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Exit Dhoni, enter Steve Smith: Pune makes a smart change

LiveMint logoLiveMint 20-02-2017 Sundeep Khanna

Those who live by the sword must die by it too. It is a law of nature and even Mahendra Singh Dhoni isn’t exempt from this. Pune Supergiants, the team he led in IPL Season 9 last year, has asked him to step down as captain for the coming season, replacing him with Steve Smith, the world’s number one batsman and captain of the visiting Australian team.

Dhoni was the man who stormed his way into Indian cricket, initially as a hard-hitting batsman who could keep a bit and then as the captain cool who could extract the best out of an average team by the sheer weight of his personality. When the Indian Premier League (IPL) came along, its format was tailor-made for the man from Jharkhand. The result was a string of wins for Super Kings, the franchise he led for eight years. The Super Kings were the most successful team in the IPL with a win percentage of 60.68 in all games. They won the title twice in succession in 2010 and 2011 besides impressive showing in all other seasons. In 2010, he also led the team to success in the Champions League Twenty20 followed by another win in 2014.

And then came the knock from Father Time. In the shortest form of the game, his bat seemed to have lost a bit of its sting as he failed to take India over the line in the last edition of the T20 World Cup. Defending an impressive 193, he failed to marshall his resources and despite a good start India failed to keep the rampaging West Indies batsmen in check, losing in the last over. Throughout the tournament it was evident that Dhoni had lost some of his fire power, a trend increasingly in evidence in more recent games as the man who would hit sixes almost at will, has struggled at times to get the ball out of the park.

Indeed, the signs have been there that winter is setting in for the aging lion who’s 35 now. For the owners of the Pune franchise they were in evidence last year when the newly-formed team led by Dhoni won just five from its 14 games and finished second last just ahead of Kings XI Punjab. Dhoni’s bat was as tame as his captaincy.

For all the hand-wringing, the move has evoked, it is clearly a sensible and much-needed change. Supergiants owner Sanjiv Goenka, called it a “professional decision” and indeed it could well be a cue for Indian selectors who have often dithered in telling over-the-hill players their time is up.

Given the money involved in the IPL, it is going to be like best leagues in the world, where ruthlessness replaces reputation as far as buying and selling players is concerned.

Perhaps, being freed of the captaincy may also allow Dhoni to rediscover a bit of his batting form. A last roar from the lion is due.

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