Supergiants make tragicomic start to IPL
Where they finished
Seventh. The first team to be knocked out, Rising Pune Supergiants were powered to a last-ball victory in their final game, against Kings XI Punjab, after MS Dhoni's 4,6,6 off the final three balls helped them avoid the wooden spoon.
How they got there
Supergiants' overseas contingent in their first match read: Faf du Plessis, Kevin Pietersen, Steven Smith and Mitchell Marsh. The side enjoyed a winning start but, by the beginning of May, all those players had been ruled out due to injuries. Then, rookie legspinner M Ashwin, who impressed with his ripping googlies, joined the walking wounded with a side strain. Right-arm seamer Deepak Chahar, who made his IPL debut this season and played in Supergiants' last two games, had suffered an injury during the early stages of the tournament, according to Dhoni. At a few stages, it seemed like the team would need their coach Stephen Fleming to pad up.
Supergiants called for reinforcements in the Australian pair of Usman Khawaja and George Bailey. The left-hand opener took to Twitter and complained in jest of a typo on his jersey. Bailey avoided a possible injury when his helmet was detached by a sharp Nathan Coulter-Nile bouncer. A dog interrupted Supergiants' chase in their final two matches, in Visakhapatnam, and they even "ticked off a loss in a rain-hit match" at Eden Gardens, as Dhoni wryly pointed out. Such tragicomic instances summed up their season.
Supergiants lost all their four games in Pune, but their second home - Visakhapatnam - saw an upturn in fortunes. Supergiants began with a four-run defeat against Sunrisers Hyderabad, but followed it up with back-to-back victories for the first time in the tournament. Overall, they won five, including the double against Delhi Daredevils, and lost nine - five of them in the last over.
Australia legspinner Adam Zampa finished as the team's leading wicket-taker with 12 scalps, despite playing only five matches. His 6 for 19 - the second-best figures in all editions of the IPL - against Sunrisers was just reward for flight, dip and turn. That he controls and uses the wrong'un sparingly holds him in good stead. His average - 9.58 - was the best by any specialist bowler in IPL 2016.
Dhoni was Superman behind the stumps. If his between-the-legs stop had set the bar high, the karate kick raised it. He stuck his right leg out at a right angle to extend his reach and intercept late cuts from Manan Vohra and Virat Kohli. To do that in a split second was special.
With the bat, though, Dhoni was Clark Kent, or probably more ordinary, before that final dash against Kings XI. He struggled for timing and the helicopter-shot never made an appearance. His struggles were best exemplified by the 22-ball 8 against Kolkata Knight Riders; his strike rate of 36.36 was the lowest by a batsman who faced more than 20 balls in an IPL innings. Before Saturday, Dhoni had 220 runs in 11 innings at a strike rate of 123.59, the third lowest for a batsman between Nos. 4 and 6. Only Ravindra Jadeja (100.92) and David Miller (119.82) had fared worse.
R Ashwin was given his full quota in Supergiants' last match and claimed his best IPL figures of 4 for 34. But overall, the offspinner lacked bite and took 10 wickets in 14 matches at an average and economy rate of 31.90 and 7.25. He completed his quota in only eight of the 14 games. The Ashwin-Dhoni chicken v egg dilemma continues.
- Supergiants' economy rate in the Powerplay - 8.14 - was the second highest after Royal Challengers Bangalore's 8.27.
- Dhoni lost four successive matches as a captain for the first time in the IPL, after Supergiants went down to Gujarat Lions, Kings XI, Royal Challengers and Knight Riders in April.
- Ajinkya Rahane played out 140 dots - the fewest by a batsman to have faced 350-400 balls this season. Rahane ended with 480 off 379 balls, including six half-centuries.
After Dhoni's vintage, unbeaten 64 off 32 balls in the dead rubber against Kings XI, coach Fleming said: "I think Dhoni is pretty remarkable, which probably covered up the performances that were below par". It was Supergiants' most memorable game in the tournament. Dhoni flatly turned down singles and twos, and did it all by himself, smashing 23 off the last over to pull off a heist.
Benefitting from a flurry of fielding lapses, Supergiants raced to 91 for 1 in nine overs against Mumbai Indians in Pune. They lost two wickets and eked out 16 in the next four overs and ended up with 159. Mumbai strolled home with Rohit Sharma making an unbeaten 85 off 60 balls. The middle and end overs with the bat, and then the defence highlighted the limitations in the Supergiants team.
What they need to do next season
They need their players to be fit and their key men - Dhoni and Ashwin - to fire consistently like they did for Chennai Super Kings. The combination of RP Singh, Irfan Pathan and Ishant Sharma simply isn't good enough in T20s. Supergiants must look to build their attack around Zampa and Ashok Dinda, who had a combined tally of 23 wickets.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo