PUNE: It cannot be easy when you are the costliest player in the IPL. A whopping price tag of Rs 14.5 crore can make any player feel the heat, even if that player is one of the foremost all-rounders in the world game. He is expected to deliver whenever called upon, something easier said than done.
Nursing a shoulder injury which forced him to miss the last two home games, Ben Stokes came into the Rising Pune Supergiant team in place of Man Of The Match in the last game, Lockie Ferguson. Even more pressure. Before the game against Gujarat Lions at the MCA International Stadium here on Monday, Stokes had been a bit off-colour with the bat, notching only 127 runs in eight outings.
When his franchise needed him the most, the Englishman delivered and how! An unbeaten maiden T20 century (103 off 63 balls) which included seven boundaries and six hits outside the park helped RPS overhaul the target of 162 set by Gujarat with one ball to go. It was a brilliant turnaround considering the way things began for the hosts.
The very first over of Pune’s run chase saw both the out of form Ajinkya Rahane (4) and RPS’ highest run-getter of the tournament, skipper Steven Smith (4) depart off the bowling of Pradeep Sangwan.
Things went from bad to worse as the hosts lost Manoj Tiwary (0) and their most consistent performer Rahul Tripathi (6) in quick succession. It looked like the RPS innings would fold up without offering any real challenge as at the end of the Powerplay the score read 43/4.
The crowd roared as former India skipper MS Dhoni walked out to the middle. While fans were expecting some pyrotechnics from MSD, they were treated to some clobbering from the willow of Stokes. Dhoni was a mere spectator as the Stokes show ensued. The 25-year-old targeted both James Faulkner and Dwayne Smith as the 15th and 16th over went for 28 runs combined.
Dhoni, however, just couldn’t get going as he consumed 33 balls for his 26 before perishing to Basil Thampi. However their partnership of 76 provided stability after the initial slide. Playing on with cramps, Stokes, with help from a quickfire cameo from Daniel Christian (17 off 8 balls), ensured no more hiccups for the hosts as he owned the MCA Stadium tonight.
Earlier, Imran Tahir, who was not even picked up by any franchise during the auctions in February, ran rings around the Gujarat Lions batsmen as he ended with figures of 3/27 in his four overs with the visitors folding up for 161. With 16 scalps to his name in 10 outings, the South African is closing in on the Purple Cap.
With Pune’s win, RCB are now officially out of the tournament. Pune remain fourth with 12 points from 10 outings while Gujarat have 6 points from as many matches. GL have now lost all five matches they have batted first.