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IPL newbies Pune and Rajkot break up teams to form their own

Separated: MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina will no longer play for the same team. Photo courtesy: ESPNCricinfo
Separated: MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina will no longer play for the same team. Photo courtesy: ESPNCricinfo
Separated: MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina will no longer play for the same team. Photo courtesy: ESPNCricinfo

Let’s take a trip down memory lane and go back to schoolground games. Forming a team was a simple affair. 20 players stood in line, while two ‘special’ players tossed a coin to decide who would pick first. The winner of the toss would choose the best player among the lot; the loser would pick the second best. This process would continue till all players standing in line were picked, and then it would be time to play.

The Indian Premier League draft for the players of the erstwhile Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals was very similar. We had the two new team owners – the New Rising-owned Pune and the Intex-owned Rajkot – flipping the proverbial coin to get the first-pick advantage. Only this time, it wasn’t a ₹1 coin, but a substantial bid at the franshise auction that gave Pune the right to choose first. And, no surprises, they chose MS Dhoni first, shelling out 12.5 crore for the former CSK captain.

Rajkot, for their first pick, bought Suresh Raina for the same amount.

And thus, the quintessential pair of Dhoni and Raina was broken.

Then on, it was a matter of playing their cards right as Pune and Rajkot built the core of their teams. When Pune picked Ajinkye Rahane, Rajkot picked Ravindra Jadeja. Ravichandran Ashwin went one way, Brendon McCullum the other. Steven Smith was lapped up by Pune, James Faulkner learned he’ll play for Rajkot. Finally, Faf du Plessis and Dwayne Bravo arrived at a fork in the road; the former went on the path to Pune, while the latter hotfooted it to Rajkot.

Sanjiv Goenka, the owner of the Kolkata company New Rising, was sure who he would go for first in the draft. “There was no room for speculation,” he told the Times of India. “Dhoni is an outstanding leader and we are delighted to have him as with us.”

By the end of the draft, two very distinct-looking teams had emerged. While the Pune outfit looks to have built a batting core, the Rajkot team seems to have hedged their bets on a balanced, yet aggressive side.

The Teams

MS Dhoni (₹12.5 cr)
Ajinkye Rahane (₹9.5 cr)
Ravichandran Ashwin (₹7.5 cr)
Steven Smith (₹5.5 cr)
Faf du Plessis (₹4 cr)

Suresh Raina (₹12.5 cr)
Ravindra Jadeja (₹9.5 cr)
Brendon McCullum (₹7.5 cr)
James Faulkner (₹5.5 cr)
Dwayne Bravo (₹4 cr)

Pune’s batting 

Dhoni, Rahane, Smith and Du Plessis will anchor the Pune batting line-up. None of them are out-and-out hitters of the ball, but can be counted on to deliver every game.

Rahane, Smith and Du Plessis can be used anywhere in the batting line-up – all three have done justice to their selection, be it at the opening slots or in the middle order. Rahane is turning into an accomplished batsman, and his T20 skills are vast. He ended the 2014 IPL campaign as the second-highest scorer with 540 runs at 49.09 runs per match.

Dhoni, meanwhile, adds meat to the batting lower order, and, more importanntly, brings in an immense understanding of the game, and an intuition that is priceless.

While all the discussions have so far focused on Pune’s batting, the team’s fifth pick, spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, could ultimately be the most talked about player. Ashwin is in the form of his life at the moment. He has been stellar with the Chennai Super Kings, often called upon to open the bowling as well as bowl in the death overs. Pune have a cetified matchwinner on their hands and it will be interesting to see how Dhoni uses Ashwin now that he no longer has the services of Raina and Jadeja.

Rajkot’s balance

One look at the Rajkot side and the word ‘balance’ springs to mind. In Raina, Jadeja, Faulkner and Bravo, the outfit have four excellent all-rounders who have proved their worth on the international as well as the IPL stage.

Suresh Raina, who will most likely be named the Rajkot captain, is Mr Dependable. Highly efficient with the bat, Raina was often called to a job with the ball for CSK. Being under the tutelage of Dhoni in Chennai, he would have picked up the finer points of leadership and will look to implement those skills at his new team. And, once paired with the belligerent Brendon McCullum, CSK’s top run-getter last season, Rajkot have one of the most explosive batting duos in the IPL.

Jadeja, too, is an excellent pick for the Rajkot team. While his batting skills have of late not been up to his own standards, his bowling is something that batsmen around the world are beginning to sit up and take notice. Deadly accuracy combined with canny changes of pace is a winning combination if ever there was one.

Faulker and Bravo have performed brilliantly with both bat and ball for Rajasthan Royals and CSK respectively on a consistent basis. Bravo was CSK highest-ever wicket-taker in the IPL.

“The strategy was quite clear,” Rajkot franchise owner Keshav Bansal told Firstpost. “The objective was to have a balanced team and therefore we went for aggressive batsmen and all-rounders beacuse right mix of batsmen and bowlers can only take you to the winning streak.”

On paper, the Rajkot team looks slightly better than the Pune outfit. They have a good mix of variety and aggression. The Pune side, though, looks top heavy. They need to spend wisely in the player auctions and build a team that can lead them to be called serious contenders.

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