MS Dhoni and Virender Sehwag – two giants of Indian cricket – and both with happy memories of the last time they held their bat for the national team at the Holkar Stadium here. But that was a while back.
The dynamic duo have now been pushed to the background, playing support to the younger lot as their teams Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) and Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) go head on in Indian Premier League (IPL).
Dhoni led India from front with a 92* against South Africa in 2015 in the last ODI at Indore. He was Man of the Match and India won by 22 runs. This time, for RPS, he is a wicketkeeper-batsman and not the captain. The first match of RPS in 2017 IPL has proven that Dhoni’s successor, Steve Smith, is ready for the task with a match-winning knock against Mumbai Indians on Thursday.
Ajinkya Rahane said Smith is learning well from ‘leader’ Dhoni, but the fact remains that latter was removed from captaincy and did not relinquish it on his own.
Like Dhoni, Viru is also looking to hit the old high note – Not as a player but as the Director of Cricket Operations. He too was the Man of the Match in his last ODI at Indore – for scoring a historic 219 against West Indies in 2011.
Old score to settle
Sehwag, who was earlier the mentor of KXIP in 2016, however, has an old score to settle. KXIP finished last in the previous edition because Dhoni’s bat fired with a 32-ball 64 against them and took RPS to an improbable win, the last time the sides clashed.
Even an out-of-form Dhoni can’t be ignored and Sehwag knows that very well. To add to his headache, in RPS’s first match win over Mumbai Indians (MI), Smith scored a 54-ball 84* while Rahane scored a 34-ball 60.
Add to that, Imran Tahir’s 3/28 and Rajat Bhatia’s 2/14 against MI, and RPS looks a set team already.
To take on such an in-form team in the first match is a big task and KXIP will have many questions to answer. They have retained their core players from the last few seasons, despite not many good performances.
However, with the addition of players like Darren Sammy and Ishant Sharma, KXIP has showed intent to turn the tide this time around. They have a new captain in Glenn Maxwell, who did well in the recently concluded India-Australia Test series, and would want to maintain his form.
The presence of a hard-hitting batsman like David Miller will only boost their confidence while the late-hitting prowess of West Indies’ World T20-winning captain Sammy will give them added energy. KXIP also have Eoin Morgan, Hashim Amla and Marcus Stoinis in their ranks, and KXIP may have a hard time choosing the four foreign players in the playing XI.
KXIP probably have the best Indian pace attack in this edition of IPL. Apart from Ishant, Mohit Sharma, Sandeep Sharma, T Natarajan provide an exciting array of options for the team management.
But two areas where the team lags behind are - senior Indian batsmen and spinners. After Murali Vijay’s exit due to injury, Wriddhiman Saha is their only batsman who plays for the Indian team. In the spin department, Axar Patel is the only reputed name.
But then, IPL is a tournament where unknowns become heroes almost every day, and who knows, Saturday might bring another name to that list.