If there was competition to decide the most talked about team in the current IPL season, definitely the winner will turn out to be Pune Warriors. They were all over the news after their owner, Sahara Adventure Sports Limited, reckoned that they were being subjected to unfair treatment on the part of the administrators of the game in India. The follow up to this snowballed into a controversy that threatened to take the sheen off the much hyped tournament that IPL is made out to be. The circumstances behind the withdrawal of the franchise and its after effects on the Indian national team were out in the public, immediately drawing frantic behind-the-curtains meetings to break the stalemate.
The speed with which the drama unfolded, the curtains over it were drawn at even quicker pace and thing returned to normalcy. But from the perspective of the team it was a loss as the owners lost the chance to pick from the best available talents during the players’ auction for the 2011 season. This was in addition to their marquee player Yuvraj Singh’s absence due to health issues. Nevertheless, the team after weathering the storm that arose in the first place due to Yuvraj’s inability to play for Pune this season seems ready to gain some reputation with their on-field show. A new captain and a new season with players eager to set records straight (read Jesse Ryder) with their on-field rather than off-field exploits, a flame of hope however slim flickers through the wind for Pune Warriors.
Under the stewardship of former Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly, Pune Warriors sport a look that at first glance wouldn’t set your heart racing for they do not boast of a player that fits the proverbial tag of a ‘destructive’ batsman. In their inventory, one will find players capable of delivering performances that lack the swagger of a Gayle or Pathan. Their debut season proved to be a nightmare where they fared only better than Delhi Daredevils in the points tally. Their batting was their Achilles heels with their top order failing to provide a solid start. It was then left to Yuvraj Singh and others to rebuild the innings. With the inclusion of Tamim Iqbal and Ryder’s assurance at the other end, they will hope their opening woes are gone for good. The catch here is where to fit Ganguly?
Ganguly’s natural position to bat in the shorter formats has been at the top and opening the innings has been his forte. The problem with Pune is that their batting order gives a feeling of uncertainty. In order to fit Ganguly among the likes of Ryder, Manhas, Pandey, Uthappa, Ferguson and the new entrant Iqbal, they’ll have to brainstorm and draw an intelligent strategy to follow this season.
The conundrum that Ganguly poses is that you cannot push him down the order nor can you bring him in at number three. At one down, Pune’s best bet, as the last season showed, is Mithun Manhas. His demotion down the order went against his natural ability to graft and thus the drying up of runs. However, if you open with Ganguly, either Ryder or Tamim will have to make way. Tamim, for all his current form with the bat, is yet to prove his credentials as a handy T20 batsman. In short, only Ryder and Pandey ignite any hope of explosive starts. How well they juggle between them will dictate their fortunes. They need an explosive start at the beginning or at least a decent one that leaves ample opportunities for the incoming players to blast their ways to a big, challenging total.
On the bowling front, they lack a genuine wicket taker. They don’t have the express pace of Dale Steyn or Brett Lee, their bowling lineup boasts of slow bowlers like Rahul Sharma, Nathan McCullum and Murali Kartik. They all can put breaks on the scoring rate, can bring you closer to victory but cannot alone consistently usher the team towards victory. The pace department is lead by Ashish Nehra supported by Alfonso Thomas and Wayne Parnell. Nehra will be debuting for PWI while Thomas (11 wkts) and Parnell (9 wkts) had a decent outing last season. Sharma’s sixteen wickets last year took him to Indian team and his bowling again will be vital owing to his past feat and newly acquired tag of international cricketer.
Also, it will be interesting to see how Sourav Ganguly, who took Indian cricket to new heights during his tenure as the captain, uses his shrewdness and instincts to lift the team that lacks any star power save to his own fan following in India. In short, he will have to dig down deep and pick his resources judiciously.