Captain MS Dhoni and Ravichandran Ashwin are the mainstay for the Rising Pune Supergiants © AFP
Captain MS Dhoni and Ravichandran Ashwin are the mainstay for the Rising Pune Supergiants © AFP

When auctioneer Richard Madley gears up with his hammer in the IPL auction 2017, Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) will be one of the teams who will look forward to make amends for the dismal last season. With MS Dhoni at helm, they had all the ammunitions in place to succeed but off-form of key players and losing many of their stars due to injury ensured they lingered at the last spot in majority of the tournament. Also, the fading chemistry between Dhoni and Ravichandran Ashwin did not help the cause.

It eventually came down to 12 runs from 2 balls and Dhoni was on strike. Akshar Patel was to bowl to his national captain. Akshar drops it short. Dhoni swings it over midwicket for a maximum. A six required off the final ball. You surely want Dhoni out there in the middle. Akshar fires it in, a bit too full; and Dhoni almost helicopters it over deep midwicket for another. That six in the dead rubberest of contest ensured RPS did not finish last in IPL 2016. The honours remained with Kings XI Punjab (KXIP).

Seventh (out of eight teams) is not a position you associate with Dhoni, the man who led Chennai Super Kings (CSK) to two IPL and CLT20 titles each, four runners-up spots and a top-four finish in all editions in the first eight seasons. The new franchise that he led did not live up to its name. The team jersey that incorporated the RP-Sanjiv Goenka Group’s logo ensured the team’s initials matched the group’s RPS were the first team in the competition to be knocked out courtesy injuries to key players and a slump in form for their key men —Dhoni and Ashwin. The writing was on the wall and they ended up releasing as many as 11 players from IPL 2017.

RPS had lost their star overseas players — Kevin Pietersen, Faf du Plessis, Steven Smith and Mitchell Marsh due to injuries. RP Singh, Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma might have played their roles to perfection in India’s Perth victory in 2008 but were nothing more than shadows of their prolific pasts. Changes were expected.

Released players

Kevin Pietersen: The biggest name of all. KP was bought for INR 3.5 crores. He played 4 games before a calf injury ruled him out. With Smith rising in reputation with every international outing and du Plessis being Dhoni’s trusted lieutenant for years, letting go Pietersen made sense for the sake of balance.

With Usman Khawaja being retained, RPS will also look to eye fresh talents from BBL for back-up.

Ishant Sharma: A senior bowler like him is expected to lead the attack, but Ishant once again had not lived up to the promise. He was bought at INR 3.8 crores and played just 4 games, taking 3 wickets at 49 and going for almost 10 an over. Of course, you cannot do much when AB de Villiers targets you. With Ashok Dinda bowling well and Deepak Chahar showing promise and Ishwar Pandey around, Ishant gets the expected boot.

RP Singh: The left-arm pacer is well past his prime. By laying the axe on RP, owner Sanjiv Goenka has made a strong statement that IPL is no place for friendship. You perform or perish.

Thisara Perera, Albie Morkel, Irfan Pathan: Unfortunately, Thisara’s inconsistent run has hurt the side. On the other hand, it is clear on the other hand that Dhoni does not rely a lot on the other two all-rounders — Albie Morkel and Irfan. Albie played 2 games while Irfan played 4.

Scott Boland and Peter Handscomb: Despite their relatively low price-tags, the two BBL stars do not fit in the scheme of things. Boland is a specialist death-bowler while Handscomb a middle-order batsman. Handscomb has made it big this season for Australia and he could have been useful cricketer.

However, it is wise to clip your team size which helps for budgetary reason and also to maintain focus.

Saurabh Tiwary: According to sources, the owners were not too happy with Saurabh’s consistency. For a man who has been around the domestic circuit for so many years, Tiwary should have been doing better. He scored 170 runs at over 24 but the expectations were higher.

George Bailey: Bailey came in as a replacement, played a few games and struggled. When he does not lead, he has often looked a misfit on most sides. The decision to let him go was a wise one. His IPL career looks as good as over. Perhaps KXIP made a mistake by letting him go last season. He deserved another stint as their captain.

Murugan Ashwin: The leg-spinner started well for RPS but Adam Zampa outshone in the later stages. Murugan fetched a whopping INR 4.5 crores in the auction and according to sources, the franchise will again bid for him and eye him for a smaller price.

Retained players:

Player Bid Amount (INR)
MS Dhoni 12.5 crores
Ajinkya Rahane 9.5 crores
Ravichandran Ashwin 7.5 crores
Steven Smith * 5.5 crores
Faf du Plessis * 4 crores
Mitchell Marsh * 4.8 crores
Ashok Dinda 50 lakhs
Ankush Bains 10 lakhs
Rajat Bhatia 60 lakhs
Ankit Sharma 10 lakhs
Ishwar Pandey 20 lakhs
Adam Zampa * 30 lakhs
Jaskaran Singh 10 lakhs
Baba Aparajith 10 lakhs
Deepak Chahar 10 lakhs
Usman Khawaja * 1 crore

* Overseas players

Next step

The side now has a balance salary cap of INR 19.1 crores. What they lack is a quality fast bowler. With Irfan and RP released, the side can look to buy someone like Trent Boult, who has been released by Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH).

Their bowling attack should be built around Ashwin, Dinda and Zampa. RPS have two quality all-rounders in Marsh and Bhatia; they can eye someone like Mahmudullah, who was brilliant in BPL.

An off-spinner who can bat may fill in the missing jigsaw. Even Pervez Rasool, has been released by Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), can be a valued addition. He was exceptional in the Ranji Trophy.

RPS needs quality local batsmen in their middle-order to support Smith, Marsh and Dhoni. Saurabh’s absence will open up a slot. The Indian domestic season is in full swing at the moment. The likes of Prashant Chopra, Priyank Panchal and Rahul Singh have done well in Ranji Trophy. There are also the experienced likes of Ishank Jaggi and Manoj Tiwary.

Manoj, an experienced cricketer, was not bought in IPL auctions last year. He played for the Goenka’s side alongside Dinda. In fact, the duo was consulted before they picked players in the IPL draft last year. Manoj and Ishank have performed well for East Zone in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.

The lesser-known Subodh Bhati may be another good addition to the star-studded Pune side. The Delhi all-rounder has good variations with his medium pace and was exceptional in domestic limited-overs last year.

The key

Dhoni and Ashwin have fed off each other’s success for long. Dhoni has been guilty of under-bowling Ashwin since ICC World T20 semi-final. However, the way to look at it is Ashwin was perhaps not bowling as per Dhoni’s plans.

The Ashwin-Dhoni combination that has seen India and CSK scale great heights has failed for RPS.

Possible good picks: Trent Boult, Mahmudullah, Manoj Tiwary, Pervez Rasool, Ishank Jaggi, Pankaj Singh, Subodh Bhati.

Sanjiv Goenka has had a mixed year as an owner/co-owner of sports teams. While RPS were failures in their inaugural IPL season, Atletico de Kolkata (where Sourav Ganguly is also a co-owner) made him proud by clinching their second ISL title in its first three seasons.

An IPL gold in RPS’ possible last season in the tournament will add to the elation.

Squad: Steven Smith (c), MS Dhoni (wk), Ajinkya Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin, Faf Du Plessis, Mitchell Marsh, Ashok Dinda, Ankush Bains, Rajat  Bhatia, Ankit Sharma, Ishwar Pandey, Adam Zampa, Jaskaran Singh, Baba Aparajith, Deepak Chahar, Usman Khwaja.