In 2012 edition of the Indian Premier League, Delhi Daredevils were at the top of their game and made it to the play-off with ease. After losing the battle against Kolkata Knight Riders in the first qualifier, DD had an opportunity of bouncing back in the second qualifier against Chennai Super Kings. But unfortunately for DD, an injury to their all-rounder Irfan Pathan disrupted their whole combination and forced certain changes in order to attain balance. Morne Morkel was at the top of his game but was benched for the crucial encounter as they wanted to replace an all-rounder with the same, and the best option was Andre Russell, an overseas player. DD didn’t make anything out of it as they lost the game by 86 runs and with it, the golden chance to make it to the final was lost.
The point is, an effective all-rounder brings so much to the table that his sudden absence can create huge confusion and dilemma over the playing combinations. How difficult can it be to lose out on an in-form player just before the playoffs? Rising Pune Supergiant were in a similar situation ahead of the first qualifying game against Mumbai Indians on Tuesday at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Their star player – Ben Stokes had to fly back to gear up for the upcoming series against South Africa. In Stokes, they had a batsman who could garner runs at a brisk pace and a bowler, who dealt in the death overs. To add to their woes, their wicket-taking leggie Imran Tahir was also not available as he flew back a week ago.
With Stokes gone, RPS were not just losing out on a batsman but also a poignant bowler, such was the stability and depth Stokes brought to the table and is rightly considered as gold. Stokes has had a fantastic season in this IPL and justified the huge price RPS paid for him. He not only scored runs but also bowled crucial slog overs. On top of this, they didn’t have Tahir, who scalped wicket and proved breakthroughs. The think tanks of RPS and skipper Steve Smith had some important decisions to make regarding the playing XI. RPS needed a batsman, as well as a bowler as Stokes’ shoes, was too big to fill. They didn’t have enough promising option of an all-rounder to choose from and had to go either with a batsman or a bowler.
The prominent options were Usman Khawaja, which would strengthen their batting or New Zealand speedster, Lockie Ferguson. RPS had a well-settled batting order, which hailed of six batsmen excluding Stokes, and five bowlers including Jaydev Unadkat, Washington Sundar, Adam Zampa, Shardul Thakur and all-rounder Dan Christian. RPS took a bold decision in going with a bowler and showed immense faith in their batting order to deliver. It was a gamble, but a calculated one. Although they had five bowlers, but not all of them gave an impression of giving four fruitful overs. RPS included Ferguson over Khawaja and added some firepower to their bowling.
It was not just about getting a bowler on board, it was also about the psychological factor. Playing five bowlers would have given MI some liberty to choose and attack certain bowlers but an option always comes handy. At Wankhede Stadium, given the conditions and dew factor are, a toss becomes more crucial than everything and on most of the occasions decides the fate of the match. Many thought RPS lost half the battle when they lost the toss, but it wasn’t to be. They were asked to bat first as MI have been a good change side and backed their strength.
RPS, after a horrible start, were rescued by a steady partnership between Ajinkya Rahane and Manoj Tiwary. The duo scored much-needed fifties and sailed the RPS ship out of choppy waters with care. After Rahane’s dismissal, MS Dhoni took charge and hammered MI bowlers after a bumpy ride in the start. RPS posted a challenging total of 162 on a surface, which looked two-faced and allowed the ball to grip. This was not the kind of pitch, Mumbai was known for throughout the season. It had enough assistance for the bowlers and RPS knew they had runs on the board to pull it off.
Mumbai Indians boast of one of the strongest batting line-ups in the tournament and bat extremely deep. RPS bowlers had to pick a lot of wickets as the target was such that a decent partnership would have taken the game away from them. Their bowlers did a commendable job, especially Washington Sundar, who picked his T20 career-best figures in this game. Sundar finished with 3 for 16 and had the wickets of Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayudu and Kieron Pollard to his name. RPS bowlers not only kept chipping wickets but also had an eye over the run-rate. Eventually, they won the contest by 20 runs and chiseled their path into the final.
RPS were not let down with the absence of their star players, in fact, they took it as a challenge and stepped up. This is the spirit that makes a team and transform underdogs to champions. RPS have shown great character and temperament and will be the team to watch out for in the final. Don’t be surprised if they even lift their maiden title as they have the momentum going and enough time for preparations. As of now, MI have a chance in the second qualifier and all eyes are set on the eliminator between Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad.