We are now down to two teams in the tenth edition of the IPL. This is the last season before everything changes. From the next season onward, there will new faces in charge, new team set-ups and a different line-up of franchises.
Rising Pune Supergiant and Gujarat Lions won’t be there anymore, at least not in their current avatar. The two year ban on Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings will end. What happens next and which teams end up participating in the eleventh edition is not clear.
Also, all or a majority of players will go back into the auction pool and we will see new team compositions.
With so much about to happen, this edition of the IPL was important to make a lasting impression. Which means many ‘veterans’ of the T20 format had that much more pressure on them to show they are still worth investing for the next few years.
By some incredible turn of events, Mahendra Singh Dhoni – the undisputed champion of T20 – found himself in that category at the beginning of the 2017 IPL.
Here was an iconic limited overs batsman who was no longer the captain of the Indian team and was playing only in the limited overs format. And before the IPL started, we got to know that not only was Dhoni no longer captain of the Pune franchise, he has been removed from that position after a disastrous 2016 season and Steven Smith put at the helm.
As the IPL started, Harsh Goenka, brother of RPS owner Sanjeev, said the team has made the right decision by picking Smith instead of Dhoni as captain. Then at the beginning of this month, Goenka tweeted Pune was finding a new hero in every match. He named Rahul Tripathi, Ben Stokes, Imran Tahir and Smith. But again, no Dhoni.
Maybe Dhoni’s returns of 280 runs from 15 matches pale in comparison to his team-mates like Smith (421 runs), Tripathi (388), Ajinkya Rahane (338) or even Manoj Tiwary (317). But whenever Dhoni has fired, it has been critical.
Pune had lost three out of their first five matches and needed to kick their game up a notch. They found just that in the match against Sunrisers Hyderabad, chasing down 177 off the last ball of the innings with Dhoni unbeaten on 61 from 34 balls.
Since that close win – which came after a nearly week-long break for them – Pune went on the offensive and lost only two of their next nine matches.
And in the most important game for the franchise, it was Dhoni who stole the show. In the first qualifier against Mumbai Indians, while Rahane (56 from 43 balls) and Tiwary (58 from 48 balls) were good, Dhoni was outstanding, hitting five sixes in his 26-ball 40 not out.
And let’s not forget his reflexes as a wicketkeeper remain as sharp as ever and he is one of the finest glovemen in world at the age of 35.
Dhoni is now in a familiar position. He will be playing in his seventh IPL final. Another significant performance from him in the title clash will show that he is still a gamechanger.
He doesn’t need to prove it as he is the most successful captain in the history of the limited overs cricket. But a fine knock at the big stage will serve as a gentle reminder to those who want to look beyond the wicketkeeper that he is still the boss when it comes to white ball cricket.
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