A world-class all-rounder and a battle-hardened veteran provided inspiration at the right time to help the Rising Pune Supergiant leap into the final of the Indian Premier League (IPL) on Sunday.
Ben Stokes was bought by the Supergiant for an astronomical sum of Rs 14.5 crores. He repaid every bit of the money paid to him.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni always looked a bit out of sorts with the bat throughout the tournament. But he fired when it mattered. His innings of 40 off just 25 balls in the playoffs against the Mumbai Indians tilted the balance towards the Pune team.
He also scored a crucial 61 not out against the Sunrisers Hyderabad to clinch a victory off the last ball.That aside, he did extremely well in his primary job as a wicketkeeper. This is one aspect which is always forgotten when one thinks of Dhoni.Credit must also be given to Dhoni for taking the loss of the captaincy in his stride.
However, the crucial role played by Ben Stokes was pivotal in the Pune team making the final.
After a sluggish start, Stokes was everywhere – with bat, ball and in the field.
He made important contributions with the bat and took key wickets in almost every match. He scored one of the finest centuries in the IPL when Pune, chasing 161, fell to 42 to 4 against the Gujarat Lions. Stokes rebuilt the innings with Dhoni and later thrashed the bowling to all parts of the field to secure a five-wicket win. He made 103 not out of a total of 167 for 5 and battled cramps in the last few overs.
His efforts throughout the tournament were not wasted as other members of the team also rose to the occasion by taking a cue from him.
Even without his services in the playoffs due to England duty, Pune made it to the final easily. It wasn’t smooth sailing for the Pune team after a winning start to IPL2017.
There were periods when the team, which had splashed a lot of money, looked ordinary.
Captain Steve Smith started well but later started giving away his wicket after decent starts to stupid shots. Opener Ajinkya Rahane did not enjoy much success until the last few crucial matches.
However, many of the young and experienced players stepped up when needed. Rahul Tripathi was a find and his aggression at the top contributed to the relative failures of Rahane and Smith. Manoj Tiwary played the role of a floater perfectly and did well.
Jaydev Unadkat has a successful IPL and took wickets regularly including a hat-trick.
However, the second masterstroke by Pune after Stokes was picking up the discarded Imran Tahir.
Strange as it may seem, Tahir, a top T20 bowler, was not found suitable by any of the franchises during the auction. But loss of Ravichandran Ashwin to injury meant Tahir got his chance. The South African leg-spinner did not let his team down. He was the pick of the bowlers, taking key wickets and importantly, keeping the runs in check.
By playing the 17-year-old spinner Washington Sundar along with Tahir regularly, Pune prepared him as a replacement when Tahir eventually left for South Africa duties.Sundar did not disappoint and won the man-of the-match award in the playoffs.
The key factor for Pune in this edition of the IPL is that now they are beginning to look like a team after an initial stutter. Their performances in the last few matches show that they deserve their place in the final.
They are one match away from becoming the champion. Stokes and Tahir may have gone, but the wise old man Dhoni still remains.
And the good thing is that he knows how to win.