IPL 2016: How Dhoni and co failed to conjure a good recipe despite best ingredients

They say cricket is a team game built on individual performance. If you have been following the Rising Pune Supergiants in this IPL, you would be forgiven for doubting the veracity of that statement.

The best ever bowling figures in the IPL belong to Sohail Tanvir. They read an incredible 4-0-14-6. Tanvir routed the vaunted Chennai Super Kings batting order, and led to an eight wicket win for his team, the Rajasthan Royals.

The next best figures were recorded by Adam Zampa, in only his second IPL game. He spun his way to figures of 4-0-19-6. It was also the first five wicket haul in this edition of the IPL. It helped the Rising Pune Supergiants restrict the in –form Hyderabad Sunrisers to 137, in a must-win match for the team.

And yet the Supergiants still lost.

Rising Pune Supergiants. BCCI

Rising Pune Supergiants. BCCI

At the time of writing, Zampa also has the best average among all bowlers in this IPL. And yet the Supergiants won only two out of the five games he played in.

Ajinkya Rahane is now fifth in the orange cap list, with 480 runs this season. He has six fifties, more than any other player besides David Warner. That is more fifties than rest of the team put together. And yet on four occasions when he scored half centuries, the Supergiants lost.

These stats tell you one of cricket’s oldest truths. No matter how much you harp on about individual performances, cricket is a team game. And all throughout the season, the Supergiants have rarely had a settled team.

The Pune team fielded a whopping 23 players in the entire season. While some of these changes were enforced by injury, most were in search of the winning combination. One that the Supergiants found only five times in the season. It was like the Stephen Fleming- MS Dhoni combination were trying to recreate the Chennai Super Kings' secret recipe. They had the ingredients, and the chefs, but the dish just didn’t taste the same. So they kept swapping and chopping their resources, until they managed something palatable.

The spectre of injury haunted them. It seemed to follow only the overseas players who were doing well, as if it had no interest or power over the locals. Only after it had its fill of the four first-choice internationals, did it seem sated.

While some individuals made a mark, there were some areas of concern that consistently plagued Dhoni. The bowling in the powerplay for instance. For the first half of the season, the Indian talent failed to do the job. This forced Dhoni to use an overseas player to open the bowling. With three overseas players already shoring up the batting, this conundrum made it difficult to play Zampa earlier in the season. And in his five matches, Zampa (12 wickets, economy 6.76) proved what a costly loss that was.

It also forced Dhoni to use Ravichandran Ashwin often in the first six overs, in a defensive role, as opposed to the attacking role we saw in the WT20. This meant that his economy finished up around 7.25, as opposed to the extraordinary 5.84 last year. He also snagged only 10 wickets.

For years, Ashwin has worked in tandem with Jadeja or another accurate spinner, be it for India or for CSK. Now, having to bear the burden of being the captain’s go-to man himself, he struggled to bowl in the aggressive manner that we are accustomed to seeing from him.

But most worrying of all was the lack of runs from anybody besides Rahane. Before Saturday’s game, the next highest run getter for the Supergiants was Steve Smith, who played no part in the IPL after eight games. Dhoni himself was often reluctant to bat higher up the order, where his direction for this new team was desperately needed. While his average of 40.57, boosted by five not outs, makes good reading, Dhoni has been a bit hit-and-miss this season, like a bag of firecrackers that has survived the monsoon; you never know if and when they will go off. In the last game he reminded us of the Dhoni of yesteryear, who ate low full-tosses for breakfast. The tank like confidence and the monk like peace -despite the 12 runs required off two balls- were still there, but the skills were noticeably subdued.

For much of the latter half of the IPL, Dhoni spoke about how important next season is going to be. Indeed, if the Supergiants can field a fully fit roster, and acquire some serious seam bowling talent, they will be a handful for most teams. Cricket is a game in which individual performance matters, but team efforts cannot and should not be forgotten . Unless Dhoni can find the right combination quickly, the Rising Pune Supergiants may fall into oblivion.

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Updated Date: May 24, 2016 15:32:19 IST

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