IPL 2017: Resurgence of Rising Pune Supergiant
"It was a game of inches and metres," said Stephen Fleming, coach of the runner-ups after the final. Rising Pune Supergiant finished their campaign with a gut-wrenching loss to Mumbai Indians by 1 run in the final of the IPL 10. What could have been a fairytale ending for them, ended up being a disappointing loss.
Turn back the clock, a look at RPS’s last match of IPL 9 where they defeated KXIP, courtesy MSD's last over heroics, and just managed to avoid the wooden spoon. How did this turnaround take place?
The Pune-based franchise was in news just a day before the auctions for appointing Steve Smith as the captain. The owners drew much criticism from fans for this bold move. Moreover, the owners decided to drop the S from Supergiants, which was more of a superstitious move.
Buying Stokes for a whopping 14.5 crores also raised many eyebrows but he was someone whom RPS needed desperately for having a balanced team. Though the squad required good overseas fast bowlers, they did not have the purse to afford any of them.
The newly appointed skipper found it pretty difficult at the start of the tournament to find the right combination. The bowlers were leaking runs, batsmen were inconsistent and fielders dropped too many catches. After beating MI in their first match, RPS went on to lose against KXIP, DD and GL convincingly.
They seemed to be going on the same track as last year, winning just one out of the first four matches.
The emergence of Rahul Tripathi
In their loss against the Daredevils, RPS found someone who went on to become one of their most consistent players of the season, Rahul Tripathi. Though he scored just 10 runs off 4 balls, coming in at number five, the way he came out and attacked the menacing Chris Morris right from ball one indicated that there is something special in the young man.
In the subsequent matches, he was sent to open the innings and the result was for everyone to see. He hardly made Rahane's poor form affect the team with his fearless approach.
Brilliance of Ben Stokes and Imran Tahir
Stokes found his mojo and contributed significantly in all three departments. It was not a surprise when he won the Most Valuable Player of the Tournament award. The slower ball was put to effect throughout the tournament and on most occasions, it worked.
His 103* off 63 balls against Gujarat was one of the best T20 hundreds while chasing. Overall he more than justified his price tag.
Coming in as a replacement for the injured Mitch Marsh, Imran Tahir hardly went wicket-less in any of the matches. The South African was crucial in providing much-needed breakthroughs in the middle overs, finishing with 18 wickets in 12 matches.
Also Read: Imran Tahir - a Supergiant for Pune
Reshuffling of Pacers
The real turnaround came when almost whole of the bowling unit was reshuffled. The likes of Dinda and Chahar were replaced by Unadkat and Shardul Thakur. Both of them had been on the fringes of selection for the national team for a long time and this season turned out to be their breakthrough edition.By the end of the IPL, Unadkat had a hat-trick and a five-wicket haul to his name and he was just a couple of wickets behind Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the race for the purple cap.
The surprise package
Manoj Tiwary reinvented his game and fitted into the role of an attacking lower middle order batsman and was quite successful. He became the floater in the lineup, batting at 4, 5 or 6. Wherever the team wanted him to play, more often than not, he contributed to the team’s cause.
The surprise package was, however, a 17-year-old kid Washington Sundar, who was drafted in as a replacement for R Ashwin. The teenager had big shoes to fill in but he did not get bogged down by the pressure.
He mostly bowled in the powerplays and played his role to perfection. His man of the match performance against MI in the qualifier was something he will remember for long. One doesn’t get figures of 4–0–16–3 in a T20 every day, and the three wickets included Lendl Simmons, Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu.
The Dhoni factor
Dhoni, the finisher, was quiet with the bat for a period of five matches and was criticised by his own team owner on Twitter. However, he made his willow do the talking, taking his team home almost single-handedly against the Sunrisers. Taking Bhuvneshwar, one of the best bowlers at death in the tournament, to cleaners with ease.
Against MI in the qualifier 1, Dhoni, along with Tiwary, scored 41 off the last two overs, which included four sixes off eight balls by MS against Bumrah and McClenaghan, turning the match in RPS’s favour.
Finally coming to the Dhoni-Smith partnership. The partnership which turned out to be magical and made RPS a strategically dangerous side. As it turned out, they both complimented each other well. Smith, being the captain, was not hesitant to listen to the more experienced MSD.
Attributing to all these factors, RPS went on to win 8 of their last 10 league matches and claim second spot on the points table. Despite Stokes, Tahir and Faf leaving the squad for national duty, RPS remained a tough team to beat.
After trumping MI convincingly in the qualifier 1, RPS went into the final with much confidence, only to lose in a nail-biter by one run.
With a high probability that they will not feature in the future editions, the Pune franchise might have played their last game in the IPL. And despite not having much bench strength and a team without much balance, the way their management laid down the strategies and the way players executed them was commendable.