in the T20 format although he hasn't been in great form of late. Then, there is Brendon McCullum, another retired legend who will be looking to stamp his authority on the tournament. He is most likely going to open the innings with Aussie big-hitter Aaron Finch, who is a dangerous batsman himself. Gujarat are lucky to have a number of quality all-rounders in James Faulkner, Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja.
The trio of Faulkner, Jadeja and Bravo can win games for their team with both bat and ball. Faulkner and Bravo are particularly brilliant at the death, and few bowlers possess the kind of skills and variations that they do, to stop batsmen at the fag end of an innings. Jadeja too can be a handful if the pitch offers him some assistance. The performance of the all-rounders will be crucial for the Lions for they do not have quality bowlers apart from Dale Steyn. Even the South African speedster seems past his best now, and it remains to be seen what kind of impression he can make in the IPL.
-- By A Cricket Analyst