Lions vies for glory at home

For the first time in nine years, Gujaratis believe they can connect passionately with a team that is named after their state and the most popular animal, the lion, of the Gir wildlife sanctuary.

Aaron Finch set up Gujarat Lions' first win with a 47-ball 74.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

The short flight from Mumbai to Rajkot on Tuesday evening reflected the merry mood of the passengers, majority of them Gujaratis. They were all thrilled to be in the Boeing aircraft in which the VIP passengers were the Gujarat Lions team that had flown from Chandigarh to Mumbai after trouncing Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) in its debut IPL match at Mohali and had taken the connecting flight to Saurashtra’s cricketing capital.

At least a couple of passengers went to the extent of patting man of the match against KXIP, Aaron Finch, on his back and saying “well done”. The Lions’ first big victory had warmed the cockles of a Gujarati’s heart. By now most of the overseas players would have been familiar with state’s favourite two-word greeting “khem cho” (how are you?), having spent a few days here during a short camp. The Lions’ bowling coach Heath Streak said “game mari che” (game's ready) so eloquently at the press conference.

For the first time in nine years, Gujaratis believe they can connect passionately with a team that is named after their state and the most popular animal, the lion, of the Gir wildlife sanctuary situated in Gujarat. The Jaipur franchise’s Rajasthan Royals had made Ahmedabad’s Sardar Patel Gujarat stadium its home ground for a dozen matches. But the locals now have a team for which they can let out a full throated scream when it engages in a tussle with Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Rising Pune Supergiants.

IT’S A SPECIAL OCCASION FOR EVERYONE: JADEJA

The Lions’ captain Raina did his best to endear the Gujaratis. “It’s a special occasion for everyone. Gujarat never had an IPL team in the first eight years. We are looking forward to play for Gujarat. (Ravindra) Jadeja must be excited to play in front of a lot of crowd. He’s also getting married soon (April 17),” said Raina after a long stint at the net session here on Wednesday.

The local association feels that the stadium with a capacity of 28,000 may be full before the first ball is bowled, and that the likes of Finch, Dwayne, Dinesh Karthik and Raina did enough at Mohali to promote their team and win admirers here. Raina did not dwell too much on the composition of the team, but said: “For a 40 over-match you need to do proper practice in batting, bowling and fielding. There is not much to speculate in such a short game. We will field the best XI depending on the pitch.”

A PULSATING CLASH AWAITS

While the Lions trained under the lights for the first big home match, the Supergiants, which arrived here in the afternoon, decided against net practice. But leg spinner Murugan Ashwin, who bowled four overs against Mumbai Indians and dismissed Shreyas Gopal in the inaugural match, practiced bowling at the stumps. It’s the second match for the Supergiants which scored a crushing win against the defending champion Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede and it must be hoping to outwit the home team in its own den.

Dhoni and Raina have spoken a lot about playing in the CSK yellows and how they miss it, but the two, as true professionals, have also vowed to put their best foot forward for their new teams and this attitude and approach should make the clash between the Lions and Supergiants a pulsating one.