New Delhi: After a disastrous maiden season in the Indian Premier League (IPL), the Rising Pune Supergiant think-tank made lot of changes for the tenth edition of the league, and the team is finally reaping the benefits.
From a brand new skipper to breaking the bank to get the services of a top international all-rounder, everything was built from scratch in the second season itself and the decision to do so has worked wonders as RPS became the first side to seal a place in the final of the competition.
Ahead of the start of the league, many said that Pune had already won half the battle by putting together a strong squad on paper. However, early results indicated that this amalgamation of top stars was more of a dangerous mix of strong chemicals, which had exploded for the worst. They looked disjointed, uninspired and weren't working like a unit at all.
But Pune finally stumbled upon a winning formula that propelled them to the second spot in the league on the final day of the group phase. But where did it all start to turn around for them?
In the first four matches of the season, Pune could only muster one victory. And the reason for it was their clueless bowling. The usually reliable IPL names like Ashok Dinda and Rajat Bhatia proved to be expensive and so was newcomer Deepak Chahar as bowling became Pune's Achilles heel. Pune conceded 184, 164, 205 and 172 in the first four outings respectively, which were very high scores.
But it all changed against RCB as Jaydev Unadkat and Shardul Thakur were introduced together for the first time in the league. Unadkat picked 2 and Shardul scalped 3 while Ben Stokes (3/18) finally came to the party as Pune unearthed their pace combination for the rest of the season.
Imran Tahir's burden was lessened as the pace troika of Pune came to the fore. Since his introduction, Unadkat simply took the league by storm and has picked up 22 wickets in just 11 matches so far. While Shardul has also repaid the decision to include him into the playing XI by chipping away with 12 wickets in 11 matches so far.
Meanwhile, Australian spinner Adam Zampa was also replaced by the little-known Washington Sundar and the 17-year-old has stunned one and all by performing like a seasoned campaigner. Sundar has picked up 8 wickets in 10 matches, but what has been most striking about his performance is the off-spinner's ability to tie down the batsmen. Sundar's economy of 6.61 in ten outings is absolutely crucial in a format where bowlers often go for many.
Zampa was touted as the man to replace injured R Ashwin in the playing XI. But it is the Chennai-born youngster who has replaced the former Chennai Super Kings star. Playing Washington in the eleven was also favourable for Steven Smith as it gave Pune an option of playing another foreigner. Therefore, all-rounder Dan Christian was brought into the line-up and he has been a vital cog in the RPS wheel.
316 runs, one century, one half-century and twelve wickets — this has been Stokes' exploits in his maiden IPL season. They say you can't buy success, but for Rs 14.5 Crores, you can certainly boost up your aspirations of making it to the play-offs.
Meanwhile, skipper Smith himself held the fort as far as batting is concerned. In the 14 matches that he has played so far, the Aussie stalwart has been the leading run-scorer for RPS with 421 runs.
Former captain MS Dhoni has blown hot and cold in the tournament but he managed to come up with a majestic knock when it mattered the most. Against Mumbai Indians in the qualifier 1, Dhoni slammed an unbeaten 26-ball 40 as Pune entered their maiden final.
Apart from these usual suspects, there has been one shining young light at the top of the batting order for Pune — Rahul Tripathi. The right-hander has been one of the most exciting prospects and the maturity that he exudes is well beyond his age. In his maiden season, Tripathi has slammed 388 runs, which also includes a brilliant 93 against Kolkata Knight Riders, who possess one of the meanest bowling line-ups in the league. Besides, while Ajinkya Rahane was going through a lean patch in the league, Tripathi's runs at the top turned out to be crucial for RPS.
With one mere step left in order to etch their names in history books, looking at their recent performances, Pune will be confident of pulling off a stunning victory to make amends for their shambolic maiden season.