Even before their Indian Premier League stint could officially take off on the field, Rising Pune Supergiants were chided. The name of the franchise was already the subject of much derision on social media. That morphed into outright guffaws when their jersey was unveiled and Mahendra Singh Dhoni was spotted alongside Sanjiv Goenka, the team owner, holding aloft a garment that can be described as gaudy, at best.
Dhoni, for one, found it all a bit hard to get used to. “I would be lying if I say I have moved on,” he said. Despite his apprehensions, though, Dhoni might yet feel at home in Pune.
The odious name and the questionable jersey aside, those in charge struck gold in roping in Stephen Fleming as coach, reforging the captain-coach duo that proved so successful at Chennai. With R. Ashwin and Faf du Plessis also in the mix, there is a strong Chennai spine to the side, shored up by numerous domestic and international biggies.
If they can settle on a working combination and gel quickly enough, this side could well have a very memorable first edition.
Pune possess players of significant international calibre, but while that is normal among teams in the IPL, getting them to strike a balance is often the problem. Pune seem to have tackled that issue. On the face of it, this side has a potent, well-balanced mixture of domestic and international players.
With Ajinkya Rahane at the top, the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Steven Smith, du Plessis and Dhoni himself in the middle, and R. Ashwin and Ishant Sharma leading the bowling department, this is a side that is solid and versatile. There are quality allrounders – crucial to any T20 side – in Mitchell Marsh, Thisara Perera, Albie Morkel and Irfan Pathan, bridging the departments and making this a side brimming with possibilities.
The absence of a quality international speedster, like a Dale Steyn or a Mitchell Starc, capable of leaving a burning trail is perhaps a weak link. While the pace department is in healthy hands, with Ishant in the lead and supported by the likes of Ashok Dinda and Ishwar Pandey, the absence of real speed could be particularly felt in the death overs. Yes, Dinda has been known to send in the all-too-important yorkers at the death, but he is also known to be inconsistent. How will Dhoni work around this?
2016 auction action
Given that they more or less had to build from scratch, Pune, along with Gujarat Lions, were the most active participants of the 2016 IPL auction, purchasing 18 players. In all, they spent Rs.60.8 crore – including their expenditure at the player draft – after which they bought Saurabh Tiwary and Albie Morkel from Delhi Daredevils to boost their total squad strength to 25. The most eye-catching of their moves in the auction was the Rs.4.5 crore signing of the unknown legspinner M. Ashwin, for whose signature they saw off a prolonged challenge from Royal Challengers Bangalore. Apart from that thought-provoking signing, they were wise at the auction tables.
Player to watch
The signing of Adam Zampa is a canny one – the young Australian legspinner was impressive during World T20 – but given the shocking manner in which M Ashwin was propelled into the limelight, all focus will be on him. The Tamil Nadu leggie caught the scouts’ eye with ten wickets in 23 overs during the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament, which was preceded by good displays alongside R. Ashwin in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
However, the IPL is a whole different ball game. If picked, he will need to cope with the pressures of bowling in front of massive crowds. That will be in addition to the burden of a heavy price tag, which will always hang over him. Good, then, that his namesake and Tamil Nadu teammate isn’t too far away to lend a guiding hand.
Squad: MS Dhoni (capt), R Ashwin, Faf du Plessis, Ajinkya Rahane, Steven Smith, Kevin Pietersen, Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Mitchell Marsh, RP Singh, Ankit Sharma, Rajat Bhatia, Ishwar Pandey, M Ashwin, Ankush Bains, Peter Handscomb, Thisara Perera, B Aparajith, Deepak Chahar, Ashok Dinda, Scott Boland, Adam Zampa, Jaskaran Singh, Saurabh Tiwary, Albie Morkel.
Manoj Narayan is Senior Staff Writer at Wisden India. Mint has a content partnership with Wisden India for the Indian Premier League season.