IPL 2017 — The Resurgence of Rising Pune Supergiant
Rising Pune Supergiant finished their campaign with a nerve wrenching loss to Mumbai Indians by 1 run in the final of the IPL 10. What could have been a fairytale ending for them ended up in a disappointing loss. Despite the loss, RPS can held their head high as they have played some tough cricket during the tournament, with most players contributing in one match or the other.
The Pune based franchise was in news just a day before the auctions for appointing Steve Smith as the captain. Sacking MS Dhoni because of the team’s poor show in the previous edition was indeed harsh. And the owners drew much criticism from fans for the bold move. Moreover the owners decided to drop the S from Supergiants, which was more of a superstitious move. Buying Stokes for a whopping 14.5 cr also raised many eyebrows but he was someone whom RPS needed desperately for having a balanced team.
The newly appointed skipper found it pretty difficult at the start of the tournament to find the right combination. The bowlers were leaking runs, batsmen were inconsistent and fielders dropped too many catches. After beating MI in their first match, RPS went on to lose against KXIP, DD and GL convincingly. However in their loss against the Daredevils RPS found someone who went on to become one of their most consistent players of the season. The name was Rahul Tripathi. Though he scored just 10 runs off 4 balls coming in at number five, the way he came out and attacked the menacing Chris Morris right from ball one indicated that there is something special in the young man. In the subsequent matches he was sent to open the innings and the result was for everyone to see.
The real turnaround came when almost whole of the bowling unit was reshuffled. The likes of Dinda and Chahar were replaced by Unadkat and Shardul Thakur. Both of them had been on the fringes of selection for the national team for a long time. And this season turned out to be their breakthrough season which can lead them to the Indian team in the future. By the end of the season, Unadkat had a hattrick and a five-wicket haul to his name and he was just a wicket behind Bhuvaneshwar Kumar in the race for the purple cap.
Stokes found his mojo and contributed significantly in all three departments and it was not a surprise when he won the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament award. The slower ball was put to effect throughout the tournament and on most occasions it worked. His 103* off 63 balls against Gujarat still remains one of the best T20 hundreds while chasing. Overall he more than justified his price tag. Imran Tahir hardly went wicketless in a match. The only match being against KKR when Unadkat dropped Uthappa in the deep and later Uthappa went into the beast mode and smashed Tahir for sixes. Tahir was crucial in providing much needed breakthroughs in the middle overs.
Manoj Tiwari reinvented his game and fitted into the role of an attacking lower middle order batsman and was quite successful. He became the floater in the lineup, batting at 4,5 or 6 wherever the team wanted him to play. More often than not, he contributed to the team’s cause. The surprise package was however a 17 year old kid Washington Sunder who was drafted in as a replacement for R Ashwin. The teenager had big shoes to fill in but he did not get bogged down by the pressure. He mostly bowled in powerplays and he played his role to perfection. His man of the match performance against MI was something he will remember for long. One doesn’t get figures of 4–0–16–3 in a T20 everyday and the three wickets included Lendl Simmons, Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu.
Dhoni the finisher was quiet for a period of five matches and was criticised by his own team owner on Twitter. However he made his willow do the talking, taking his team home almost single handedly against the Sunrisers, taking Bhuvaneshwar, one of the best bowlers at death in the tournament, to cleaners with ease. Against MI in the qualifier 1, Dhoni along with Tiwari scored 41 off the last 2 overs, which included 4 sixes off 8 balls by MS against Bumrah and McClenaghan, turning the match in RPS’ favour.
Finally coming to the Dhoni-Smith partnership. The partnership which turned out to be magical and made RPS a strategically dangerous side was quite unexpected at the start of the tournament. But as it turned out, they both complimented each other well. Smith being the captain was not hesitant to listen to the more experienced MSD.
Attributing to all these factors RPS went on to win 8 of their last 10 league matches and claim the 2nd spot. Despite Stokes leaving the squad for national duty, RPS remained to be a tough team to beat. After beating MI convincingly in the qualifier 1, RPS went in to the final with much confidence. Being favourites to win the final till the last 4 of the match, they lost. No doubt they were a batsman short, with Ferguson replacing Stokes.
With a high probability that they will not feature in the future editions of the IPL, the Pune franchise might have played their last game in the IPL. And despite not having much bench strength and a team without much balance, the way the management strategised the plans and the way the players executed those was commendable. The owners, the players and the support staff must be proud of what they have achieved this season, from finishing second last in the previous edition to finishing second best in this edition.