Rising Pune Supergiant skipper Steven Smith has heaped lavish praise on his predecessor Mahendra Singh Dhoni for his leadership qualities.

After a dismal inaugural season that saw Supergiant finishing at the seventh position in the eight-team tournament under Dhoni, the franchise replaced him with Smith. However, despite being relieved of the captaincy duty, Dhoni has played an integral part in Supergiant’s impressive performance this season, according to Smith.

The Australia skipper, while calling the World Cup-winning captain a quality leader, said that he has got immense respect for Dhoni as a player as well as a captain.

“MS Dhoni has been fantastic for us. He is a quality leader and I know that all the young Indian players look up to him in incredible amount,” Smith said in an interview with India Today.

“I have got such a big respect for him as a player and as a leader. It has been an enjoyable year and Dhoni has been fantastic,” he added.

The change in captaincy, meanwhile, has done the trick for the Pune-based outfit, as they are on the cusp of making it to the playoffs this season. The Steve Smith-led side is currently third in the league table with 16 points from 13 games and can book their ticket for the next stage if they win their final league match against Kings XI Punjab on Sunday (May 14).

The Supergiant would have secured their place in the last four had they managed to win Friday’s game against Delhi Daredevils but they fell short by seven runs while chasing 169. They would now hope that Sunrisers Hyderabad loses their match against Gujarat Lions on Saturday (May 13) because it would then secure their place in the last four, but if the defending champions manage to win the game, then Supergiant will face a tricky test against Punjab.

Speaking about the season, Smith said:

“It has been an enjoyable year with RPS. We have turned things around and have played some really good cricket in the last 9-10 games. We are in a really good place at the moment.

The skipper also lauded Rahul Tripathi’s performance this season. Playing his first IPL season, the Maharashtra batsman is Pune’s second highest run-scorer this season behind only Smith. In 11 matches so far, he has scored 360 runs

“It has been great to see some young guys come and do incredibly well straight away. I think Rahul Tripathi has been a real revelation for us, he has been incredibly consistent. He has batted beautifully and has complemented Ajinkya Rahane at the top,” Smith said.

Smith also had a word of praise for Washington Sundar who was roped in as a replacement for the injured Ravichandran Ashwin. The 17-year old has done a brilliant job for the team, conceding runs at an impressive economy of a shade over seven in 8 matches so far.

“Washington Sundar bowling in the Powerplay under pressure has been amazing. Jaydev Unadkat bowling at the death and bowling at the top has been outstanding,” Smith said.

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