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IPL 2017: RPS' Ben Stokes backs his hefty price tag with all-round performance in loss to KXIP

A stuttering batting performance from Rising Pune Supergiant saw them set a mediocre 163 for six from their 20 overs against Kings XI Punjab. It never looked like enough runs, and a thoroughly professional chase from Kings XI, who were well led by Glenn Maxwell both in the field and with the bat, saw them win by six wickets with an over to spare.

Ben Stokes of Rising Pune Supergiant bowls during the match against Kings XI Punjab. IPL/Sportzpics

Ben Stokes of Pune bowls during the match against Kings XI Punjab. IPL/Sportzpics

Ben Stokes has been paid a lot of money to come and play for RPS, more than any overseas players has ever even been paid. Of course any professional sportsman is under pressure to perform, but when you are the big ticket player there is increased scrutiny. Even a middling season will be seen as a failure.

The reasons for a bidding war for Stokes at this year’s auction are obvious. He is pretty much the perfect all-rounder. An attacking batsman that can smash sixes, a bowler who can reach 90mph on a regular basis and one of the best fielders in the world. What more could you ask for?

But Stokes has only started to make the most of his undoubted potential over the last 12 months or so. He has finally cemented his place in England’s ODI side by adding some consistency to his batting after failing far too often, but his returns with the bat in T20 internationals are still mediocre. He is not aided by rarely getting to bat in the top four, but his batting average in T20I matches is just 14.76 with a high score of 38. That he is so well thought of and has so much room to improve says a lot about his abilities, but paying him Rs 14.5 crore was still a punt of sorts.

On Saturday afternoon in Indore, the Englishman started to repay some of the faith shown in him by the RPS think tank as he made his sixth T20 fifty. Making 50 off 32 balls having walked to the crease with his team in trouble at 36 for two is exactly what the team management would have been hoping for.

Some of the shots that Stokes played were just brutal. The six that was pulled over wide long-on for six off Marcus Stoinis was ridiculous. It didn’t get more than two metres off the ground all the way to the fence. The television coverage measured the pace off the bat as more than 90mph. If a fielder had got in the way he could well have been carried over the ropes with the ball.

While Stokes shone, the rest of the Pune batting top order fumbled around. A duck for Mayank Agarwal, 19 for Ajinkya Rahane, 26 for Steve Smith and just five for MS Dhoni meant that it left Stokes with a lot to do. What his team needed was for him to bat until the end of the innings. That he fell for exactly 50 prevented Pune from reaching 180 and setting the Kings XI a really daunting chase.

A target of 164 meant that RPS would need wickets, this was a very good batting pitch and they were at least 20 runs under a truly competitive total. The man that was most likely to do that was Imran Tahir, and once again he was a serious threat. He finished with figures of 2-29 from his four overs as he celebrated like a lottery winner when both of those wickets fell. In fact, someone who has just hit a big jackpot would be much more restrained.

The Kings XI were clearly cognizant of the Tahir threat and made the decision to send in Axar Patel ahead of Maxwell and David Miller. Patel made a decent 24 from 22 balls that shielded the power hitters perfectly. By the time he was dismissed, Tahir had bowled more than half of his allocation. The South African leggie could be knocked around for singles and runs plundered from the Supergiant seamers.

Just as with the bat, Stokes was the pick of the Supergiant fast bowlers, and he could well have had a wicket off his very first ball if Dan Christian had hung on to a very sharp chance at extra cover off Wriddhiman Saha. Stokes bowled 10 dot balls, the most by any player in the match, going at eight an over. His bowling was not as spectacular as his batting, but it once again backed up that price tag that has got so much coverage in the British press.

The Rising Pune Supergiant have batted first in eight matches in their short history and have lost all of them. Quite why this is, no one can say. Perhaps it is just a rogue piece of data from within the subset that tells us that every team likes to chase these days. Knowing what you need to get in the age of ludicrous hitting ability is an undoubted advantage.

If they are to remedy that record they need their top three to fire. When they successfully chased down 185 against the Mumbai Indians in their first match that is exactly what happened with Rahane and Smith both making fifties. If they all fail as they did in Saturday’s game it leaves the middle order the job of rebuilding and then also setting a platform to attack at the death.

Dhoni can do most things, but even he finds that particular job a hard one to pull off.

Updated Date: Apr 09, 2017 12:15 PM

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