IPL 2017: Focus will be on Stokes as RPS takes on MI

All eyes will be on Ben Stokes, who had a decent outing against India in the five-Test series, especially with the bat.

Ben Stokes... Time to show his mettle...   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

England all-rounder Ben Stokes made the big splash at the IPL auction in Bangalore in February, when a number of franchises loosened their purse strings before Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) stopped the bidding frenzy at Rs. 14.50 crore (£1.7 million). Previously in 2009, other franchises had demonstrated big interest (£1.1million) for England’s Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff, but sometime in last February, RPS owner Sanjeev Goenka was determined to buy the England all-rounder and had set aside a sum of Rs. 15 crore.

After the auction in Bangalore, Goenka said: “Ben Stokes is available for the entire league, but he is not available for the playoffs. So, he is available for the entire 14 games. We have to perform well in the 14 games to dream of playoffs and we need the right players to perform well in the league games. The one thing that we lacked in our team was a genuine fast-bowling all-rounder and Ben is somebody who can be a single-handed match-winner on his day.”

The time has arrived for Stokes to show his mettle against two-time champions, Mumbai Indians, in the second IPL 10 match to be played at the Gahunje Stadium here on Thursday. The likes of Steve Smith (elevated to captaincy at the expense of Mahendra Singh Dhoni), Stokes, Faf du Plessis, Dhoni, Ajinkya Rahane, Manish Pandey and Mayank Agarwal make RPS a formidable batting team.

The withdrawal of off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin from the squad because of injury is a setback Smith will have to contend with. The Supergiant doesn’t boast of a great bowling attack and it will have to choose from the likes of Ashok Dinda, Jaydev Unadkat, Shardul Thakur, Adam Zampa and Imran Tahir.

“We have look upon Tahir, Zampa and Stokes, but the Indian bowlers are also experienced,” said Smith, whose team won only five of the 14 league matches last year.

Clearly attention will be riveted on Stokes, who had a decent outing against India in the five-Test series, especially with the bat. “He has played 21 Twenty20 matches, scored 192 runs and taken 10 wickets. He (Stokes) is a big strong boy. He can hit the ball a long way. And that is why we got him. We paid a big price for him and got him. We obviously have him and M. S. Dhoni as well, who can hit the ball very long way. I think for us to have a good tournament (we need) those guys to score some runs for us at the back-end and in the middle overs as well. It will be exciting.’’

Mumbai to miss Malinga

Mumbai Indians will take the field without Lasith Malinga, who is the highest wicket-taker in the league with 143 wickets. Malinga and Asela Gunaratne will join the team after Sri Lanka’s Twenty20 match against Bangladesh.

“But we have three good overseas seamers in Mitchell Johnson, Mitchell McClenaghan and Tim Southee to choose from,” said skipper Rohit Sharma, who will be keen to get some good runs after a long lay-off due to a thigh injury.