With three wins in 10 games, Rising Pune Supergiants are languishing at the sixth place of the Indian Premier League (IPL) points table with six points.
With just four games left, Pune need to win against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Tuesday if they are to stand a chance of making the playoffs.
As captain of the now-suspended Chennai Super Kings, MS Dhoni had always led his side into the playoffs. A stumble on Tuesday could see him miss out for the first time in the league.
Dhoni has struggled in his first season away from the well-oiled Chennai outfit. The side has lost all its home games, and injuries have not helped the cause. Pune are a depleted side after a spate of injuries saw Faf du Plessis, Kevin Pietersen, Steve Smith and Mitchell Marsh return home.
Their absence has meant a weak batting order with Dhoni himself hardly making a major contribution. Only Ajinkya Rahane has managed to hold fort. The bowling has been a bigger flop with none of the Pune bowlers featuring in the top-10 wicket-takers’ list.
Coach Stephen Fleming said on Monday that Dhoni had a sore back, but would play on Tuesday. The skipper did not seem to be in discomfort as he had an extended stint in the nets.
Dhoni’s men face a fresh challenge of adjusting to a new base in Vizag where they will play their three remaining home games.
With a four-point gap between Pune and fifth-placed Mumbai Indians, a win on Tuesday is paramount to Pune’s ambitions of staying relevant in the competition.
Dhoni’s campaign began with a win against Mumbai, but since then the campaign has been anything but smooth. During that game there were signs of a disagreement between him and senior-most bowler Ravichandran Ashwin.
The off-spinner played a secondary role in the initial stages, with Dhoni preferring to hand the ball to rookie leg-spinner M Ashwin.
Even in the last game against Royal Challengers Bangalore, the senior Ashwin was given just one over. The inexperienced M Ashwin has bowled well, but lacks bite.
To give Dhoni some leeway, it is true the team has not combined well. The medium-pacers have not been consistent, and injuries to prime batsmen have left Dhoni with few options.
With a shift in base, Dhoni will need to adapt afresh.
The 32-year-old was the most successful captain in IPL while at the helm at CSK. With four league games left, Dhoni will hope the shift to Vizag can also bring a change in Rising Pune’s fortunes.