Rising Pune Supergiants
Indian off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and Australian all-rounder Mitchell Marsh have been ruled out of the entire tournament. Imran Tahir comes in as a replacement player for Marsh.
Predicted Playing XI:
Ajinkya Rahane, Mayank Agarwal, Faf du Plessis, Steven Smith, Ben Stokes, MS Dhoni, Rajat Bhatia, Adam Zampa, Ankit Sharma/Shardul Thakur, Ashok Dinda, Jaydev Unadkat
There are a couple of issues with this batting order for me: both Du Plessis and Smith are batting one position lower than they should in a T20 match. Ideally, you would want Du Plessis to open the innings in this format. You could look at his international records and say despite batting at No.3 in the majority of his matches he averages a magnificent 37.63 at 132.97. But dig a little deeper.
Cricket is more a situation game than position game. Of Faf’s 8 50+ scores, 5 have come when he has arrived at the crease in 2 overs or less (fall of the first wicket in those 5 innings: 2 overs, 1 over, 0.5 over, 0.4 over, 0.1 over), While the position may be No.3 here, the situations he had come in made sure he was playing the role of an opener. The remaining 3 instances are not far off either, with the first wicket falling at 3.1, 3.3 and 4.4.
Further, of the 6 times he has come in after the PP, which is a role you would typically expect your one-down player to fulfil in T20s, he hasn’t crossed 22 even once (scores read: 17, 22, 4, 16, 6 and 22). To put it simply, Du Plessis needs the PP cushion to push his strike-rate rate up and then pick and choose deliveries outside PP to accelerate. If he is left with no choice but to consistently attack outside PP, he perishes due to the pressure created by spread fields.
The Proteas Test captain is likely to still do well, as it is a matter of one wicket, but the effect of this will be felt more on Steve Smith, who needs two of the most dependable players in IPL, Rahane and Du Plessis, to fail for him to make a considerable impact. When you think of No.4 in T20s, you think of someone like AB de Villiers or Jos Buttler – batsman with exceptional six-hitting abilities. Not Smith, who relies more on placement and PP restrictions than power.
Just 17 years old, leg-spinner Rahul Chahar looks one hell of a talent, but I don’t see Pune being bold enough to play 2 leggies in the XI, especially under an Australian captain.
Manoj Tiwary and Mayank Agarwal will fight it out for the one domestic batting slot. Baba Aparajith, Ankush Bains, Deepak Chahar, Jaskaran Singh and Milind Tandon to warm the bench, while Imran Tahir would be breathing down Zampa’s neck.
Daniel Christian is a direct replacement for Stokes once the latter leaves for England, but if we are to see that happening, RPSG will have to qualify for the play offs.
For reasons discussed above, I have decided to wait on Smith and Du Plessis for a couple of matches to see if there is a pattern emerging before getting one of them in. Right now, I would rather spend my overseas spot on someone with more certainty. However, even if you see the slightest of signs that they will be batting at 2 and 3 instead of 3 and 4, it is completely worth getting one of them in given their class and the form they are in at the moment.
Although a lot better now, Mayank Agarwal still has a suspect temperament, but his strokeplay, attacking ability and consistency over the last year and a half more makes him one of the best budget picks of the year. The key here, however, is that he needs to open.
I was a bit reluctant on Rahane in IPL before the last Test against Australia, but the second innings knock of his should give him plenty of confidence (I know, I know, it does sound clichéd, but it is reasonable to assume so). And he is the kind of player who gives you guaranteed runs when in touch, thanks to his secured style of play. It does affect his teams, though, like it did with India in the 2016 T20 WC semi-final. But why do we need to care about it? Fantasy returns are all that matters.
The Supergiants have one of the weakest bowling attacks in the league, which will result in Ben Stokes being forced to bowl 4 overs almost every match, with a good chance of a couple at the death. And then he bats, and bats exceptionally well. Here is a tIp: do not, I repeat, do not go into an RPSG match without Stokes in your team.
Zampa would provide steady returns, but given that I can have only 4 overseas players, I would like more than ‘steady’ for my fantasy team.
