The city of Pune seemed to be ill-fated for IPL teams based out of there. The first team based out of there, the Pune Warriors India, managed to win just 12 matches in their three years, before all ended for good. It needed a special finish from MS Dhoni where he scored 23 runs off the final over for Rising Pune Supergiant(s) to avoid the wooden spoon in the last season. In the four seasons combined, they finished second from last thrice and were the wooden spoon holders in the other remaining season.
After three defeats in the first four matches of 2017 edition by big margins (six wickets, 97 runs and seven wickets), things seemed to be heading the same direction for RPS. After losing three successive matches, they were up against Royal Challengers Bangalore at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium and were 127 for 2 in the 16th over, all set for a big finish. Within a space of nine balls, they were reduced to 130 for 7. A cameo from Manoj Tiwary helped them to post a competitive 161. No visiting team had previously defended a total less than 165 at this venue before and in the nine previous attempts to defend a total, RPS failed every single time.
After early strikes from Ben Stokes and Shardul Thakur, RPS applied brakes on the RCB middle order batsmen and choked them conceding just a single boundary in the middle overs. When RCB tried to get out of the jail playing attacking shots, RPS struck back by taking wickets at regular intervals and restricting them to 134 for 9 and eventually had their first win while defending a total. A template was set and was to be followed throughout the tournament which became the backbone of their success.
Before their match against RCB, RPS had the second worst bowling numbers in the tournament after Gujarat Lions. Their economy rate of 13 in the death overs was the poorest among all the teams and the economy rate in Powerplays (10.00) and overall (9.42) were only behind GL. They conceded a boundary every 3.60 balls in Powerplays and 3.19 balls at the death, both the worst among teams.
They conceded 82 off the last five against Delhi Daredevils and 64 against Mumbai Indians. RPS managed only five wickets in the death overs after the first four matches as their bowlers struggling not only in getting breakthroughs but also keeping things tight. Ben Stokes conceded 45 from four overs at 11.25, while there were similar numbers for Imran Tahir and Ashok Dinda was hit for 50 runs at 12.50 and 68 runs at 17.00.
Since the game against RCB, RPS has been the best bowling side in the tournament and by a fair distance. They are the only side to concede less than eight an over when the tournament average was 8.41. They conceded at 7.36 in the Powerplay, 7.12 in the middle and 8.01 at the death - all three the best among eight teams.
RPS - the master of middle overs
The key reason behind RPS' comeback has been their ability to dry up the runs in the middle overs. They have taken 40 wickets between overs seven and 15 at an average of 24.23 and an economy rate of 7.18 - each number being the best for a team this season. They have conceded only 92 boundaries in this period of the game and possesses the best balls per boundary ratio of 8.80 where the tournament average for the middle overs has been 7.07. At the time of writing, they are the only side to take over 100 wickets this season.
n the three matches against their opponents in the final, Mumbai Indians, RPS have conceded 59 for 4, 69 for 3 and 61 for 4 in the middle overs and thereby effectively taking the wind out of Mumbai's sail. This has left them too much to do against the likes of Unadkat and Co. towards the end which has led to their downfall. Come this Sunday, the Pune fans will be hoping the team is able to repeat the same against the strong Mumbai middle order if they are to lift the silverware.