Time for Giant Steps !

They dropped the letter ‘s’ from their name. They replaced one of the most successful captains in the country. The Rising Pune Supergiant team step onto their home turf at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium for their first Indian Premier League (IPL) match against Mumbai Indians today with many questions to answer.

Having finished a disappointing seventh in IPL 9, the Supergiant’s need a good tournament this time to live up to their top billing. The team splashed money to rope in some of the best players in the world. England all-rounder Ben Stokes has been bought for a whopping Rs 14.5 crores, the highest for a foreign player. There has been a cleanout with the hope that a new team would add the much-needed impetus to their title hunt.

The single most factor which could make, or break, their season will be the shock replacement of Mahendra Singh Dhoni as captain. Australian Steve Smith is a good, aggressive leader with an astute cricketing brain.

He leads by example and his recent form, particularly in India, has been phenomenal.But what makes Dhoni better than some of the others is that he is an ‘out-of- the box’ thinker.

He makes things happen with impulsive moves and unexpected changes. He is willing to take a gamble to force a result. It will seem strange that Dhoni will be a mere player among such a collection of talent.

But, that is the way it is and the Supergiant team will have to put that behind them and rally behind Smith. Stokes will be crucial to the Supergiant. He bolsters the middle-order and his aggressive style can change the course of a game. His pace bowling too will be needed as the Supergiant team seem a bit lacking in that department.

Yet, once the group stage is over, Stokes will leave for his England duties. The team has to be mentally prepared for that and must give Dan Christian a longer run so he can step in.

Christian has been in good form in the Big Bash League in Australia and could be an adequate replacement. The team will also have to cope with the loss of Ravichandran Ashwin through injury. However, South African Imran Tahir has got the nod and will have to take on the spin burden. If one goes by statistics and reputation alone, all aspects point to success for the Supergiant.

They have the best player in the world in Smith, the best all-rounder in Stokes, the No 1 T20 spinner in Tahir and the best finisher in Dhoni. If this is the case, then Supergiant must swamp the opposition.

T20 games are fast and furious. There is no time for redemption or salvaging acts sometimes. Smith will have to think on his feet and harness all the talent available to him. He is lucky that the battle-hardened Dhoni remains by his side.

If they perform, the Supergiant will live up to their name. And make Pune proud. But then, cricket is a funny game and things do not always follow the script.

Babu Kalyanpur

Babu Kalyanpur, ( Consulting Editor) has rich experience in both sports and business journalism. Babu has led news desks in Pune and Bahrain and writes extensively on his passion, sports and business besides current affairs and matters of importance to Pune.

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