Dhoni's fireworks help Pune finish IPL on winning note
Visakhapatm, May 21: Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni's 64 not out off 32 deliveries turned it around for Rising Pune Supergiants as the debutants ended their Indian Premier League (IPL) campaign with a four-wicket victory over Kings XI Punjab here on Saturday.
Dhoni, who smashed four fours and five sixes, clobbered left-arm spinner Axar Patel for three sixes and a four in the fil over to not only take Pune over the line but finish at the penultimate spot in the IPL table.
Placed at the bottom and already out of contention for the play-offs, the match was an inconsequential affair for both sides.
Chasing 173, Pune were off to a poor start losing in-form opener Ajinkya Rahane and incoming batsman George Bailey in quick successions. That was before Dhoni's fireworks started.
The Ranchi stumper got ample support from Sri Lankan Thisara Perera, who chipped in with a 14-ball 23 to forge a 58-run sixth wicket stand to take the team to sniffing distance of a win.
Opening the batting, Rahane, who scored a 15-ball 19, fell to pacer Sandeep Sharma after forging a 35-run opening stand with Australian Usman Khawaja (30 off 29). Bailey failed, scoring a 11-ball 9 before being stumped by Wriddhiman Saha off Patel.
Next in, Saurabh Tiwary (17) added 31 runs for the fourth wicket with Khawaja before falling prey to off-spinner Gurkeerat Singh. He was caught by Farhaan Behardien at deep cover in the 12th over.
Gurkeerat, who smashed a 30-ball 51 in Punjab's innings, dealt another blow off the last ball of the same over to dismiss Khawaja.
Struggling at 80/4, skipper Dhoni and all-rounder Irfan Pathan (2) joined forces but pacer Rishi Dhawan removed the latter with a slower delivery to be caught by Saha.
Next in Perera, whose 58-run stand with Dhoni turned out to be the cornerstone of Pune's win, was dismissed by pacer Mohit Sharma -- caught behind by Saha.
Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who joined Dhoni at the fall of Perera, was a mere spectator as the skipper went on the rampage.
For Punjab, Gurkeerat was the pick of the bowlers with two wickets while Mohit, Sandeep, Axar and Rishi took one wicket apiece.
Earlier, riding on skipper Murali Vijay and Gurkeerat's brilliant half centuries, Punjab reached 172 for seven in 20 overs.
After winning the toss and electing to bat, Punjab got off to a steady start with openers Vijay and Hashim Amla putting on 60 runs before the South African veteran fell prey to Ashwin.
In his attempt to accelerate the scoring rate, Amla, who hit four boundaries and a six in his 27-ball knock, tried to hit a short ball over the in-field only to be caught by Bailey at midwicket.
Leg-spinner Adam Zampa doubled the joy for Pune, packing off incoming batsman Saha (3).
Gurkeerat then joined Vijay, who continued his brilliant run with the bat to notch another half century off just 35 balls.
Nearing his half century, Vijay changed gears, blasting Zampa for two sixes as the right-handed duo brought up the team's 100 in 14 overs.
Sensing danger, Dhoni brought in his old warhorse Ashwin, who responded well by breaking the 58-run third wicket stand.
Vijay, who tried to slog sweep Ashwin, found his middle stump knocked off to return to the dug-out for a 41-ball 59.
Vijay's dismissal, however, did not deter Gurkeerat, who smashed pacer Irfan for two sixes to get to his 29-ball 51. The Punjab batter then blasted Ashwin for a six and a four off consecutive balls. But the tweaker got the better of the batsman in the very next ball.
South African David Miller joined Gurkeerat in the dug-out after being trapped plumb in front to give Ashwin his fourth wicket. Pacer Ashok Dinda then sent back Behardien (5) while Axar (1) perished to Perera.
Himachal Pradesh all-rounder Rishi Dhawan and Kyle Abbott played some lusty shots to take the side to 172/7.
For Pune, Ashiwn was the pick of the bowlers with four wickets while Dinda, Perera and Zampa bagged one wicket each.
Brief Scores: Kings XI Punjab 172/7 (Murali Vijay 59, Gurkeerat Singh 51, Hashim Amla 30, R. Ashwin 4/34). Rising Pune Supergiants: 173/6 (Mahendra Singh Dhoni 64, Usman Khawaja 30, Thisara Perera 23, Gurkeerat Singh 2/15). IANS