Steve Smith © Gallo Images
Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been removed as skipper of his Indian Premier League team with Australia's Steve Smith replacing him for the upcoming tournament, an official statement said on Sunday.
Dhoni, who stepped down as India's limited-overs captain last month, will continue to play as wicketkeeper-batsman for the Rising Pune Supergiants in the Twenty20 franchise-based competition that begins April 5.
"Rising Pune Supergiant today announced the appointment of Steve Smith as their new captain for the forthcoming edition of IPL season 10," a team statement said.
Team owner Sanjiv Goenka said Dhoni "is supportive of the decision, keeping the franchise's best interests in mind".
Under 35-year-old Dhoni's captaincy, the Pune team finished second last in their debut IPL season in 2016, winning only five games and losing nine.
Dhoni scored 284 runs in 12 innings at a strike rate of 135 while 27-year-old Smith, who captains Australia in all formats, hit 270 in seven at a 153-strike rate.
Some reports said Dhoni took the decision to step down and was not sacked, but team owner Goenka told the Press Trust of India that wasn't the case.
"Dhoni has not stepped down. We have appointed Steve Smith as the skipper," Goenka told PTI.
"Frankly speaking, we did not have a good last season and we wanted someone young to lead the side and revamp it ahead of the upcoming season 10."
There was no immediate reaction from Dhoni.
Dhoni was chosen to head the Pune franchise after the Supergiants and Gujarat Lions replaced Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals, which were suspended for two seasons following a spot-fixing scandal in 2013.
He had been the captain of the Super Kings since the IPL's inception in 2008 and made it the most successful team, having won the short-form tournament in 2010 and 2011 and finishing runners-up on four occasions.
Sunday's announcement came as a shock to scores of his fans who took to Twitter to vent, making "MS Dhoni" one of the top trending topics in India.
"Pune team removed Dhoni from captaincy. I think this is time to remove @RPSupergiants from @IPL," said Twitter user Vaishali.
Separately, India's cricket board said Australian left-arm fast bowler Mitchell Starc was no longer a member of the Royal Challengers Bangalore team.
Starc had been signed up to the Bangalore franchise since 2014, but played only two tournaments for them. He skipped last year's edition due to a foot injury.
The latest moves come just before the IPL player auction in Bangalore on Monday.