Smith replaces Dhoni as Pune skipper

Steven Smith, the Australian skipper, has replaced Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the captain of Rising Pune Supergiants for the 10th edition of the Indian Premier League, starting on April 5.

The franchise confirmed the development on Sunday (February 19) evening through an email, and more than hinted that Dhoni had been asked to go as captain rather than doing so voluntarily.

“I have the highest regard for MS Dhoni as a leader and a person. Dhoni will continue to be an important part of our team. He is supportive of the decision keeping the franchisee’s best interests in mind,” Sanjiv Goenka, owner of the Pune franchise said, making it clear that the leadership change was a management decision not prompted by Dhoni’s resignation call.

Dhoni, who retired from Test cricket in December 2014, relinquished the captaincy of the Indian One-Day International and Twenty20 International teams this January, with Virat Kohli taking complete charge of the national side. In the afternoon, speculation had been rife that Dhoni had quit as captain, but Goenka’s words seem to suggest otherwise.

Pune are hoping Smith will bring all his experiences playing for the Australian side, besides Big Bash as well as IPL, in raising the stock of the franchise that, on debut, finished seventh out of eight teams in their inaugural season.

In the afternoon, a Pune insider had sung a different tune, insisting that the decision had entire been Dhoni’s. “Dhoni is a legend of Indian and world cricket, who are we to ask him to step down?” he had said. “He chose to step down because he wants to enjoy his cricket and play with freedom.”

Dhoni has been the captain in each of the past nine seasons of the IPL so far, leading Chennai Super Kings from 2008 to 2015, and taking charge of Pune in 2016. He was the first one picked in the only draft held in the IPL, in December 2015, after Chennai and Rajasthan Royals were suspended for two years and the two new franchises – Pune and Gujarat Lions – were given the option of choosing up to five players each.

Pune didn’t have a great tournament in 2016. They were beset by injuries to key players – including Smith and Faf du Plessis – and finished second from bottom. They consigned Kings XI Punjab to the wooden spoon with Dhoni hitting two sixes off the last two balls when 12 were needed for victory in both franchises’ final league game. Pune thus ended the tournament with five wins from 14 games and 10 points, while Punjab had four wins and eight points.

Dhoni’s innings salvaged something from a disappointing season from a team and personal point of view, and he ended the tournament with 284 runs in 14 matches at a strike rate of 135.23. Overall, Dhoni has played in 143 IPL matches, scoring 3271 runs at an average of 39.40 and a strike rate of 138.95.

IPL 2016 will thus remain the only edition of the tournament in which Dhoni has not led his team to the playoffs, having achieved that distinction with Chennai each year from 2008 to 2015.

Dhoni has expressed a desire to return to Chennai for IPL-11 when the franchise is expected to return to the fray. Currently, Chennai and Rajasthan Royals are serving a two-year suspension from the league.

Source: Wisden India

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