The dark horses of the Indian Premier League (IPL), Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) is set to clash against Mumbai Indians (MI) in the season’s finale slated to be played at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Hyderabad on Sunday, May 21.
Steve Smith led Pune Supergiant on Tuesday became the first contender to reach the finals after they defeated Mumbai Indians by 20 runs in the first Qualifier.
Mumbai however by virtue of being the points table leaders got another shot at the title and defeated Kolkata Knight Riders in the second Qualifier on Friday with a comprehensive six wickets win after bowling Gautam Gambhir led KKR for a meager 107 runs at M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru.
Having started their campaign on a scratchy note, Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) has revamped their fortunes full circle by making to the final of IPL 2017 as compared to their outing last season — finished second last on the points table with 10 points from 14 matches.
After being the last team to qualify for this year’s playoffs, RPS marched to the final after defeating table leaders Mumbai Indians by 20 runs in the first Qualifier played on Tuesday, May 16.
The phenomenal rise of RPS visibly runs parallel with more and more games they have played this season.
Even the likes of English Ben Stokes found a little hard to adjust to the team before finally catapulting match winning performances in the crucial games for RPS — Stokes has left to join England Cricket team for national duty.
Though RPS overcame the deficit of Stokes with disciplined bowling in the first Qualifier, the game once again exposed their vulnerability of their batting stalwarts to register a good total on the board — Pune Supergiant could score only 162 runs; courtesy late match saving blitz by MS Dhoni.
Coach Stephen Fleming must be a much-relieved man after surviving that scare. He along with Captain Steve Smith would have sat down to get rid of the leakage in their batting line up.
The reason for RPS win against Mumbai goes to the astute discipline of their bowlers.
Young Washington Sundar took advantage of the pitch and broke Mumbai Indians apart to produce his best performance of this season so far.
The 17-year old, right-arm off break spinner took 3 crucial wickets (Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu and Kieron Pollard), giving away just 16 runs to open the floodgates for MI.
He was very well supported by Pune’s leading wicket taker Jayadev Unadkat — 22 wickets in 11 matches — with a tight spell and 1 wicket.
Daniel Christian, Adam Zampa, Shardul Thakur were also very instrumental in preventing Mumbai Indians get back on foot during the middle overs of the game.
With advantage RPS, Steve Smith and unit will come into the final game with their chin up after having knocked Mumbai Indians at all the three times they came face to face this IPL season.
However, the batting line up of Pune Supergiant still suffers a rough patch with an old dispel that has been running parallel as they have progressed to the finals.
Pune despite the batting stalwarts in the squad seems to buckle under pressure during untimely exit of a set batsman — fortunately, someone has always endured for the cause like MS Dhoni did in the last game.
During the first Qualifier discipline, Mumbai bowlers implicitly cramped free flowing Pune batsmen. Attacking batsman Rahul Tripathi was undone for a duck by McClenaghan in the first over that was followed by a soft dismissal of skipper Steve Smith.
Ajinkya Rahane 56(43) and Manoj Tiwary 58(48) then build Pune’s inning but the scoring rate was so low that even 130 looked a distant task at one moment.
Dhoni then quick fired 40 of 26 deliveries to help Pune post 162 run on the board — rest in history, those few extra runs became the reason for Mumbai to lose the match by 20 runs.
Ahead of the final, the direction and expectations from Coach Stephen Fleming will be simple and subtle — each player needs to chip in as per their role.
Let us also break it for them:
Opening the batting Rahul Tripathi and Ajinkya Rahane has looked good but failed to convert the start into a big score so far.
Rahul Tripathi (388 runs in 12 matches) must look accelerate Pune inning with controlled aggression. Meanwhile, Rahane (338 runs in 15) matches will have to keep rotating strike and anchor his wicket in the middle.
Captain Steve Smith should look forward to playing most of the middle overs and keep the scoreboard ticking. With 421 runs in 14 matches so far, Smith should not rush in hitting the ball out of the park even if the team loses wickets inside Power Play.
Batting down the order Dhoni and Manoj Tiwary will have to share the burden of a strong finish for the team.
The duo might as well have to play a restrained inning if RPS suffers another batting collapse up in the order.
Big matches have always been the ceremonial podium for Dhoni. The wicketkeeper-batsman has time and again stepped up for the team during major games. Sunday might be just the kind of day again. If need be, skipper Smith can also ask Dhoni to step up ahead of Tiwary.
Pune does not have a very deep batting line-up though Daniel Christian and Adam Zampa can blow some biggies if in the arc. RPS will have to ensure a big total on the board against the powerful and experienced Mumbai Indians who are very mush capable of running riots within a fraction of the time.
A simple formula that made the minnows of last IPL edition one of the finalists this year — they have lost together and are eager to win together this time around.