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At that point, Pune’s disastrous campaign and the flagging fortunes of their captain were among the IPL season’s trending stories, to borrow a term from Twitter. But events of the next few days caused all of this to recede into near insignificance. IPL watchers had other things to worry about — sting operations, unruly team owners, players facing assault charges.
Pune weren’t entirely untouched by these happenings, of course, with the sting operation raising questions about the terms they offered two of their uncapped batsmen. Mohnish Mishra was caught on camera stating that the franchise had paid him higher wages — a large chunk of it in ‘black’ money — than he was entitled to, while other entrapped players made casual references to Manish Pandey’s new Mercedes.
But the whiff of scandal may have passed over a majority of the playing staff without them really noticing. In the IPL, most players live in their own little climate-controlled bubbles, and they will have welcomed any break from action — even one filled with this much drama.
Nonetheless, it’s hard to see how the break could have recharged Pune’s batteries. As far back as the eve of their May 11 home game against Royal Challengers Bangalore, their players had looked listless in training, knowing fully well that even their most Herculean efforts could no longer carry them into the play-offs. Two more defeats will have dulled their morale even further.
Nearly a month has gone since Pune last won a match. Things were a lot more different then. The team were near the top of the table, having added Delhi Daredevils to their list of high-profile scalps, which included hard-fought wins over Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings.
Sourav Ganguly had just won a Man of the Match award, and looked like a leader reborn. The overseas players were beginning to settle into their roles. Jesse Ryder had just scored two matchwinning half centuries at the top of the order, Steve Smith was turning matches at the finish and no one was quite able to go after Marlon Samuels’s off spin.
Since then, Ganguly’s magic has worn off to the extent that he has fallen out with the team owners, while Ryder has shuffled in and out of the team — with good reason, having failed to reach double figures in his last four innings. Samuels is playing Test cricket for the West Indies in England. Smith was made captain in the home game against Bangalore, but he fell back into the rank and file when Ganguly returned at Jaipur. The other imports have failed to make an impact without exception — including Michael Clarke, whose five visits to the crease have brought him 85 runs from 76 deliveries — as have the Indian players, barring Ashok Dinda.
After beating Delhi at Ferozshah Kotla, Pune may have looked at the schedule and wondered about the possibilities present in their final game, a home game against Kolkata, a grudge match for Ganguly. This could have been a tense seesaw battle with two teams competing for a playoff spot. Failing that, it could have even represented the ideal platform for giving their skipper a warm send-off. But at this point, it’s hard to escape the feeling that most of the players simply want to get it done with and go home.
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