Rising Pune Supergiants vs Gujarat Lions: Has MS Dhoni gone wrong with choice of players for IPL 2016?
India's limited-overs skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is known to make the best use of the players at his disposal.
Over the years, under his unmatchable leadership skills, players like R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Mohit Sharma, Ishwar Pandey, have all honed their skills playing for the Chennai Super Kings.
While they were unheralded when they were initially roped into the squad, not only did they become match-winners for the franchise, but also went on to taste success at the international stage. They owe a huge part of their success to the maverick skipper. Pawan Negi, who had just one good season with CSK in 2015, hogged the limelight at the IPL auction earlier this year, where he was bought for a whopping 8.5 crores.
In the last eight years, Dhoni and the Chennai think tank picked players from across the globe to form one of the most formidable T20 units in the world. Not only Indian players, but even overseas players were recognized by their respective national teams after they performed for yellow brigade.
But as Dhoni now leads a new franchise in Rising Pune Supergiants, one cannot but wonder whether he has misjudged the choice of players picked for the Sanjeev Goenka-owned franchise.
The top three comprise Ajinkya Rahane, Kevin Pietersen and Faf du Plessis. While they are batsmen who can score runs on a consistent basis, none of them is a T20 specialist. Steve Smith is one good purchase, but given his form since the beginning of this year, having him doesn't help the team much.
Pune's batsman at the crucial number six spot, is Rajat Bhatia, a bowling all-rounder who is hardly fit as a batsman for this format. For the Chennai Super Kings, Dwayne Bravo used to bat at that spot, followed by Ravindra Jadeja and the line-up never seemed to end.
Even in the bowling department, Dhoni put his money behind RP Singh, who looked very rusty since the beginning of this season. While R Ashwin and M Ashwin seem to be a formidable spin duo, the latter's inexperience could work in the favour of the other teams.
The major concern for Dhoni is that even in the reserves, he doesn't have match-winners who can turn this team into a title contender.
Here is the Pune squad for this season:
MS Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Faf du Plessis, Kevin Pietersen, Steven Smith, Mitchell Marsh, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan, Baba Aparajith
Ashwin Murugan, Rajat Bhatia, Ashoke Dinda, Scott Boland, Peter Handscomb, RP Singh, Adam Zampa, Ishwar Pandey, Deepak Chahar, Jaskaran Singh, Ankush Bains, Ankit Sharma.
Now compare it with this squad of Suresh Raina-led Gujarat Lions:
Suresh Raina, Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch, Dwayne Bravo, James Faulkner, Dinesh Karthik, Ravindra Jadeja, Praveen Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Pravin Tambe, Amit Mishra
Dwayne Smith, Dale Steyn, Eklavya Dwivedi, Andrew Tye, Ishan Kishan, Jaydev Shah, Shadab Jakati, Pradeep Sangwan, Shivil Kaushik, Aksh Deep Nath, Sarabjeet Ladda, Umang Sharma, Paras Dogra.
It definitely looks like a side which could win a maiden IPL title in its inaugural edition.
The first seven players are all perfectly suited for the shortest format of the game.
While the bowling looks a tad weak, not to forget, Bravo and Faulkner are two of the best death bowlers in any format of the game.
Even in reserves, they have players like Smith and Steyn, who can replace two overseas players from the playing XI.
CSK won two IPL titles under MS Dhoni's captaincy.
It remains to be seen whether Dhoni can pull off another title, with a squad, which doesn't boast of superstars suited to the slam-bang format.