Sourav Ganguly needs to back his elevation as skipper with runs, and Pune\'s army of allrounders should take care of the rest.
Before putting our analytical brains to Pune Warriors India's 2012 prospects, a word for their topmost warrior, Yuvraj Singh. Down but getting back up fast, Yuvraj is recuperating in the USA from an unfortunate malignant illness. And while the team will definitely feel hollow in his absence, it could also lift them to do what Yuvraj dreamt of but couldn't in the team's debut season last year - winning the silverware.
Name: Pune Warriors India
Captain: Sourav Ganguly
Coach/Mentor: Sourav Ganguly
Owner: Sahara India Pariwar
Cost of team: $370 million
Key players: Sourav Ganguly – Pune's captain-cum-mentor – is followed wherever he goes. Being India's most successful skipper and doubling up as the franchise’s mentor, Ganguly commands respect. If he can back his elevation as skipper with runs off the bat, Pune could be a force to reckon with; however, that's where Ganguly's real test lies as well, at 39.
Robin Uthappa – who has been recalled into India's Twenty20 squad – has to be the lynchpin. Performing the dual role of wicketkeeper-batsman, Uthappa can be the team's energizer – either at the top or as a finisher. If he bats lower down, which is the likely scenario, Pune will bank on South African Test captain Graeme Smith for hard-hitting starts, something Smith failed to do consistently last season.
Ashish Nehra's top form in the Ranji Trophy season [14 wickets in three Elite Division matches] certainly confirms him as the leader of Pune's bowling attack. On the spin front, the legspinner Rahul Sharma and old pro Murali Karthik will be pivotal in keeping a lid on the scoring in the middle overs. Sharma was one of the very few bright spots for Pune in IPL4 and owes his entry into India's limited-overs squad to the tournament.
Strengths: Undoubtedly the allrounders. Nathan McCullum, Angelo Mathews [subject to fitness], Wayne Parnell, Marlon Samuels, Steven Smith and Luke Wright are names that can walk into any Twenty20 team. The fact that Pune can play five foreign players in lieu of Yuvraj's absence allows them to field five of these allrounders in every match. However, the absence of James Hopes, who on Saturday was ruled out of the IPL due to a knee injury, is a big blow.
Weaknesses: The team almost walked out of IPL 5 after a spat with the BCCI over the non-acceptance of their demand to add Yuvraj's price to their auction purse. Resultantly, the franchise boycotted the auction and missed out on some key players, which could prove vital in where they finish this season. Also, being the newest IPL team, their cohesiveness – or the lack of it – pushes them back in the starting grid of IPL 5.
2011 performance: Pune finished just above wooden-spooners Delhi Daredevils in the 10-team IPL 4. Of the 14 games last season, they could manage to win only four, while losing nine before a no result in the last league game against Delhi. Even though Pune started the season with two back-to-back wins, Nehra's absence due to injury and lack of coordination in the newly put-together team led to their undoing.
2012 prospects: Pune's fortunes will depend on how confident the team is after the franchise almost left the players in the lurch following its decision to pull out. Ganguly's moves will be critically followed. If he can inspire a couple of wins at the outset, there will be nothing like it for Pune. That won't only help him prove his worth in the team but will also keep his troops on their toes. However, Pune's spine in IPL 5 will have to be its crop of allrounders. Even if three of them can hit form early, the side will be in with a very good chance to make it to the play-offs.