The IPL 2017 season has witnessed some swashbuckling hitting, brilliant death overs and mercurial run chases. As the tournament comes full circle, the finale is set to be held between Rising Pune Supergiant and 2 time champions Mumbai Indians at Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Hyderabad on Sunday.
It’s been a roller-coaster ride for Supergiant this season as they have defied odds to reach the finals of the cricketing extravaganza after their disastrous debut last season.
A lot of hue and cry was raised as legendary Indian captain and one of the most successful ones of IPL, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was stripped from the captaincy of the team. Dhoni’s fans didn’t take it well and Pune owners came under a lot of criticism as Australia’s maverick skipper Steven Smith was handed the captaincy.
Supergiant began the tournament on a high as they defeated Mumbai Indians in their first match as captain Smith and Ajinkya Rahane demolished the opposition’s bowlers.
However, all was not hunky-dory for the team as they witnessed inconsistent form and some early losses in the league season. Matters were further compounded when Supergiant’s owner Sanjiv Goenka’s brother, criticized MS Dhoni for his lack of form.
When all seemed lost for Pune and cricket pundits had begun claiming that the team was set to repeat the previous year’s debacle, they roared back into form.
MS Dhoni suddenly hit the purple patch and gave Pune their second biggest victory of the tournament against defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad.
The wicket-keeper batsman hit a 34 ball 61 with 3 massive sixes and 5 fours to clinch a breathtaking last ball victory for his team.
The mercurial Ben Stokes Stokes, the team’s highest buy of the season gave several Man-of-the-Match performances including scoring a century and taking crucial wickets to help Pune win some close matches.
Although Smith and Ajinkya Rahane’s form remained inconsistent, young guns like Rahul Tripathi and Manoj Tiwari flourished under pressure.
They offered adequate support to Stokes and Dhoni while hitting timely knocks to take the team forward.
The bowling department was well served by hatrick man Jaydev Unadkat, Shardul Thakur, Imran Tahir, Washington Sundar and of course Stokes himself.
The team won 5-6 close matches as Unadkat emerged as a sensation in both the opening and death overs. He has already picked up 22 wickets in the tournament and is one of the contenders for the purple cap.
Thakur has complemented him well with his variations and the young duo received good support from the experienced Ben Stokes and Daniel Christian.
South African Imran Tahir handled the spin department well along with youngsters Washington Sundar and Adam Zampa.
Pune Supergiant which in the earlier stages were languishing at the 7th spot, rose to the fourth spot just before the qualifiers courtesy the fabulous performances.
The team was hit by a major crisis as their star spinner and one of the leading wicket takers of the tournament till then, Imran Tahir had to return for national duties. Further, they were left in dire straits as star player Ben Stokes too returned home to play the England vs Ireland series.
However, as they say, ‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man’. Pune showed that they have a bundle of talent in the reserve department it was time for the teenage off-spinner Washington Sundar to show his worth.
The young man took the challenge well and didn’t let his team feel the absence of Tahir as he bamboozled batsmen with his flighted deliveries, slower balls and consistently beat them in the air.
The result was a plethora of wickets which brought a smile on captain Smith’s face. He has till now received good support from Adam Zampa and the team management will hope that the young man continues the good work on a slow Hyderabad wicket.
Pune defeated Kings XI Punjab in the road to the qualifiers by 9 wickets as Jaydev Unadkat, Shardul Thakur and Daniel Christian took seven wickets among them to send Punjab into submission. Adam Zampa then gobbled two wickets as Punjab could score only 73 runs.
After romping their way to the qualifiers, Pune defeated Mumbai for the third time this season as Ajinkya Rahane and Manoj Tiwari hit important half-centuries.
Pune had a slow start as they lost captain Smith and Rahul Tripathi pretty early. Rahane kept one end intact and was well supported by Tiwari. But it was the Dhoni blitzkrieg everyone was waiting for.
One of the best pinch-hitters of the game and exceptional cricketer that he is, Dhoni completed 100 dismissals behind the wicket in IPL this season. However, he once again proved the age old adage ‘Form is temporary, class is permanent’.
Beginning cautiously, the former Pune skipper brought 40 runs in the last two overs and 26 runs in the 19th as he led a murderous assault on Mumbai bowlers. His 26 ball 40 consisted of 5 massive sixes as opposition captain Rohit Sharma kept on searching for answers.
Mumbai’s strong bowling line up was taken to the cleaners as Dhoni once again showed that he kept his best knocks for the big games.
Fans were mesmerized as they were reminded of his whirlwind knock during the 2011 World Cup finals against Sri Lanka, which was instrumental in India being crowned champions.
Mumbai, while chasing a 163-run target could never recover from the early blows of Man-of-the-match Washington Sundar. He took 3 wickets in an economical spell while giving 16 runs in his allotted 4 overs.
This broke Mumbai’s back as other Pune bowlers Thakur, Unadkat and Lockie Ferguson contributed with timely wickets to lead their team to a thrilling 20-run victory.
Dhoni and Sundar came in for special praise by the cricketing fraternity and fans alike. A delighted Steven Smith couldn’t control his emotions while claiming that Sundar was a special talent.
Sundar was all smiles and thanked his captain for the support. “It feels really good, especially to have taken key members of their side on such a big occasion in front of a packed crowd.
I think Smith has been really supportive and I would like to thank him for it. Him giving me an opportunity to play ten games in my first edition for an off-spinner, I don’t think any other team would have been willing to do that. I would like to thank him a lot.”
Pune has witnessed a huge turnaround this season and have risen from the ashes like a phoenix. Whereas last season, they couldn’t even make it to the second round, this time they put on special efforts as players gave in some sublime performances.
A team, which in its earlier stages was written-off by experts, now sits at second position in the points table with 18 points from 14 matches. They have won 9 and lost five with a healthy net run rate.
Pune has been the nemesis of Mumbai whom they have defeated in 3 matches this season while enjoying a 4-1 head to head record against the archrivals.
Both the teams are now set for a fascinating finale as what has now become a Western Derby.
Rising Pune Supergiant is on a winning spree and look all set to take the crown as they enter their first finals of the tournament.
Jaydev Unadkat, their frontline paceman expressed satisfaction over his team’s preparations while claiming that they were upbeat about their chances.
However, Mumbai Indians too showed excellent form against Kolkata Knight Riders in the eliminator as their bowlers bundled out the opposition for a paltry 107 runs.
Young spinner Karn Sharma was the wrecker-in-chief as he claimed four KKR wickets to help his team reach another IPL finale.
The Hyderabad wicket will support spinners and slow bowlers and Pune will start as favourite against their Western counterparts. The match has built huge excitement among fans and cricket fanatics as they await a thrilling climax.