Suresh Raina's Gujarat Lions finished as table toppers in group stage of IPL 2016 © AFP
Suresh Raina’s Gujarat Lions finished as table toppers in group stage of IPL 2016 © AFP

With four matches left in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2016, the Qualifier 1 is set to be played on Tuesday at Bengaluru’s M Chinnaswamy Stadium. The hosts Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) will lock horns with an equally strong, star-studded and table-toppers Gujarat Lions (GL) in the first qualifier of this ninth edition of IPL. The winner will straight away make it to the grand finale of IPL 2016, while the losing side will have another shot as they will play the second qualifier later. Suresh Raina, who has never missed a chance to play in the playoffs in IPL under the captaincy of MS Dhoni, has a chance to win a title under his own leadership. Full Cricket Scorecard: Gujarat Lions vs Royal Challengers Bangalore, IPL 2016 Qualifier 1 at Bengaluru

Raina-led GL have won nine off the 14 matches they played in the group stage, most by any side in IPL 2016. GL, who began their maiden season in IPL with flying colours but lost momentum in the middle. They however strung enough wins together to take them to the top of the table. The fight Raina’s side demonstrated in the tournament showed the amount of confidence they hold at present, which surely will come in as handy when they face RCB on Tuesday. Here is the likely XI Raina might field:

Top-order: The opening pair of Aaron Finch and Brendon McCullum easily hold the capability of destroying a bowling attack of any quality. With RCB’s bowling department being shaky and their only weakness this season, Finch and McCullum will have an upper hand against a line-up. Shane Watson has perhaps been RCB’s best bowler and the batsmen will have to be wary against him However, these two have not been in their best of forms this edition. They have performed on and off for Gujarat. While Finch has averaged decently above 40 in 11 matches, his partner who has played all the league games, surely has not been at his best with average less than 25. It may turn out to be McCullum’s day out at Chinnaswamy today.

In this case, Watson and Co have to stick to their basics to dismiss at least one of the two to ensure GL do not manage a huge total on board. GL’s previous match was against Mumbai Indians, who dismissed the World No. 1 T20I batsman Finch for a duck. The game was still won by the GL after McCullum and Raina helped them chase down 173, quite effortlessly. Their previous match was an example that showed the balance in their batting order. If one batsman fails, there are others down the order to take charge.

Middle-order: The likes of Dinesh Karthik, Dwayne Smith, Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo come in next. Although Smith can be a good opening, Gujarat would want to stick to their pair of Finch and McCullum. Gujarat will have a concern regarding Karthik’s form, who has clearly struggled lately.  However his two half-centuries in the last couple of games have helped him retain his place in the playing XI despite the other pathetic scores.

Bravo, Smith and Jadeja bring along their all-round skills, more with the ball. Smith has picked up two and four wickets respectively in their previous two matches. With RCB batsmen being in ferocious form, GL will want Smith to carry on this form in the important qualifier. With an option of seven bowlers already in the side, Gujarat will want a proper batsman down the order where comes in Eklavya Dwivedi. The Uttar Pradesh batsman can also keep wickets, just in case GL’s regular wicketkeeper Karthik suffers an injury in between the game.

Bowlers: Along with Jadeja and Smith, GL have Shadab Jakati, Praveen Kumar and Dhawal Kulkarni in the bowling line-up. While Kulkarni and Praveen claimed two wickets each in the previous match, Jakati went wicketless. Jakati was also expensive as he went for 30 runs in 3 overs so was never brought back by Raina. Bravo and Kulkarni have been the pick of the bowlers for GL so far in IPL 2016 with 15 and 14 wickets 13 and 12 matches respectively. These two along with Smith and others have a huge task to stop RCB skipper Kohli who has 10 fifties and 4 centuries in 14 matches.

Gujarat Lions’ likely XI: Aaron Finch, Brendon McCullum, Suresh Raina (c), Dinesh Karthik (wk), Dwayne Smith, Ravindra Jadeja, Dwayne Bravo, Eklavya Dwivedi, Shadab Jakati, Praveen Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni

(Sakshi Gupta, a reporter with CricketCountry, is a sports fanatic whose mantra in life is “do only what you enjoy.” Her Twitter handle is @sakshi2929)