RPS look to Smith magic

While Gujarat Lions soared to the top of the table, Rising Pune Supergiant — the other debutants last year — ended up on the other side (7th), thanks to a series of injuries to their top players. They first lost maverick Kevin Pietersen, then South African Faf du Plessis, all-rounder Mitchell Marsh before being hit with the big­gest blow — Steve Smith.

Aussie skipper Smith, who had cracked a century and was looking in ominous touch, departed exactly at the midway stage of RPS’ campaign and with such high-profile pull-outs, they eventually lost steam and just went through the motions for the remainder.

In a bid to add some luck they’ve rechristened themselves Rising Pune Supergiant, dropping the ‘s’ at the end, and have also elevated Smith to captaincy. With Smith, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, du Plessis, Ben Stokes (picked up at this year's auction), Ajinkya Rahane and the dangerous Mayank Agarwal in the line-up, their batting looks good. All the batsmen have been in fine nick and if they can fire in unison consistently, RPS will be a force to contend with.

RPS, however, appear thin on the bowling department and with R Ashwin too ruled out, they would need a strong collective effort from all. South African leg-spinner Imran Tahir will most likely be entrusted with the slow-bowling duties while Jaydev Unadkat, Shardul Thakur and Stokes will share the pace bowing responsibilities.


Past performance: 2016: 7th.
The squad: Steve Smith (captain), Mayank Agarwal, Ankit Sharma, Baba Aparajith, Ankush Bains, Rahat Bhatia, Deepak Chahar, Rahul Chahar, Dan Christian, M S Dhoni, Ashok Dinda, Faf du Plessis, Lockie Ferguson, Imran Tahir, Jaskaran Singh, Usman Khawaja, Ajinkya Rahane, Ben Stokes, Milind Tandon, Manoj Tiwary, Adam Zampa, Jaydev Unadkat, Ishwar Pandey, Rahul Tripathi, Shardul Thakur.

STAR WATCH

Steve Smith: One of the premier batmen in the world and in riveting form in the just completed four-match Test series against India, Smith will no doubt be expected to lead from the front. Judging by his phenomenal rise since being appointed the Aussie skipper, Smith, is the one man RPS will bank upon heavily.

Ben Stokes: When a team splurges Rs 14.5 crore on one player alone, there must be plenty of reasons for that. Big, brooding and a genuine game-changer, fast bowling all-rounder Stokes is a brilliant package. Although one is unsure about his full availability owing to England’s international commitment in May, expect Stokes to make a huge impact.

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