If the IPL auction had taken place at the start of April last year, it would have been doubtful whether Ben Stokes would have achieved the huge price tag that was eventually paid by Rising Pune Supergiants. With England losing the World T20 Final and the Durham all rounder cited as the lone culprit, Stokes is unlikely to have attracted the same interest.
But it’s been a remarkable turnaround for the Durham man and he will now be with Pune all the way through the groups ahead of England’s ODI season. Money attracts headlines but if Stokes can propel Pune all the way to their first IPL title, it would have been worth every Lakh.
With the Supergiants having formed out of the suspended Chennai and Rajasthan franchises, they seemed to strike the better deals ahead of IPL 9 last year and were among the best bets when the markets initially declared. MS Dhoni took the helm and was given a squad that featured the star quality of Kevin Pietersen, Faf Du Plessis, Ajinkya Rahane and Steve Smith among others.
But, after a campaign that was stricken with injury, Pune ended the regular season outside of the play offs and with a much changed side. So, on to 2017 and IPL10; Pietersen is gone and Dhoni has ceded the captaincy to Smith but a number of new signings joined up at the auction on February 20th with Stokes the headliner. Can the Supergiants look forward to a more productive campaign?
Out in front
Last year’s beaten finalists the Royal Challengers Bangalore are favourites to land the trophy and when you look at their squad, it’s easy to see why. Captain Virat Kohli scored an incredible 973 runs at IPL 9 and will be backed up once again by Chris Gayle, AB De Villiers and KL Rahul.
RCB’s main purchase was that of England’s specialist T20 bowler Tymal Mills. The men from Bangalore have the strongest squad, of that there is no doubt, but as supporters unfortunately know, when you get to the knockout stages anything can happen.
Mumbai Indians are seen as the biggest challengers to RCB and like the pre-tournament favourites, they have a talented squad that often underachieves. Mitchell Johnson is their marquee signing this time around and much will depend on his fitness and hostility if Mumbai are to retain their title.
Defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad are also highly ranked and, having added Chris Jordan and Ben Laughlin to their roster, SRH can boast the best death bowling unit in the competition with Mustafizur Rahman and Bhuvneshwar Kumar sharing the new ball.
But it’s Pune who provide an interesting option for anyone looking to predict the outcome of this season’s Indian Premier League. Stokes is the marquee signing but he forms just part of a squad that could potentially provide the biggest challenge to favourites RCB.
The uniqueness of the IPL has given us Pune and the Gujarat Lions as temporary franchises and it’s tough to equate the problems involved with setting up a team at short notice. The Supergiants arguably had the best of the players from suspended CSK – Dhoni, Du Plessis, R Ashwin primarily but it takes time for a team to gel as a unit. Add in that ridiculous injury list and it seems that Pune were doomed before they even started.
For 2017 however, they can regroup and hopefully steer clear of any long periods in the physio’s room. Aside from the Royal Challengers this is the most powerful T20 unit at IPL 10 and the arrival of Ben Stokes may just give the Rising Pune Supergiants the impetus they need to claim that title.