This IPL Season 10, the Rising Pune Supergiants haven’t turned up. After last season’s dismal finish, they’ve now returned as the Supergiant. While most teams tend to be plural in their branding (Daredevils, Knightriders, Sunrisers), Pune for reasons best known to them, have decided to drop all illusions of being called a team – probably because they aren’t one.
In addition to the changed name was a change in captaincy - Steve Smith for MS Dhoni. If that was done to make news, it served its purpose – but the Pune owners refused to tread softly, and cited cricketing reasons for the same. All hell broke loose, sensational media thought it unacceptable, citing treason, calling a spade a spade in the IPL was just not on.
Three games into the IPL, Dhoni has scores of 12*(12), 5(11), 11(14). Pune has lost two of their three games, far from narrowly. Somewhere in between, the franchise owner decided to delve into statistics citing batting strike rates. Leaving little doubt who it was aimed at. With Sanjay Manjrekar in the box, and an owner such as this, Pujara should be pleased he isn’t playing for Pune.
Amidst all this, MS’ missus shared a pic of herself in CSK’s yellows. How opportune. If you have to feed the flames, what better. Perhaps a photograph with Meiyappan and Srini to follow too. But that is nostalgia, and regardless of what happens on the sidelines, this could be a tough season for Dhoni – unsupportive owners, for whatever reasons, might go as far as to rest or even drop Dhoni for the odd match.
Other dynamics aside, even if viewed purely for cricketing reasons, it may not be acceptable in the IPL – for either the broadcasters or the fans. Pune, Dhoni aside, only has Ajinkya Rahane as a regular team India player. But Dhoni is Dhoni, often beyond numbers, stats, strike rates. Much like Sachin Tendulkar in his last season, his presence on the field is more than enough. Much like Tendulkar, even after he retires, his presence in the dugout will be more than enough.
After an indifferent Season 9, Dhoni made his first telling score, 64*(32) in the 53rd match – with a winning six of the last ball of Axar Patel’s 20th over. That one innings was enough for the broadcasters, already there have been replays of it during live matches. Dhoni is part of both Indian cricketing and IPL folklore, nothing he does or doesn’t do will change that. Tinkering with him will only bring on the wrath of fans on the franchise.
In the past, Delhi Daredevils have been indifferent towards iconic players like Sehwag and Gambhir, their chaotic handling of players has led to constant chopping and changing, making one of the most formidable franchises into a joke that repeats itself season after season with a new cast.
While this will be Pune’s last season, going to war with Dhoni, however subtle, will lead to bruised egos and an embattled team – making them look far worse than they are. Empowering Dhoni, however unfathomable it may be to the owners and captain, Steve Smith, could prove to be a decisive move to bring about a change in fortunes: RPS’ best bet could be to promote Dhoni up the batting order – so far he has batted twice at five and once at six.
Recently, Dhoni moved up to number four in ODIs, giving himself far more time to settle down and control the innings. While this could lead to a duplication of roles with Rahane who opens, it will give the broadcasters and fans something to crow about, more air time for MS Dhoni.
The IPL will always throw the odd low-scoring game, and with Dhoni up the order, Pune will enjoy far more control, and who knows, start to win again. In Imran Tahir and Adam Zampa they have two leg spinners who will continue to exert influence throughout the tournament. But for that, they both must be played, regardless of the odd bad game.
While after one week, it looks pretty much down and out for Pune, they need to look at the positives: They beat Mumbai Indians in a high scoring chase with Steve Smith and Dhoni in a supporting role. They ran into Glenn Maxwell in their second game, there’s not much that can be done then. They ran into Chris Morris in their third game, when someone smashes you for 38 off nine balls, you just have to move on.
Whether RPS move on or not, of course, will depend largely on whether the owners and Dhoni can move on. Stranger things have happened in the IPL. When it was all yellow.