Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) didn't buy Ben Stokes for Rs 14.5 crore. They bought electricity. Something that was missing all of last season. From a team that just didn't come together, first with its purchases, to a team that eventually fell apart, as its big buys fell like flies, falling to injury, one by one.
Forget Stokes' strike rate, forget his batting average too. Forget his economy, his bowling average, just picture Stokes, as you remember him from the recent India-England series. What do you see? Or rather, what don't you see?
It's hard to say whether Stokes is the sum of his astonishing parts or way more than them. To dismiss his ability with a cliché will be incorrect. If cricketers were meat, he is the leanest, meanest cut out there - one that bedazzled the carnivore in each franchise. How could they not have him?
Stokes was the prey. A prey in its prime. And a prime cut at that. He elicited such ravenous desire, a Nat Geo clip of a cheetah stalking its prey should've accompanied the bidding.
Befittingly, Stokes has been picked as the predator. One that will not only run after its prey, but also pounce on it pronto - he is to be the finisher. Both with that outstretched hand that plucks balls out of thin air at first slip, or tonks one over long on, with zero movement, Kluseneresquely. He will bowl too, and prepare for Shastri to pipe in with, "Stokes can go for a few but he's a wicket taking bowler."
In a team that appears almost comatose at times, Stokes will inject edginess. He will sledge. He will take on Virat Kohli. Or he will compel ViratKohli to take him on. He will, in the blink of an eye, be expected to make things happen.
|To begin with, Benjamin Andrew Stokes must go nuts. And electrify the IPL. Photo: PTI|
He is, in every way, to the IPL born.
With Stokes' purchase, both India and England have opened themselves to what Kevin Pietersen's been saying forever - that England's players should play in the IPL. Isn't it strange then, that one foreign-born England player takes over from another? Both June born, one from Natal, the other from Christchurch.
What RPS expects of Stokes could define how much he accomplishes for them - they could, hold him back to a fault, as the Mumbai Indians often did with Kieron Pollard or unleash him, earlier on, spreading fear and chaos, as the best in the biz do, much like David Warner.
RPS' new captain, Steve Smith, their ex-captain, MS Dhoni, and South Africa's skipper, Faf du Plessis should rally around Stokes, as Stokes is allowed to simply let go. Letting Stokes go, could well be what the more introspective threesome needs - who knows, it could nudge them a bit to raid the opposition.
Last season, it took one captain, David Warner and one coach, Tom Moody to set in motion an expedition that defied all logic - a team bereft of superstars and one on the wane, Yuvraj Singh, three seamers, one aging Ashish Nehra, one forgotten Bhuvneshwar Kumar, one Bangladeshi Mustafizur Rahman, all somehow added to one trophy in IPL 9.
While Pune lacks Hyderabad's bowling, it ticks quite a few boxes that won the IPL last season. In coach Stephen Fleming and MS Dhoni they have the know-how of how to win the IPL. Even though that was with CSK, and that seems a lifetime away, Fleming's new collaboration with Steve Smith on top, will only rejig the team in a positive way.
In his last match, Dhoni scored his first T20 international fifty - surely stepping away from captaincy will account for something, even more so in the IPL, against hapless Indian bowlers on flat decks. Even if Irfan Pathan is missing, Axar Patel must still remember what Dhoni did to him last summer.
Now, if only Pune provides its home team with grounds like Chennai provided CSK - spinners, R Ashwin and A Zampa, could have a field day, and the qualifiers could be a lot closer than they appear.
If everything goes as per plan (and you can be sure, with Fleming there will be some devious plans cooking), prepare to hear Ravi Shastri repeat himself many a time, "Ben Stokes will be stoked" - even when he drops a catch, as was the case only recently. After all, it's the IPL, and everything goes.
But to begin with, Benjamin Andrew Stokes must go nuts. And electrify the IPL. The rest will follow.