After a terrible start to their IPL campaign in 2016, the Pune franchise has pulled out all the stops to ensure that IPL 2017 is different from 2016. No stone has been left unturned as they look to better their disappointing seventh-place finish from IPL 2016.
They have a checklist that has all been ticked off. Change your name for better fortunes, CHECK. Sign the most high-profile player in the auction for a lot of money, CHECK. Change the captain to see if there is any change of fortunes, CHECK.
With plenty fo big names, especially in the batting department, Pune will count on them to deliver and take them into the playoffs. Here’s a look at what the starting XI might look like against Mumbai Indians for their opening match:
Ajinkya Rahane may not be in great form coming into the tenth edition of the IPL or even be a regular in the Indian T20 side but when it comes to the IPL, he is a completely different player. One who continually breaks stereotypes and shows that conventional cricket can still fetch plenty of runs and you don't always have to muscle the ball.
The 28-year-old has scored over 2,500 runs in the IPL at an average in excess of 35 and strike rate of 120 with a century and 23 fifties to his name. His numbers for Pune last season were even better. With the team battling with injuries, he still managed to score 480 runs at an average of nearly 45 and strike rate of 126 with six fifties in 14 matches.
If he can continue providing Pune with the same kind of starts, they will be hoping to make much better use of it.
Faf du Plessis
There are three main contenders for his opening partner's slot. One is Mayank Agarwal, who is certain to feature in the side due to the flexibility he provides. The other two are Faf du Plessis and Usman Khawaja. While the latter came into the IPL on the back of a brilliant BBL, he hasn't done much of note heading in this year's edition.
All of which are likely to mean that Faf du Plessis, who has been in brilliant form for South Africa across all formats is likely to partner Rahane at the top of the order. Having been ruled of last year's tournament midway through, due to injury, Faf will be looking to make amends in this edition and given that the form that he is in, few would bet against it as well.
Steve Smith (captain)
After his impressive performances in the India-Australia series, Steve Smith has continued to show why he is the best batsman in the world. While Smith's T20 numbers aren't as impressive as his Test or ODI numbers, they are still not bad. An average of nearly 30 and strike rate of 125 after 140 T20s are solid numbers for a No.3 batsman.
Smith's record in the IPL is even better as he averages 36 and has a strike of 135 from 54 matches. And those numbers go up even further when you look at his stats from last year's tournament, where he scored his only IPL century and averaged 45 and had a strike rate of over 150 before injury ruled him out of the tournament.
This year, he will have the additional responsibility of captain as well. Although that is not new to him, it will be interesting to see how the dynamic is, especially with three international captains in Ajinkya Rahane, Faf du Plessis and MS Dhoni all in the side.
If there was one major drawback from Pune's performances in IPL 2016 it was their middle-order, especially the Indian batsmen. None of them performed to their potential and that ended up costing them as it left the rest of the batsmen that followed with too much to do.
Having let go of a few players, Pune brought in Mayank Agarwal and Manoj Tiwary and the battle will be between them for a spot in the side. Although Tiwary has a better T20 record, it is likely to be Agarwal, who signed from Delhi Daredevils during the second trading window ahead of IPL 2017.in the side. Although Tiwary has a better T20 record, it is likely to be Agarwal, who signed from Delhi Daredevils during the second trading window ahead of IPL 2017.
Although he hasn't had a great time in the IPL over the last couple of seasons, he affords RPS with the luxury of flexibility as he can open the innings as well as play in the middle-order, which might just help him get the nod at the start.open the innings as well as play in the middle-order, which might just help him get the nod at the start.
Since IPL 2016, there have been a lot of changes. First, MS Dhoni stepped down from limited-overs captaincy. Then he scored his maiden T20I fifty. Later, it was confirmed that Steve Smith would be taking over as captain of Rising Pune Supergiant ahead of Dhoni for IPL 2017.
