The Rising Pune Supergiants today beat the Gujarat Lions for the first time ever in the IPL, at the MCA Stadium in Pune. Ben Stokes was Man-of-the-Match and the hero for the Pune side, scoring a scintillating 103 off 63 balls, with a whopping six sixes and averaging a strike rate of 163.5. The Pune side, usually dependent on its openers for good starts, lost three early wickets in pursuit of Gujarat’s 161, but Stokes and Dhoni put on a patient half-century stand to steady Pune’s ship, before Stokes’ fireworks took them home. This is Stokes’ first IPL century, and comes on his comeback game after he was sidelined with a shoulder injury for two games.
Stokes – the most expensive overseas IPL signing of all time – had suffered a grade one tear in his right shoulder while bowling for Rising Pune Supergiant against Mumbai Indians last week, although it didn’t prevent him taking 2-21 from four overs, including the wicket of compatriot Jos Buttler. The all-rounder subsequently missed Supergiant’s seven-wicket defeat to Kolkata Knight Riders on Wednesday and was ruled out of Saturday’s clash against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Earlier, it was Sangwan who dealt shockers to the in-form Pune team, when first Rahane’s back foot was caught before the wicket, and then skipper Smith was caught at short fine leg in the very first over of the innings. Manoj Tiwari then fell victim to Thampi’s pace on the third ball of the second over, caught LBW for a duck. At this point, it was 10-3 and only 9 balls had been bowled, and it looked like Pune were in deep trouble. The arrival of Ben Stokes steadied proceedings, but it was not to last as the in-form Rahul Tripathi fell to a run-out in the fifth over. It was Tripathi who called out for the second run, but stopped mid-way to spoil things for himself and was sent back to the pavilion as Aaron Finch hit the bowler’s end perfectly. This brought on Dhoni, and it fell to Stokes and MS to rebuild the wobbling chase, which they did in some style.
In the first innings, it was Pune bowlers Jayadev Unadkat and Imran Tahir who helped restrict the Gujarat side to a modest score of 161, with three wicket apiece. Gujarat were given a good start by openers McCullum and Ishan Kishan, and it was Tahir who broke the dangerous partnership. Skipper Raina was unfortunate to fall to a misunderstanding on the field that caused him to be run out, before Ravindra Jadeja and Dinesh Karthick tried to rebuild the sinking innings. They seemed to have done a good job, but it was Unadkat’s zingers that creamed up the Lions’ tail, and the side was bowled out for 161 with a bowl to spare. Skipper Raina admitted in the post-match ceremony that they were 15-20 runs short of a winning total, and it got harder to defend a score of 161, especially with the dew in the end.
With this win, Supergiants have 12 points from 10 games, and they have out a certain amount of distance between themselves and the four teams below them. This win also seals the fate for Royal Challengers Bangalore – with the Pune win and their loss to Mumbai Indians today, they do not even stand a mathematical chance of qualifying for the playoffs. As Harsha Bhogle deftly commented today, we may very well be looking at the final lineup for the playoffs already!