Fitness issues plague the Lions

If Gujarat Lions has to match its performance of 2016, the team will have to overcome plenty of hurdles, including poor form and injuries to some of its key players.

Skipper Suresh Raina’s (right) poor form is a big worry for Gujarat Lions. It would need a mammoth effort from him to shake off his batting blues.   -  G. RAMAKRISHNA

Gujarat Lions was the surprise package in the Indian Premier League last season. Not because it emerged as a replacement for one of the two suspended franchises; not even because it chose Rajkot — which is nowhere close to being a metro — as its home, but because it topped the league standings in its debut season.

While the other team that came in as a replacement, Rising Pune Supergiants, struggled, Gujarat Lions was on song right from the word go. The team hardly put a foot wrong for the first six weeks before faltering in the end. Gujarat Lions failed to make it to the grand finale.

This season, however, if Gujarat Lions has to match its performance of 2016, the team will have to overcome plenty of hurdles. Captain Suresh Raina has had a mediocre domestic season, largely owing to an ailment that forced him to skip virtually the entire Ranji season. It would take a mammoth effort for him to overcome his poor form and come out with his guns blazing.

The fitness issues have even plagued the team in the pace bowling department. Having released Dale Steyn before the auction, knowing that the South African pace spearhead will not be available for the tournament, Gujarat Lions will be cagey about key Indian pacer Dhawal Kulkarni’s fitness. The Mumbai pacer has recently started bowling after a prolonged layoff owing to a knee injury.

No wonder then that the Lions — with the addition of Mohammed Kaif as assistant coach — preferred to bolster its pace department during the auction. The Lions bought as many as four Indian pacers —young sensations Nathu Singh and Basil Thampi besides old war-horses Manpreet Gony and Munaf Patel — to create a back-up for Kulkarni should the bowler not last the full season.

The other prized catch of the auction, England’s Jason Roy, is expected to be a certainty in the playing XI, at least at the start of the tournament. If Roy can carry his form at the top of the order for his national side into the IPL, it would lessen the burden on the two all-rounders, Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja.