Steven Smith temporarily replaced one of the most successful Indian captains for Pune at the backend of the IPL tournament five years back. He will do the same for one more time, but on a permanent basis for another successful Indian Captain who too could not elevate Pune from bottom two, just like Sourav Ganguly with the erstwhile franchise from Pune. Such has been their affair with IPL that Dhoni who had won many tournaments with his last ball six was left to do the same in the battle for wooden spoon. Their team looks more or less the same from their last season with the much talked about addition of Ben Stokes and a few others. So, can the Rising Pune Supergiants fight their way to the top?
Or, will they be left to fight another bottom table battle?
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Steve Smith, Ravichandran Ashwin, Francois Du Plessis , Ben Stokes and Ajinkya Rahane — this core group of international players is their strength. Their presence will inspire fellow rookies in the squad to step up and get the job done. Being a master of controlling the controllable, Dhoni still controls his will and skill barring his uncontrollable ageing. His impeccable reading of the game, players and razor sharp glove work can be priceless for Smith.
Smith is known to lead from the front and he will be looking to do the same. He would want Stokes to be an impact player owing to his wide repertoire. Having players like Du Plessis who cherish added responsibility can reduce considerable baggage from Smith, for that will be required throughout the itinerary. Rahane has a history of stepping up for his team and his presence at the top will be valuable. With world class fielders in their side, they are sure to save a few extra runs and considering the lack of bite in their bowling, it could prove to be a huge difference.
They have work to do in the bowling department. Ravichandran Ashwin will be looked forward to lead from the front with Zampa and Ben Stokes. Zampa made notable noise with his leg breaks and Ashwin is street smart to chip-in at any stage of the match, though Smith would want him to be among the wickets rather than just keeping it slow. Rajat Bhatia can keep the run rate low in the middle overs with his wily slower ones, but if he becomes predictable like he sometimes does, he could be taken to the cleaners.
Ishwar Pandey and Ashok Dinda could be their respective states’ superstars in the bowling but the Indian Premier League is a whole different ball game. While Pandey had a briefly average stint with the now defunct Chennai Super Kings, Dinda is yet to find success in the lucrative tournament. Having played for four different franchises before, he is yet to put up his hand and impress. Ben Stokes has shown his skill in the death overs but needs to make sure that the World T20 final over debacle does not get repeated.
Rising Pune Supergiants can play with the freedom of the player who has been called in place of a suspended player, but served with a clear message the suspended one will be the first choice once the suspension period ends. Apart from their skills with bat and ball, motivation is going to be the vital skill in their repertoire for the seniors. If they can move forward with youngsters by their side and without many hiccups, they can possess serious threat to any opposition. Dhoni- Fleming combo has shown reluctance to change their combination unless the situation pushes them to change, it will be a good gamble if the team management can draft in and groom any youngster like Aparajith, who has four years of side line experience behind him. Having swapped his finishing role in the international arena, Dhoni will have another opportunity to get back to his most celebrated role. Kiwi speedster Lockie Ferguson is an exciting talent, who will be raring to have a go when the team decides to rest the senior players.
Each senior from Dhoni to Rahane is left with no choice but to serve to the best of their ability throughout the tournament. Any injury or dip in form to any one of them can shake not only them, but their whole team. They don’t have an impact player, though that tag will be on Stokes — it has to — for the sake of 13.5 crores. It might be difficult for them to defend a low score or to chase a humongous one, barring a miracle. Getting their best possible eleven has its own set of challenges, let alone the bench strength. They have to get everything correct, from the opening combination to middle order to their bowling combination to really make their presence felt. On the whole, they have to punch above their weight or they will be crushed.
From Pune Warriors India to Rising Pune Supergiants, never once has an IPL team from Pune finished above bottom two. This could be their last chance to shatter this dismal record, unless BCCI decides to think otherwise.