Small steps for Supergiants: Win over Delhi keeps Pune’s IPL 2016 hopes afloat

It was like one of those 90’s arcade video games in which your character is low on health, there is a mean-level boss up ahead, and all seems lost. Then you go into the main menu, use whatever credits you have to switch characters. Suddenly, with a new face fighting the bad guys, you chance upon a hidden power-up, an extra life. It was that kind of day for the new look Rising Pune Supergiants, who kept their campaign alive with a win over the fancied Delhi Daredevils at the Kotla. Here are the biggest talking points from the match

Bhatia right at home
Rajat Bhatia is 36 years old. He has been playing domestic cricket for 16 years, and has amassed more than a 100 first class caps for three Ranji teams. For many of those years, he has represented the sometimes dysfunctional Delhi District Cricket Association. That also means that he has seen the Kotla pitch through every prism, and knows how to coax and cajole the most out of it.


The new look Rising Pune Supergiants looked impressive against Delhi. BCCI

All those skills were on display, as Bhatia got the most of a slightly dry pitch that did not offer the turn that was expected. After the Supergiants had marginally had the better of the powerplay - removing both openers and conceding 48- Bhatia came in and did what he does best: take the pace off and drag down the run rate.

He first defeated Karun Nair, who was looking in ominous touch, courtesy a splendid catch at deep cover by Thisara Perera. His second wicket nipped what looked like a game changing innings from Sam Billings in the bud. His four overs went for just 22 runs, and it meant that the Daredevils scored at just 7.1 RPO in overs seven to 15, a period where they have consistently scored at over eight an over this year. While such performances rarely earn Man of the Match trophies, Bhatia will surely have earned a mention in the team meeting after the game, and that is praise aplenty.

Khawaja fits in
The IPL auctions can be ridiculously lopsided. On one hand, proven T20I performers like Hashim Amla, Usman Khawaja, and even IPL veteran George Bailey earned the dubious tag of being unsold in the first round of the draft. On the other hand, little known players, both domestic and foreign, sparked bidding wars, many understandably, some less so.

A flurry of injuries has meant that some of the unsold players have earned a wild card entry into the cash rich competition though. The inclusion of Khawaja and Bailey in the Rising Pune Supergiants squad has to some extent, been a salve on the wounds inflicted by the loss of all four first choice overseas players due to injury. While Bailey’s willow was not required on Thursday, Khawaja made his presence felt at the top of the order, and helped the Supergiants keep their campaign alive.

He had his share of luck though, as did his partner Ajinkya Rahane, who notched up his fifth half century of the season. The pair offered four chances in the first six overs itself, and Khawaja later also survived an easy stumping chance off Amit Mishra. But by then, the opening batsman had made his mark, showing he was as comfortable playing square of the wicket as he was down the ground. Khawaja was the second highest run scorer in the Big Bash League this year, and also helped the Sydney Thunder to the title. The Pune team will be hoping his annus mirabilis continues on Indian soil.

Keep calm and trust MSD
That is what Pune fans said in the Maharashtra Derby, when MS Dhoni walked in with the game perfectly set up for him to finish. By his own admission, his run-a-ball 24 was not what the team needed. While Dhoni is known to start slowly these days, especially against the spinners, it was worrying to see his strike rate in that game so low, even after facing more than 10 balls.

He set matters straight on Thursday though, walking in at number four, ahead of Bailey. While his slow start meant that the chase was tighter than it should have been, with 47 required off 30 balls, Dhoni ensured that he stuck around till the game was in control. He and Rahane craftily took their time against Imran Tahir and Mishra, allowing them to concede just 10 runs off the 16th and 17th overs. Once Mohammed Shami came back though, the duo milked 20 runs of the 18th over, including a wide-boundary and a fortuitous top edge off Dhoni’s bat. Perera applied the finishing touches after Dhoni was sent back by a surreal catch from Billings, and put some much needed smiles on the Pune fans’ faces.

While Pune may have uncovered a second lease of life, the fact that their opponents were not at full strength will keep them firmly grounded. They will next face fellow strugglers Royal Challengers Bangalore on Saturday with their campaign still on a knife’s edge. Leave aside all the video game references; Pune need to keep calm despite the truth of what Eminem said: “You don’t get another chance, life is no Nintendo game.”

Updated Date: May 06, 2016 13:13 PM

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