Never change a winning team, they tell you. By extension, you should be changing everything about a losing team. That is exactly what the Rising Pune Supergiant has done in the past few weeks, leading up to their second appearance in the 10th edition of IPL.
Let’s start with the most recent: the name. That’s right, Supergiant was not a typo, the Sanjiv Goenka owned team officially changed their name, making them probably the only team in the world with a singular name and forcing this writer to abandon plural pronouns. Yes that will be memorable for sure, just like the Chicago Bull or the New York Yankee.
The reason provided by the team spokesperson was possibly more ridiculous the name of the team itself. “Last year when we called ourselves Supergiants, we were looking at four to five players in the squad who had supergiant abilities. While preparing for this IPL, we thought why just a few players, the entire team is Supergiant.” The same spokesperson also denied there was anything superstitious about this change to revive the fortunes of the team who lost their four first choice overseas players last years to injury halfway through the tournament.
The change in leadership is slightly less ridiculous, despite 2016 being the only blight on MS Dhoni’s impressive IPL captaincy career. His India record aside, Dhoni has a 61.05% win rate as captain of the Chennai Super Kings (minimum 20 games), and has led his team to five finals and two titles. Simply his presence in the team was expected to make RPS a force to be reckoned with in IPL 2016. Instead, they finished seventh, winning just five of 14 games. So his replacement with the Australian captain Steve Smith has less to do with a bad season and more to do with the ascent of Smith as a batsman and a leader. RPS will be hoping Smith’s golden run with the bat will set the tone for the team this season.
Then there are the changes in the squad. RPS took the risk of going into the IPL auction with a clear target, no matter the cost: Ben Stokes. To this end, they released the other all-rounders in the squad from last year: Irfan Pathan, Thisara Perera and Albie Morkel. They did bag the English all-rounder’s signature, but had to break the bank for it. Stokes went for Rs 14.5 crore, the highest ever for an overseas player. That single purchase made up 15 percent of all the money spent in this IPL auction.
Smith, Faf du Plessis and Stokes should walk in as the three internationals. Ajinkya Rahane and du Plessis will most likely reprise their opening act from last season, with Smith coming in at three. Stokes, Dhoni and Ravichandran Ashwin will buff up the middle order, but expect Manoj Tiwary, who was a late pick by the Pune team, to bat between them, at number four. The fourth overseas slot might be a horses for courses decision.
On wickets that help spinners, Adam Zampa or Imran Tahir should make the cut, otherwise, RPS could go with the trend of picking express pace this season. In which case, New Zealand’s recent debutant Lockie Fergusson may make an appearance. Despite the big names, the batting looks a bit thin, and Mayank Agarwal could get a few games after having warmed the bench for much of his time at Delhi Daredevils. Also expect Rajat Bhatia, who RPS have retained, to be a part of the XI. His lack of pace and variations will be useful in the middle overs.
The team has a number of players who have points to prove. Mitchell Marsh’s injury has been Tahir’s lifeline, and the South African will be keen to show other teams that ignoring the top-ranked T20 bowler in the auction was a mistake. Then there is Rahane, fresh from leading India to a win in the deciding test at Dharamsala. Rahane was dropped from the Indian T20 squad in January, and there will be no better chance to show that he also has the power game. And finally there is Dhoni himself. For the first time in more than a decade, he finds himself as the captain of no team, playing simply as a wicketkeeper-batsman, the same role he now plays for India in limited-overs cricket. Time will tell if this liberates him, but with age not on his side, he will need to let his skills do the talking every time.
For a mixed bag of reasons, RPS have become the most talked about team leading into their first game against the Mumabi Indians on 6 April. But as Delhi Daredevil’s purchase of Yuvraj Singh for Rs 16 crores in 2015 showed, big bucks don’t score runs. Once IPL 2017 gets underway, it will be up to the players to ensure that RPS have more to show at the end of the season than a changed name and an empty purse.
Updated Date: Apr 04, 2017 13:42 PM