In desperate need of a decent campaign

Dual role... Robin Uthappa, who is in fine form with the bat, has to double up as a wicketkeeper as well.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Arguably the worst side in the IPL over the last two seasons, Pune Warriors India is in desperate need of a decent campaign in order to stay relevant, not least to deflect from off-field issues. The team finished second-last in 2011 (avoiding the bottom only on run rate) and last in 2012, winning only four games each time. Things had begun on a promising note last season, with three victories from the first four matches, but they took a catastrophic turn thereafter, eventually ending in a string of nine consecutive defeats — an IPL record!

Yuvraj Singh, who was recovering from cancer, missed the entire season while captain Sourav Ganguly could only manage a mediocre 268 runs from 15 games (at a strike rate of under 100). This time, without Ganguly, the team will likely be led by Michael Clarke, who was released before being re-signed.

Pune spent the most amongst the franchises at the auction, buying up Clarke ($400,000), possibly with an eye on making him captain, Ajantha Mendis ($725,000), Abhishek Nayar ($675,000) and the rookie Australian fast bowler Kane Richardson ($700,000). Tamim Iqbal, who did not get a game last season, and Steve Smith — arguably the team’s best performer — were also re-signed. Meanwhile, Ross Taylor, traded for Ashish Nehra, arrived from Delhi Daredevils.

While Taylor should help shore up the batting, Pune will need its Indian contingent to fire consistently. There will be optimism in this regard. Robin Uthappa, who has to double up as a ’keeper, has been in good form in the domestic limited-overs circuit and Yuvraj will feel like a new signing. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ashoke Dinda will be better for their experience with the national team. But more will be demanded from the likes of Manish Pandey and the leg-spinner Rahul Sharma, who has failed to live up to expectations after a bright start. The Sri Lankan Test and ODI captain Angelo Mathews, who failed as an all-rounder last season, and the T20 World Cup-winner Marlon Samuels will also be expected to deliver.

In light of Rahul Sharma’s form and Murali Kartik’s departure, Mendis will be expected to take over as the side’s lead spinner. It will be interesting to see how also the off-spinner Parvez Rasool, the first player from Jammu and Kashmir to make it this big, will fare. Under a new leader and with some reinforcements, Pune will hope for a better IPL-6. In any case, the only way the team can go is up.

Shreedutta Chidananda