Tournament call: Despite losing Ashwin, they are in with a good chance to make the top 5, thanks to their batting line-up.
What they lack: A versatile pace bowler.
The season-influencer: Faf as an opener, instead of No.3, will push all of Smith, Stokes and Dhoni up the order, thereby giving them their best position and more time at the crease to influence the match.
Lasith Malinga and Asela Gunaratne will miss the season opener, as they are in Sri Lanka playing a bilateral T20 series against Bangladesh.
Predicted Playing XI: Parthiv Patel, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu, Jos Buttler, Kieron Pollard, Krunal Pandya, Hardik Pandya, Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell McClenaghan, Mitchell Johnson, Jasprit Bumrah
It might look bizarre to see a team fielding two left-arm overseas pacers, but since Mumbai are most likely to play Lasith Malinga once he comes back, it would only be logical to replace him today with a fast bowler than, say, Lendl Simmons or Nicholas Pooran.
The only other overseas bowling option they have is Tim Southee, who was pretty mediocre last season. McClenagahan’s history with the side and Johnson’s BBL form should make them the favourites to start.
On merit, Harbhajan Singh shouldn’t be in the XI.The former Indian international picked up only 9 wickets in 14 1PL matches last year at an average of 43.55 and 8 RPO. His form, of late, hasn’t been great either, but we know it doesn’t work that way, especially with Mumbai Indians.
Krishnappa Gowtham, Kulwant Khejroliya, Karn Sharma, R Vinay Kumar, Nitish Rana, and Saurabh Tiwary make up quite a decent first choice bench, with the likes of Deepak Punia, Jagadeesha Suchith, Siddhesh Lad, Shreyas Gopal, Jitesh Sharma and Nicholas Pooran behind them in the pecking order.
A monstrous hitter of spinners and someone so versatile with the ball in hand that he could bowl his off-spin at any stage of a T20 innings, Gowtham followed his KPL heroics with a top class Ranji season for Karnataka this year. I would walk him straight into this playing XI, but I don't expect that from Mumbai.
I have only seen Khejroliya bowl a couple of balls, but he has been making some serious noise in the domestic circuit and with the craze for left-arm seamers in world cricket at the moment, don’t be surprised to see him get a game at some point in the tournament.
Jos Buttler would normally be a very good fantasy pick, but his current form is his worst in a couple of years, since 2015 World Cup. The destructive wicket-keeper batsman hasn’t crossed a personal best of 31 in his last 12 LOI matches, a stretch that goes back to October 2016.
After a woeful 2016, Kieron Pollard showed signs of renaissance towards the end of the Pakistan Super League before going missing again in the just concluded T20 series against Pakistan.
Rohit Sharma is coming back from an injury that kept him out of action for nearly 4 months, and I would like to sit on him as well. Post return, his two knocks of 4 and 16 (off 33 balls), playing for Mumbai in the Vijay Hazare trophy, doesn’t inspire confidence either. Let him get his first real score, and I will bring him in right away.
Considering all these, Jasprit Bumrah will be my first choice pick from this side given his death bowling skills. At 85K, Rayudu could turn out to be the solution to your budget issues throughout the season. He needs to bat at No.3, though. Any lower than that, I wouldn’t bother with him at all.
Tournament call: How soon Rohit and Buttler find their touch back will decide how well Mumbai Indians do. Having crossed 20 only once in his last 10 matches, Simmons isn’t looking good either.
What they lack: An explosive option at the top. Parthiv Patel, Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayudu at 1,2 and 3 is fast becoming outdated.
The season-influencer: Buttler as a opener. He was tried a couple of times in that spot lately, once by England and then by his county side Lancashire, and he sealed them both in the first 5 overs. Also, if he is going to find his form back, he needs more time in the middle.
Fantasy Squad notes:
I am going for David Warner over Shane Watson as captain despite the latter’s all-round potential for a bunch of reasons: Warner’s home record is exceptional, Watson has been a complete hit-or-miss case with the bat of late, Travis Head coming in could bring a new twist to the batting order, and even if Watson opens, I don’t trust those big pads of his against Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Nehra. Rashid Khan playing could only make it worse.