In between all of that, Dhoni's batting has only gotten better. He scored an ODI century and T20I fifty in the limited-overs leg of the England series and has since then been in brilliant form during the Vijay Hazare Trophy for his state side, who he captained to the semi-final of the tournament and finished it as the side's second-leading run-scorer.
His wicketkeeping skills and fitness have never really been in doubt and ahead of IPL 2017, with his impressive batting form, he will look to finish more games for Pune.
Before the IPL Auction 2017, all eyes were on one player, Ben Stokes. And he certainly didn't disappoint as he became the most expensive overseas player ever bought in an auction after he was signed for INR 14.5 crore by Rising Pune Supergiant, who have put all their eggs in one giant Stokes-sized basket.
With Stokes in the side, Pune have a top-six that could scale any target. But the England all-rounder will not only be crucial with the bat but in fact, is more likely to be called upon more with the ball, where Pune don't have a world-class foreign fast bowler to call on.
While the Englishman has shown that he can nail his yorkers, slower balls and trouble the batsman with his ability to hit the deck and put the batsmen on the back foot, he will need to be on his game for the entire group stage if Smith's side are to make it to the playoffs.
It is almost impossible to fly under the radar in IPL. With all the cameras that are on you, all the time, it is difficult to find a way to flourish without anyone even noticing. But Rajat Bhatia has forged his entire career by being effective without ever taking home the headlines.
The 37-year-old all-rounder may not have played a single competitive T20 game since IPL 2016 where he turned out to be one of Pune's most impressive bowlers, but there is little doubt about his spot in the side. His ability to keep things and contribute crucial runs lower down the order make him an invaluable asset for any side.
Imran Tahir may be the No.1 ranked ODI and T20I bowler but he went unsold in the IPL Auction 2017. In fact, he was only brought in by Rising Pune Supergiant as a last-minute replacement for Mitchell Marsh who was ruled out of the tournament with an injury.
So he is by no means the automatic choice for the spinner slot. Especially considering the fact that Adam Zampa was one of the few success stories from Pune's IPL 2016 campaign. That Pune are currently led by another Australian, Steve Smith and not MS Dhoni, also means that at least to begin with, they are likely to go with the tried and tested.
In this case, although Tahir is vastly experienced and Zampa is still a newbie on the international arena, they are likely to go with the Australian leg spinner. Not only because of familiarity but also because he is a better batsman than Tahir and at No.8, Pune would want someone who could chip in with a few handy runs as well, considering none of their bowlers are especially great with the bat.
The loss of Ravichandran Ashwin means that the responsibility of being the leader of the bowling attack will fall on Ashoke Dinda's shoulders. The Bengal fast bowler is the most experienced of all the bowlers and is in good form as well, having been an integral part of the Bengal side that reached the final of the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
Dinda's experience and ability to bowl at the start and end of the innings will be crucial for Pune as they don't have too many experienced fast bowlers in their ranks. The 33-year-old has shown that he can shoulder the responsibility and it will be up to him lead the inexperienced bowling attack and deliver success.
The battle for the second seamer slot is likely to be between Jaydev Unadkat and Shardul Thakur. Although the latter was impressive in the Ranji Trophy, the 25-year-old has played just 18 T20 games in his career and with him being another right-arm seamer, Steve Smith might just be tempted to go with variety and pick Jaydev Unadkat as the sole left-arm seamer.
It is not just variety that Unadkat brings to the side but it is also some good form from the domestic limited-overs competitions. He picked up 10 wickets in five matches during the Vijay Hazare Trophy for Saurashtra and has shown that he has the variations to impress and outfox batsmen in the IPL.
The final spot in the side is one that will largely depend on the conditions on offer. Although Pune don't have too many experienced players in the bowling department, they are not short on options and can pick someone depending on the conditions and the opposition.
For their opening game at Pune and for the first few games at least, it looks like Ishwar Pandey might get the nod ahead of left-arm spinner Ankit Sharma. The 27-year-old fast bowler has been in good form during the domestic season and with Steve Smith as captain, the preference might be for an extra pacer and not a spinner if his track record with Australia is anything to go by.