In its short existence, Pune Warriors, the youngest and costliest IPL franchise, has been in the news for various off-field reasons. The unavailability of their star player Yuvraj Singh due to illness precipitated a crisis in Indian cricket as the franchise owner, the Sahara Group, pulled out of its sponsorship of the national team and also put the franchise up for sale after disagreements with the BCCI. After confusion, uncertainty and negotiations, they decided to stay on as both, India team sponsors and Warriors owners.
Warriors didn't have much to show for their debut season last year. They finished second from the bottom and had a disappointing run of seven straight losses. Their batsmen failed to fire and they won only when their bowlers were able to restrict the opposition and set up modest chases. They were the only franchise whose 'home' stadium was anything but. Situated in Nerul, adjacent to Mumbai on the highway that leads to Pune, the DY Patil Stadium was the Warriors' base.
A spanking new stadium beckons this season. The Sahara Stadium on the outskirts of Pune will be the Warriors' new and permanent home. Getting to the ground will be an achievement for Pune residents, though.
Warriors suffered last season from the failure of their top order to fire, leaving too much to do for the likes of Yuvraj and Robin Uthappa. Yuvraj came in too late on many occasions, with Warriors already out of the game. That cannot be improved upon this season, with Yuvraj's absence.
Sourav Ganguly can be expected to be tactically better as captain than Yuvraj was, but it would be unrealistic to expect him to have a similar impact with the bat. Twenty20 batting has not been Ganguly's strength. A career strike-rate of 108.64 and an average of 27.00 in the format reflect that. Can Ganguly's leadership inspire Warriors? That they have a meatier squad this time should help. Tamim Iqbal, Marlon Samuels, Angelo Mathews and Luke Wright add lots of power to the batting. These additional resources make the bowling look thin in comparison, but on the evidence of last year, that wasn't the bigger problem area for Warriors.
Robin Uthappa: Warriors' $2.1m signing, Robin Uthappa, had an average tournament last year with 264 runs from 14 games. With Warriors not being able to get a top wicketkeeper after losing Tim Paine to injury, Uthappa will have to continue shouldering the additional task of keeping wicket. He has had a decent run with the bat this domestic season and Warriors will hope he can carry that form into the IPL.
Rahul Sharma: Rahul Sharma is back to the tournament that launched him into the Indian team. Sixteen wickets at an economy-rate of 5.46 with his unconventional, skiddy and bouncing legbreaks made the Indian selectors mark him as one with potential. This season will be different. Rahul will be expected to perform as an India player. It will be a test.
He might be in the news for the wrong reasons at the moment, but last year, Jesse Ryder was Warriors' second-highest run-getter with 292 from 13 games with a strike-rate of 148.22, the highest for his side. He has cut short his break from cricket to play in the IPL and has arrived with a sports psychologist in tow. He looks to be in the mood to prove a point. Far away from the scrutiny back home in New Zealand, if he is able to do that, Warriors would have gained almost as much as Ryder will.
Big names in
Just imagine the kind of following Kolkata Knight Riders would have generated if they had Ganguly, Shakib Al Hasan and Tamim Iqbal playing together. It would probably have been the franchise with the biggest following, with West Bengal and Bangladesh combining to form a massive fan base. Warriors needed someone like Tamim at the top. For all his newfound penchant of playing the long innings in ODIs, Tamim can explode at will, and when he is in full flow, there are few better sights in the game. Authoritative cover drives and graceful clips, Tamim has all the strokes at his disposal.
Marlon Samuels was the first player to be signed by Warriors after they had boycotted the IPL auction earlier this year. Samuels has been around for a long time and is a powerful batsman as well as an underrated bowler. With Angelo Mathews not being able to bowl at the moment, Samuels' role in the side gains importance.
Michal Clarke is an interesting acquisition. He has never looked comfortable in this format with a strike-rate of 108.85 in 40 Twenty20s and had given up the format earlier. His last Twenty20 was in October 2010. He can be a useful bowler with his slow left-armers and is a sharp fielder but just what value he will add with the bat to a line-up boasting many power-hitters remains to be seen.
Big names out
Warriors have lost capable all-rounders Mitchell Marsh and James Hopes, and batsman Graeme Smith, to injury. The biggest loss, of course, has been that of Yuvraj, their best batsman and third-highest wicket-taker last year.
Below the radar
The experienced South African fast bowler Alfonso Thomas was a key component of Warriors' attack last year with 11 wickets at an economy-rate of 7.71. The 35-year-old veteran has played domestic cricket all around the world and while he is not a big name, his experience will be required.
Samuels' availability will depend on whether he is part of the West Indies Test squads for the home series against Australia in April and the upcoming tour of England in May. Clarke will miss the first half of the IPL while he leads Australia against West Indies.
2011 in a tweet
A false dawn, losses, more losses and a helpless Yuvraj. Deserved to bring up the rear of the table.