For the Rising Pune Supergiant, 2016 was a debut they would love to forget. Just above bottom-placed Kings XI Punjab last season, the Pune franchise just couldn’t get going: injuries were a big reason for the same.
With an aim to correct the wrongs of the past, the Pune team have roped in a new captain, replacing Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and have made the most expensive buy of the season. They start their 2017 campaign against the Mumbai Indians, two times winners, and one of the most popular teams of the tournament.
The biggest challenge will be for Steve Smith: he replaces Dhoni, one of the most successful captains of the tournament, and has to switch to T20 mode after a hard-fought (and a tad over the line) Test series. Ben Stokes, bought for Rs. 14.5 crore, will be one of the star attractions, while Imran Tahir, the No.1 bowler in T20Is, will look to fill in for Ravichandran Ashwin, out for the entire IPL.
For Mumbai, the core set of players remain the same: Rohit Sharma is back from injury, Ambati Rayudu and Kieron Pollard are set to reprise their roles in the middle order, while Harbhajan Singh and Mitchell McClenaghan will form the bulk of the bowling. Also in the team is Mitchell Johnson, retired but not out, and Jasprit Bumrah, India’s star debutant in 2016.
When: 06 April 2017
Time: 2000 (IST)
If Mumbai Indians bat first
Batting heavy Mumbai will need the openers to fire all their cylinders. Rohit Sharma is back after a long layoff, and might need time to warm up. Ambati Rayudu has been in decent nick, but Kieron Pollard is a shadow of his former self. Jos Buttler can bring in some much-needed flourish towards the end, with Krunal Pandya and Saurabh Tiwary for company. The depth in their batting line-up is one of their biggest strengths.
Also helping them could be a one-dimensional bowling attack: Ashoke Dinda, Ishwar Pandey and Shardul Thakur don’t exactly send a chill down the batsmen’s spine. Tahir and Stokes will have to do the containing job in the middle overs if one of the Mumbai batsmen takes off.
If Rising Pune Supergiants bat first
The Pune top order isn’t as explosive as the other teams: Ajinkya Rahane, Faf du Plessis, Steve Smith and Manoj Tiwary could make the top four. It’ll be interesting to see whether captain Smith will promote Dhoni up the order for some pyrotechnics.
With Ben Stokes to follow, Dhoni can finally not worry about running out of partners, a problem he encountered last season.
They will have their task cut out against a formidable Mumbai bowling attack: the Mitchell duo can spew venom with the new ball, Harbhajan Singh is an experienced fox in the middle overs, while Jasprit Bumrah can stall the run flow in the final overs with his stingy yorkers. Pollard and Pandya can also fill in with a few overs.
Probable Winners: Mumbai Indians