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IPL, LSG season analysis: Solid middle-order a big positive for Lucknow

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The old saying holds true in the Indian Premier League (IPL) as well, where franchises such as Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) continue to miss out on the glittering trophy despite their best of efforts.

IPL 2023: Full coverage | Points table | Schedule | Results | Orange Cap | Purple Cap​

It also holds true for the Lucknow Super Giants, who like their debut season last year, finished third at the end of the league stage of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2023 and would be handed the knockout blow in the Eliminator.

Last year it was RCB that had shown them the exit door. This time around, it was the Mumbai Indians, who sent them packing with an 81-run thrashing at the MA Chidambaram Stadium on Wednesday, with the Krunal Pandya-led side outplayed in all three departments in the crucial knockout clash.

A lot was expected from the Super Giants this season, especially with the RP Sanjiv Goenka Group-owned franchise making a number of big purchases in the player auction in Kochi last December, including that of swashbuckling West Indian wicketkeeper-batter Nicholas Pooran for Rs 16 crore.

So while they can pat themselves on the back for making the playoffs for a second season in a row, that they failed to finish within the top three for a second year running will sting them.

With LSG’s run in IPL 2023 coming to an end, we take a look at what worked for them this season, and what didn’t:

The Good

Kyle Mayers’ emergence as an explosive option at the top of the order in his first season in the IPL was one of the biggest positives for LSG this season. The Barbadian announced himself in style with a 38-ball 73 in Lucknow’s opening game of the season — against Delhi Capitals at the Ekana Stadium — and would follow it up with a 22-ball 53 against Chennai Super Kings (CSK) at Chepauk in their next outing. Though he faltered a little towards the second half of the season, during which Quinton de Kock took up his spot in the XI, Mayers ensured he made an impression in the minds of the team leadership with his 379 runs across the season at a strike rate of 144.11.

Lucknow’s purchase of Pooran for an enormous sum also bolstered their middle order, with the trio of Marcus Stoinis, Ayush Badoni and Pooran completing a formidable trio that took the game away from the opposition more often than not. While Stoinis (408) finished with the most runs among the LSG batters — the Australian ended up being the only one to cross the 400-run barrier — it was Pooran’s 358 runs across the season at a strike rate of 172.94 that perhaps had the most impact.

As for the bowling department, Mark Wood held great promise with his destructive haul of 5/14 in the opening game against DC, his figures the best throughout the season until bettered by Akash Madhwal’s 5/5 on Wednesday. Wood, however, had to fly back home after just four appearances, initially missing a few games due to illness and later flying back home to be with his family in time for the birth of his second child.

His absence, along with Jaydev Unadkat’s injury-forced absence gave Naveen-ul-Haq the opportunity to showcase his wares, finishing with 11 wickets in eight appearances at an average and economy of 19.91 and 7.82 respectively including back-to-back hauls of 3/30 and a fine performance against MI in the Eliminator, where he collected 4/38.

The Bad

While Mayers, and later de Kock, proved effective in the role of enforcers at the top of the order, KL Rahul was nowhere close to his best with the bat this season, which had a major impact on Lucknow’s batting performances.

Rahul, one of the most consistent run-scorers in the IPL in recent years who crossed the 600-run mark every season between 2018 and 2022 barring 2019 (where he finished just seven short with 593), ended up with 274 runs from nine outings this season. But more than his run tally, it was his strike rate of 113.22 at the top of the order that hurt the team’s cause more than anything, and added pressure to opening partner Mayers and the middle-order trio of Stoinis, Badoni and Pooran.

Same could be said of all-rounder Krunal Pandya, who took over as skipper after Rahul was ruled out of the remainder of the season as well as the WTC final due to a thigh injury that he picked up in the home game against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Pandya didn’t have a major impact with the bat, collecting 188 runs (Ave: 18.80; SR: 113.94), but was slightly more effective with the ball, collecting nine wickets with an economy of 7.45.

The Ugly

While Lucknow had a number of positives from the season and pulled off a number of thrilling victories, the 2023 season was ultimately overshadowed by the on-field spat between LSG mentor Gautam Gambhir and pacer Naveen on the one side, and RCB star batter Virat Kohli on the other.

The explosive confrontation between the two parties, which began with a heated exchange between Kohli and Naveen on field during the low-scoring thriller at the Ekana Stadium on 1 May, soon got blown out of proportion with Gambhir also getting involved in a faceoff with Kohli after the match, reviving memories of a similar confronation between the two back in IPL 2013.

And it didn’t just end there; Kohli and Naveen would continue to take potshots at each other via social media, sharing cryptic stories on Instagram that appeared to celebrate the other team’s defeat.

LSG will hope to avoid any such incident next season and ensure their players and members of the coaching staff are able to keep their tempers and emotions in check in the future.

Most runs: Marcus Stoinis (408 runs; Ave: 31.38; SR: 150)

Most wickets: Ravi Bishnoi (16 wickets; Ave: 24.43; Eco: 7.74)

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