After an erratic start to the IPL 2017, Rising Pune Supergiant, in the last few games, have raised their tempo to feature in the top four teams in the points table.
Supergiant lost three of their first four matches and in most of these games, they were completely outplayed by the opposition. But then things changed and Pune won crucial games against KKR and MI - the top two teams of the season. The confidence from these victories certainly boosted the team and now with six wins from 10 matches, they have made a solid case for the playoffs.
So what has been the secret behind Pune’s emphatic rise? Here we look at the top five reasons for Pune’s super rise in this IPL 2017.
#1 Rahul Tripathi’s solid starts
Rahul Tripathi until April 1, 2017, hadn’t played any international cricket, had a List A average of 24.73 and featured in only 13 T20 games. Fast forward to May 1, 2017, he is among the top 15 run scorers in IPL 2017, is the first choice opener for RPS and has even overshadowed Ajinkya Rahane.
With six consecutive scores of 30 plus, Rahul Tripathi is the reason for Pune’s middle order playing their natural game. He has only one fifty to his name but his solid and consistent starts have ensured that Pune don’t lose many wickets in the first six overs and also gather vital runs.
The Maharashtra batsman has scored 259 runs from 8 innings so far and is second to Steve Smith in terms of most runs for RPS. The key factor of his batting is his strike rate of 148.00 which takes out the pressure from Rahane and Steve Smith who generally consume some time to get set.
#2 Captain cool holding the innings
Steve Smith’s presence in the batting order has brought solidity to Pune. Occupying the important position of number three, the Pune skipper has on most occasions anchored the innings and has kept the run rate at par.
Out of nine innings this season, Smith has scored a minimum of 20 runs in all but two games. And he has also been part of five fifty-plus run partnerships during his stay at the crease. A slow starter, Smith takes time to get going, but once set he looks invincible due to his solid technique and skills of manufacturing strokes from nowhere.
For Pune, he is the key player for holding the innings together and so far he has played that role to perfection by being the fifth highest run scorer this season.
#3 Imran Tahir’s leg-spin
The south African leg-spinner went unsold in the auction but he has proved how wrong the scouts were by being the second highest wicket taker of this year. In his first game, Tahir ran through Mumbai’s top order and had a quiet journey in the next few games. But in the last two fixtures, he has picked up six wickets and has become the spearhead of Pune’s bowling attack.
Tahir bowls close to the stumps, which means if the batsmen miss his googlies or the straighter ones, they become candidates for leg before. The leg-spinner, along with picking wickets, has dried the run flow and it is evident from his economy rate of less than eight.
Playing without any experienced pace bowler, Pune have benefited immensely due to Tahir’s accurate spin bowling. Out of Tahir’s 16 wickets, 11 have been top order batsmen and this clearly indicates the leg spinner’s contribution to Pune’s success.
#4 Unadkat’s crucial wickets in death overs
Jaydev Unadkat’s stats do not signify the impact he has had in this year’s IPL. He wasn’t their first choice bowler and was drafted into the playing XI only after Ashoke Dinda’s horrific bowling performance.
Since then, the Saurashtra pacer has emerged as a key weapon for Pune, especially during the slog overs. Out of his ten wickets, eight have come after 15 overs while only one came inside the powerplay overs.
During death overs, Unadkat’s economy is 8.37 which is highly impressive and he has picked up a wicket every six balls. Due to his tight bowling, Pune have been successful in stemming the flow of runs during the death overs.
The left-arm pacer’s match-winning performance came against Mumbai Indians when he had the task of defending 17 runs against two mighty hitters in the form of Rohit Sharma and Hardik Pandya. Unadkat got rid of Pandya and Sharma in the first three balls and steered Pune home.
#5 Million dollar magic of Stokes
By purchasing Ben Stokes for a record price of 14.5 crores in IPL auction, RPS attracted some criticism. But after winning three man-of-the-match awards in 10 games, Stokes has in some manner justified his price.
Stokes is Pune’s third highest run scorer and their third highest wicket taker as well. Plus he has been a brute force in the field taking sensational catches and saving crucial runs at the boundary. But beyond the numbers, what makes Stokes special is his ability to rise to the occasion and deliver at the crunch moment.
Against RCB, Stokes got the big wicket of Kohli in the sixth over and allowed Pune to defend a total of 162. Then against Mumbai, he conceded only seven runs to change the equation from 25 off 12 balls to 18 off 06 balls.
But the English all-rounder’s magic moment came last night against Gujarat. Chasing a target of 162, Pune were three for ten after the first nine balls of their innings. Stokes remained calm and anchored the innings by taking calculated risks after the initial collapse.
He realised the threat posed by Ankit Sharma and James Faulkner and was happy to play them out. But against Ravindra Jadeja, he took his chances and also attacked Basil Thampi to shatter his confidence. By combining aggression with defence, the left-hand batsman scored a match-winning hundred.
Due to his versatile skills and ability to keep a calm head, Ben Stokes has been the X-factor in Pune’s resurrection after a slow start.