IPL 2017: Heroics of Ben Stokes and MS Dhoni cap a fun night for Rising Pune Supergiant

This was not the IPL as advertised. All there was to focus on was the cricket. It was bliss.

Rising Pune Supergiant's Ben Stokes, left, and MS Dhoni run between the wickets during their match against Gujarat Lions at The Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Pune on May 1, 2017. Indranil Mukherjee / AFP
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PUNE, INDIA // A local law in these parts dictates there should be no loudspeaker announcements or loud music played after 10pm.

All of which jars entirely with having the Indian Premier League extravaganza in town.

The noise police might want to draft new legislation prohibiting the use of Ben Stokes and MS Dhoni after that time, too, in future.

Just after the appointed hour for quiet, Stokes was joined at the wicket by Dhoni, as Rising Pune Supergiant attempted to go about repairing their waning run-chase against Gujarat Lions.

It was like the cricket was mocking the sound curfew.

Dhoni cannot move in India without a cacophony of noise pursuing him.

So the artificiality was stripped away. The DJ was silenced. The dancing women lost some of their pep. Maybe even the 24 dogs – including three Rottweilers – that form part of this stadium’s security team panted a little more quietly in the heat of the summer night.

This was not the IPL as advertised. All there was to focus on was the cricket. It was bliss.

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Even without all the razzmatazz, it was captivating. The cricket selling itself. Who would have thought it?

The home team won with a ball to spare, after Stokes, batting on one leg due to what looks to be a serious bout of cramp, went to a hundred in the final over.

He had taken his team from 10 for three all the way to the winning line, hitting six sixes in the process.

Just the sort of return the Pune owners might have been hoping for when they shelled out over US$2 million (Dh7.3m) to secure his services ahead of this competition.

The Maharashtra Cricket Association ground was rocking by the end. This stadium is impressive enough to look at. Sixty-foot posters of Stokes, Faf du Plessis and Adam Zampa hang from the rafters behind the futuristic main stand. Sightlines are perfect from more or less every seat.

It is, though, aggravating to reach for the majority of supporters.

It was built out of town (and so behind schedule it missed its shot at hosting matches in the 2011 World Cup) in 2012 in a suburb of Pune called Gahunje.

It is just off the Mumbai-Pune Expressway which, at least, saved the away players from having to make the journey all the way into Pune.

Gujarat’s match day squad of 15 made the 126km trip from Mumbai by bus.

The rest of the extended playing staff, including the UAE batsman Chirag Suri, went straight on to Delhi, to prepare for next match, against the Daredevils on Thursday.

Even if it is miles away from town, official and not-so-strictly official merchandise sellers have ample of scope to peddle their wares on the kilometre-long walk up to the stadium.

Replica shirts sell for 300 rupees (Dh17) or less. It is not difficult to tell which is the biggest seller.

The stadium holds 37,400. It was full for this fixture on Maharashtra Day, a public holiday celebrating the formation of the state in 1960.

As such, it would not be an exaggeration to assume at least 25,000 people were wearing purple MS Dhoni shirts.

The next most visible – and it is not even a contest – were the orange No 3 shirts of the Gujarat captain Suresh Raina.

Dhoni won the first battle of the crowd favourites, when he completed the run out of Raina for eight, dislodging his bails after a throw from the deep.

The former India captain is the run out maestro. When he later got Dinesh Karthik with a shy from behind the wicket, it was his second direct hit in the space of two deliveries.

Unusually with the bat, the arch finisher did not stay right to the end to see the win through when he batted. Pune still needed 44 off 23 balls when Dhoni slapped a drive to Brendon McCullum and was caught.

That left Stokes to steer the ship. The England all-rounder had plenty of pressure on him. The 60ft welcoming poster. The eyewatering salary. Losing the experienced Dhoni at a vital juncture. Judged by the way he bore the burden here, though, he revels in it.

pradley@thenational.ae

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