IPL 2017: MS Dhoni is now free to prosper with the bat as Steve Smith takes reins of Rising Pune Supergiants

The rough and tumble of sport produces theatre that often surpasses even the fare dished out on pedigreed Broadway joints. Only some of it tends to belong in the genre of cheap masala. The 24x7 news shops add flavor with their own spicy reading of the passage of play. The Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) provided much needed relief to the strained vocal chords of Chennai journalists with their decision to relieve Mahendra Singh Dhoni from the burden of captaincy.

The television channels can finally turn their cameras away from the tiring drama in Chennai and focus their energies on the developments in Pune. This is just the kind of news they needed in the run up to the auction for the tenth season of the Indian Premier League.

Rising Pune Supergiants Steven Smith along with Mahendra Singh Dhoni in IPL 2016. AFP

Rising Pune Supergiants Steven Smith along with Mahendra Singh Dhoni in IPL 2016. AFP

Keeping in tune with our boorish times, media outlets have been quick to ride the hyperbola. Dhoni "sacked as captain" regaled one channel, while another celebrated the news by confirming that the erstwhile Indian captain had been “axed” to size.

Such behavior might be good fodder to social scientists. They can collect some empirical data on our cultural ethos around sport. We seem to relish the rise of a star as much as we celebrate his inevitable implosion. Irrespective of the reading of these experts, it is quite clear to the seasoned among us that the hasty narration of this tale is far from cultured.

The decision made by the RPS management might just be based on sound cricket logic. The treatment of the news coming out though was more voyeurism absent of logic and substance. Dhoni has enjoyed a relatively long reign as leader with great success, especially in the shorter formats. The world cups that lay on the BCCI cabinet bear testimony to his gut and guile.

After all, Dhoni is one of our most decorated leaders. He is a man that brought India laurels, helping the team scale peaks that they never knew existed. Dhoni has a penchant for bravado. It is his vision that heralded a new era for Indian cricket in the aftermath of Greg Chappell’s efforts to amputate the vitals.

But everything in sport is transient, and so are its stars. The Supergiants suffered a floundering campaign in 2016, losing nine of their fourteen games. They were second from the bottom of the table with Dhoni struggling both as batsman and captain.

Over the past few months, Dhoni has also reassessed his priorities. And the decision to relinquish captaincy seemed to have helped his cause — a first one day international (ODI) century in over four years and his maiden T20 international fifty point to his ability to flourish as a batsman. He is playing with a new found freedom that was missing toward the later part of his leadership career.

One could argue that he retained a desire to lead in the IPL and the domestic circuit, based on his comments during the India A — England tour game. Obviously the RPS management has decided to act decisively with their long term future in mind, removing Dhoni off the captain’s role.

Indications are that the management of the Pune team has taken Dhoni into confidence before making the decision. Even though he may not have enjoyed this unexpected move, he is shrewd enough to reconcile to his new role in the team.

"I have the highest regard for MS Dhoni as a leader and a person. Dhoni will continue to be an important part of our team," Sanjiv Goenka, owner of the Pune franchise, said in a statement. "He is supportive of the decision keeping the franchisee's best interests in mind."

And Steve Smith is a good choice for captain. The young Australian has shouldered the responsibility since taking over from Michael Clarke in 2015. He has won 11 of 20 Tests and five of seven Test Series, underlining his astute skills at the helm.

“We have opted for Steve Smith as captain of RPS for the forthcoming IPL season,” said the Supergiants owner. “Despite having a good side the team did not get expected results last year. Last year we failed. We could have done much better.”

The Supergiants roster includes — Ajinkya Rahane, Faf du Plessis and Ravichandran Ashwin — besides Dhoni and Smith. That is a wealthy lineup that can challenge the best. With Rs 17.5 crores at their disposal for Monday’s IPL auction, the Giants will most likely look for another quality spinner to work in tandem with Ashwin.

Mitchell Marsh’s fragile body will also pressure the management to look for a reliable pacer before they add some firepower to the middle order.

Dhoni will also come to the party a rested man, with several of his other mates doing national duty during the gruelling Test Series that lay ahead in the next few weeks. That should help him play a decisive role in shaping the fortunes of the Pune team as a keeper-batsman.

Smith’s leadership will be interesting to watch from outside the ropes. It will be fascinating to see him marshal du Plessis and Ashwin, two men who have tormented the Australian team in the past. You would suspect that he would be happier having these two men on his side.

With Dhoni behind the wicket, Smith could have a great source of valuable insight on and off the field. It will be vital for the Giants to ensure a fruitful relationship between the two men.

The smooth manner in which Dhoni has evolved into his new role in the Indian setup under Virat Kohli means that the man from Ranchi has no qualms performing as a player. Smith will feel at ease, having seen that play out during the recent India-England series.

“Mahi was cooperation personified when we conveyed the decision to him,” added Goenka. The decision may have been made by the management, but it may have just made life easier for Dhoni. He will now look to bat up the order and brutalise opponents in the upcoming IPL season.

A veteran with freedom and a newbie with energy might just be the potion needed for Supergiants to churn out a memorable performance in IPL 2017.

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Updated Date: Feb 20, 2017 10:14:05 IST

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