When we started following the fortunes of Pune in the IPL it was all for novelty’s sake really. We didn’t really care about the team that plays in blue and silver, we just thought they offered a good entry into the bizarre world that is the IPL. Even if the hopeless fielding and nauseating over-commercialisation of the IPL inherently repelled us, we could always fall back on mocking the efforts of Steve Smith and Luke Wright.
But then, somewhere along the line, probably ten seconds after Steve Smith walked out to bat for the first time, it just clicked. Pune wasn’t just any team, they were our team. It helped that their early performances belied the predictions of tournament also-rans as they ripped their more fashionable opponents apart, and that their home stadium seems to be filled with actual supporters, rather than just poor unsuspecting locals who have been chain-ganged and deposited at the ground, forced to listen to the Summer of 69 blaring out every two minutes and wave like morons at the camera, probably whilst a gun is held at their backs. The Pune fans actually seem to care, as reflected by the sea of blue that accompanies home games at the Subrata Roy Stadium.
Those halcyon early days are gone now however, as results have begun to sour and Pune slide towards the bottom of the table. As we sit here in the 51allout office, bedecked with Pune tat, from our collection of ‘Steve Smith 49’ shirts, to the Pune tumblers and bar fridge, we can’t help reflecting on the source of Pune’s decline and feel a desperate need to talk about what is bringing what was such a vibrant and positive outfit down. We need to talk about Dada.
Right off the bat let us make it clear we have no problem whatsoever with Ganguly’s record in the game. We are all big fans. We particularly liked it when he would turn up to coin tosses half an hour late, dressed only in a towel, holding a Pina Colada, and claiming he thought the game started the next day. Genius stuff, as I’m sure everyone who wasn’t an opposition captain can agree. The twitter feed on Youtube is rife with discussion of Ganguly’s legacy (amongst some more unsavoury stuff, such as w***ing up, t*****c c**e t***t and w***ing over pictures of K**y B***y), and the common theme is that he was the captain who laid the platform for Dhoni’s later success in taking India to the number one ranking in Test cricket. And we agree with this as well.
But this is not the Dada of yesteryear we are talking about, this is the Dada who seems to pulling Pune into a spiral of despair with his insipid top order batting, often lacklustre bowling, bizarre bowling changes and utterly perplexing team selections. Everything that is currently amiss with Pune seems to boil back down to Dada in one form or another and it’s clear that he is struggling to get the best out of an actually rather talented Pune outfit.
Lets start with his batting. Dada has retained all the classical shots that helped make his name as one of the most flamboyant batsman on the international stage, but he lacks the inventiveness required in this format. He finds it extremely difficult to score above a run a ball, and whenever he tries to accelerate after wasting valuable overs settling in, he inevitably throws his wicket away. If Dada possessed the ability to rapidly change gears his slow starts wouldn’t matter so much, but he falls down every time, placing often impossible pressure on the batsmen to follow. Steve Smith may be a revelation in this campaign, but he is no miracle worker. With the ball in hand Dada has been similarly unimpressive, apart from his first delivery that cleaned up KP and sent the cricketing world into hysteria. Dada seems to want to take the crunch overs on his own shoulders, a commendable attitude but one that fails to accurately cater for his waning powers. A fine bowler for the junk overs in the middle of an innings, Dada should never ever be seen towards the death.
The final, and most perplexing, aspect of Dada’s performance is his captaincy. The Pune squad seems to be in constant rotation, and we’re jiggered if we can make any sense of it. Murali Kartik has bowled with accuracy and aggression so far this series, yet plays only infrequently, and even then rarely bowls his full four overs. Ashish Nehra has been persisted with as a death bowler, despite going at nearly nine runs an over, whilst a far better option, Alfonso Thomas, watches on from the sidelines.
The batting is even more bizarre. Tamim Iqbal and Luke Wright are both in form, having recently destroyed opposition bowlers in the Asian Cup and Big Bash respectively. Neither have had a look in though, Wright being picked for the one game, where he didn’t bat, before being dropped, whilst Tamim hasn’t featured at all. To be sure Dada has his hands tied with the increasingly ludicrous stipulation of only four foreign players being able to play at a time, but he could handle his resources much better than this. Steve Smith, easily the most effective batsman so far, has bounced around the batting order, from as low as seven to as high as four. This uncertainty is upsetting the team’s cohesion and speaks of a captain who, halfway through the competition, is still unsure of the make up of his best team.
It is no surprise to see Dada wanting to get into the thick of the action with both bat and ball and take control of games with decisive captaincy. It’s clear that he still craves success and wants to take responsibility for leading Pune to victory. It’s not a desire for the limelight but rather a determination to be seen as leading the team from the front. The painful reality, however, is that his efforts are frequently counter-productive to the team’s performance and that there are others in the squad who could do the job far better than Dada can. The Pune team is littered with capable leaders, beginning with Australian Test Captain Michael Clarke and Big Bash winning captain Steve Smith. No, really.
After last night’s humiliating loss to the Mumbai Indians, Pune are in a dire position, second last and needing to win at least four out of their remaining five games to make the finals. Considering they have now lost four on the trot, that seems an unlikely proposition, to say the least. To turn around their season something has to change, and its clear what that change should be. Dada still has a role to play in leading and inspiring this Pune outfit, but it’s becoming increasingly clear he would be best served spending the rest of the campaign doing it entirely from the sidelines.