Rising Pune Supergiant captain Steven Smith was all praise for Ben Stokes, who has given three Man-of-the-Match performances in the last eight matches played by the team this Indian Premier League (IPL) season. (Results | Fixtures | Points Table)
Stokes’ 63-ball 103 not out helped RPS to 167/5, beating Gujarat Lions by five wickets. Smith said that Stokes has been hitting the ball really well. “He’s been hitting the ball really well,” Smith told the media after the match on Monday. “We’re very happy with where he’s at and how he’s played. That was an amazing innings: under pressure, came in at three for nothing and to play the way he did, he timed his innings beautifully, took the game on at the right time. Fantastic knock to get us home. He hit some very clean balls there, chose the right balls to hit, too.
“He’s always said from the start that he judges himself on how he plays. He’s not going to put any extra pressure on himself just because he has a big price tag next to his name.”
Smith had played a significant role in getting all-rounder Stokes into the team. Smith had told the Pune owners to just do what they can to get the English player.
“We were very excited to get him. I had said before the auction to the guys [owners] just do what you have to to get him,” Smith said. “Allrounders are so valuable in T20 cricket and he bats, bowls and fields well. He’s a perfect fit for our team, particularly after Mitchell Marsh was ruled out as well. He’s done a terrific job for us. We paid a big amount to get him. We know he’s a quality player. [He] certainly earned his cash tonight.
“For us it’s about trying to get to know each other for six or eight weeks and try and get the best out of each other. Even learn a bit about one another. The team’s been really good. We’ve got some really good characters in the shed there.”
Smith feels that the team has played some really good cricket. “I actually said to the group of guys that we had five games, four here [in Pune] and one in Mumbai,” he said. “Not a lot of travel. Home ground, we wanted to try and make it a bit of a fortress.
“We’re four [wins] and two [losses] here, if I’m right. That’s reasonable going. One more game to play here against the Kings XI Punjab, so hopefully we can make it 5 and 2. I’ve said that these five games are very important for us and I think we’ve played some really good cricket and it’s nice to get over the line and be in the position where we are now.”
Smith also commented on the IPL season and called it ‘different’, adding that the Pune team has been very fortunate. “It’s certainly been a different season for us,” Smith said. “This year we’ve been able to get over the line in those close games. Last year we were at the end of that. That’s how T20 cricket works sometimes. We’ve been really fortunate there.
“It’s been good how we’ve been able to gel together as a team. I’d say for us and Gujarat [Lions] as well, would’ve been the toughest for the two franchises, given that we were new teams. A lot of other teams have had their core players for a long time so they know each other really well. They have had many years of bonding together. It’s nice to be playing some good cricket at the same time; it helps.”
The captain also said that it was difficult to make the decision of leaving Lockie Ferguson out after Stokes returned from injury. Ferguson, who was named Man-of-the-Match, had claimed 2 for 7 against Royal Challengers Bangalore earlier.
“It was difficult [to leave out Ferguson] but we had some different thoughts,” Smith said. “We thought this is our best combination. Dan Christian has bowled particularly well in the games he’s played and he’s a power-hitter towards the end as well. He’s done a really good job for us. So tonight it was the right call.
“It’s about trying to get the right balance for your team in any conditions you play. It’s not just our team that faces this. Every team has some quality players on their bench in the opposition, so it’s tough on the guys that they miss out, but you have to try and pick your best team for each game.”