Will the Pune Warriors be third time lucky?
They were led by ‘Yuvraj’ and then by the ‘prince of Kolkata’ in two different seasons. The fortunes of the Pune Warriors though, in spite of possessing a talented side, didn’t alter much. With a new captain at the helm, they will hope they are third time lucky.
We all know about the travails and tribulations that Kolkata Knight Riders had to go through before getting it right. At the same time, there are teams like the Chennai Super Kings that have always got it spot on. For a start, Angelo Matthews’ first mission would be to get the team to a decent start and if possible make it to the top 4. But with teams strengthening their squads during the off-season and with the teams like Mumbai Indians, KKR and CSK who have the know-how to win, it would be a very hard task, indeed.
With the great ‘White Lightening’ Allan Donald at the helm, Pune have a definite edge when it comes to the bowling department. And the fact that their captain is one of the best all-rounders in the game, with a mature and composed head will help boost the confidence of the team too. Every winning team has a confident man in charge and Angelo, who has pulled his national team into some miraculous victories, surely knows how to do the job. His partnership with Lasith Malinga in Australia’s den to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat is now part of cricketing folklore.
The Warriors definitely aren’t a one-man army. They have Steve Smith, who seemed to be in sublime form last season though he never had much of an opportunity by the time he came in, during most matches. Marlon Samuels who powered West Indies to a T20 World Cup final win against Sri Lanka will be a lynchpin in the middle order. Aaron Finch, the beefy Australian short format opener can give them explosive starts at the top.
They also have an excellent bowling line-up that includes India’s latest swing sensation, Bhuvanesh Kumar and the determined, and dogged fast bowler with an incredible jump, Ashok Dinda. Wayne Parnell has that extra zip and is a handy batsmen lower down the order as well. Rahul Sharma and Ajantha Mendis can be really handy on slow spinning surfaces, while in Luke Wright, they have a decent all-rounder to add to the squad strength.
One of the biggest factors in Pune Warriors’ favour is the strength of the Indian contingent. Almost every team boasts of superstars when it comes to foreign players. But in the IPL, you still need 7 good Indian players who can contribute and turn a match on its head on their day. Not all teams can boast of that. The Warriors though, have some really good match-winners in their ranks. Manish Pandey, the first Indian IPL centurion, might want to find the lost touch and so would Robin Uthappa, who has gradually slipped away from the selectors’ radars over the last one year. Mithun Manhas will complete the Indian segment, ensuring that there is stability in the middle order.
In a way, Pune could be the dark horses this season. They have excellent bench strength and unlike Mumbai or Delhi, they aren’t heavily dependent on a couple of players. It really comes down to how the new head coach and captain shape and mould the team, and how they get the best out of their players.
Last year, Pune managed to lose couple of really close matches, including one to RCB, thanks to an AB de Villiers blitz against Ashish Nehra. The aggression of Donald and his shrewdness when it comes to foxing batsmen could really come handy this season, now that he has eased himself into the IPL. He has experience in his repertoire too, having worked with Gary Kirsten to coach the best fast bowling contingent in the world – that of the South African Test team.
Another factor that Pune needs to respect and make good use of is its home support. The swanky Subroto Roy stadium held up its end of the bargain last season, only to be handed gut-wrenching disappointment. Yuvraj can get the crowd and a few wins can make them go berserk. It’s a young team and most importantly, boasts of some electric fielders on the velvety turf, led by an ever-charged up Smith.
I, for one, am looking forward to watching Parvez Rasool; last Ranji season’s spin sensation from Kashmir. Ross Taylor’s form could be another major factor too. For the sake of good cricket, one hopes that Pune Warriors turn up on the eve of the match and put up a good fight. The last thing IPL needs is a couple of teams that notch up losing streaks like Pune and Rajasthan did last season.