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Cricket: Keshav hopes Gujarat Lions can go the distance in IPL

James Jose/Dubai
Filed on March 19, 2017
Cricket: Keshav hopes Gujarat Lions can go the distance in IPL
Keshav Bansal, owner of the Gujarat Lions, speaks at his residence at the Palm Jumeirah, Dubai.

(Photo by Mohammad Mustafa Khan)

The new team had topped the League table before losing out in the play-offs last year

A sportsman's physique and trendy haircut, Keshav Bansal could well be mistaken for a cricketer. He's not but he does love to dabble in squash, table tennis, football and sometimes sky-diving.

But there's more to him than just that. At 26, Keshav is the youngest owner of an IPL team after the entrepreneur, who is the director of Intex Technologies, bought the Gujarat Lions. The franchise were one of two teams that replaced the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and the Rajasthan Royals (RR) and had a debut that many can only dream of. Mixing it up with the big boys, the Gujarat Lions topped the League's table with nine wins from 14 matches but agonisingly lost out in the play-offs to eventual champions Sunrisers Hyderabad.

As they embark on their second season next month, Keshav was hoping to see the Suresh Raina-led squad go the full distance.

"It is simple. For any owner, it is all about going and winning," Keshav said in an exclusive interview with the Khaleej Times.

"There were a lot of improvements which we thought we need to do this year for which we changed our strategy at the auction specifically. We went for a lot of bowlers because bowling was one area which we felt could have done better. Overall, quite happy with the auction and we have a very strong, balanced team. We went for 11 players at about Rs. 3.5 crores. So, we are quite excited," he added.

Keshav said there were no regrets even though they went down in the play-offs after a sparkling league stage.

"We were extremely, extremely happy with the first year's performance. It was a dream run and I have no regrets. We had a fantastic run but there is no end of greed. We could have kept thinking if we could have done even better, but I must say we played really well. You have to put in your best and the team did that. We held on together and we went together as one,"said Keshav.

Whatever the Gujarat Lions go on and accomplish, it could perhaps be their last year in the IPL with this being a temporary arrangement. CSK and RR will be back in the fold after serving a two-year ban. Keshav said they were aware that it would be for a short span but felt it made sense from a business point of view.

"There were a couple of things. First of all, everyone keeps on sponsoring cricket. We have been associated with cricket for a long time through advertising. But it is really important for anyone to innovate in their marketing strategies. So, the prime reason we bought an IPL team was to promote our brand Intex. And we did see an overnight success in our brand, specially in the regions of Gujarat and UP. When you buy IPL team, the brand perception changes instantly, in the country. Secondly, we have a passion towards sports, towards cricket," said Keshav, who graduated from Manchester Business School.

It took just 20 minutes for Keshav to convince his dad Narendra on acquiring the team.

Keshav would like to see the team remain in the IPL but said that it was up to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). "It is in the BCCI's hands. There are too many things going on at BCCI right now. We would love to actually continue and take it forward. But it depends on financials and such things. When we bought the team, we knew it was for two years only. So, for us, it was a win-win situation from day one. It was spending probably one-fifth the money of other franchises and getting a complete taste of the workings of the IPL, BCCI, cricket in India. So, that was a conscious decision. Currently, there are a lot of reforms going on in the BCCI so probably after the end of this season, we will be able to comment on how things work ahead," he said.

"I can say that definitely there is an intention to continue," he added. Speaking of the new season, Keshav reckoned last year's runners-up Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Mumbai Indians look strong on paper.

"You just cannot take any team lightly. You can't really predict how the matches will pan out. I can say that on paper, RCB, and after this year's auction, Mumbai Indians look really strong. You have to customise your strategy according to each and every match," said Keshav.


Picking Chirag Suri fits with Lions' ethos

Gujarat Lions owner Keshav Bansal was quite impressed by UAE's Chirag Suri and said that the top-order batsman will be an asset to the team this season.

The 22-year Suri was bought by the franchise for Rs.10 lakhs at the IPL auction held in Bengaluru, India, last month. And it fits in with Gujarat Lions' ethos of blooding young talent. Suri, who featured in the Under-19 World Cup in 2014, is now set to become the first UAE cricketer to feature in the IPL.

"Actually, I met him (Suri) last year at one of the matches in Rajkot. This year, we again met him and we did his trials and he came out to be extremely promising. Again very aggressive, very fit. So, a young budding player so why not," said Bansal.

"Even last year, before the auction, I had told everyone that it is not really important to have big names. The IPL and the format is such that you need to have fearless, aggressive cricketers. So, we have taken a lot of young boys like Chirag Suri. These youngsters look up to us to give them an opportunity. It is important that you have the right aggressive guys and that is the reason we went for these players," he added.

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