If one would have wondered what needed to be done to counter the rampaging Kolkata Knight Riders, David Warner provided all the answers on Sunday. The Sunrisers Hyderabad captain brutally tore the KKR bowling apart, helping the defending champions to a comprehensive 48-run win.
What was on show at Hyderabad's Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium was some unbelievable hitting from Warner and Co, as the Sunrisers galloped to a massive 209/3 in their 20 overs. The KKR bowlers, who have proved more than a handful for most of the other teams in the Indian Premier League (IPL) this season, didn't know what hit them. This was only the second time that KKR had conceded more than 200 runs in the IPL. For the Sunrisers, this was the third time they had scored 200 and above this season.
There was not a lot of help for the KKR bowlers from the pitch and every one of them went for runs, with Umesh Yadav being the most economical, having given away 30 runs from his four overs. Nathan Coulter-Nile, who has been in fine form for the Kolkata franchise, was also off colour. What, however, would have really hurt KKR was that their ace spin duo of Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav was not only easily negotiated, but was also taken to the cleaners by the Orange Army, who plundered as many as 80 runs from the seven overs sent down by the spin twins.
Gautam Gambhir tried Yusuf Pathan to change things around a bit, but his bowling was pretty ordinary and bland, and after a costly first over, in which he was taken for 17 runs, including two fours and a six, Pathan was not given another over.
If leaking runs was not bad enough for KKR, their bowlers simply struggled to get the SRH batsmen out. There was none of the incisiveness that had been on show in the earlier matches. KKR's fielding lapses, which is becoming a chronic disease now, did not do their cause any good. Warner and Shikhar Dhawan put up a massive 139 runs for the first wicket, which is the highest-ever partnership for SRH in the IPL, beating the unbroken 137 the same pair scored against Gujarat Lions last year, and for that they would be grateful to KKR wicketkeeper Robin Uthappa, who spurned an easy stumping of Dhawan when the SRH opener was on 13.
There were more fielding blunders to come as Sheldon Jackson spilled a sitter, giving Yuvraj Singh another chance. But the biggest drop came from Chris Woakes, who failed to hold on to the simplest of opportunities offered by Warner, and what was worse, he tipped it over the boundary for a six. When you drop a player in form — and Warner was in roaring form last evening — you don't deserve to win.
Warner batted with raw aggression but what made his innings even more special was some delightful improvisation as he switch-hit the bowlers and picked up fours and sixes at will. Warner raced to his fifty off 20 balls, falling short of recording the fastest fifty this season by a whisker. He took another 23 balls to get to the second fifty of his innings and then added another 26 runs, before finally getting out. His 59-ball 126 is the highest score by a captain in IPL history, beating the 119 by Virender Sehwag in 2011. Warner benefited from some ordinary bowling and downright shoddy fielding by KKR, but credit must also go to him for forcing the opposition to make mistakes, putting the bowlers off their lines and lengths and making them bowl to his strengths.
If the assault by Warner and Dhawan was not enough, Kane Williamson also joined the party. If Warner exemplified brute power, Williamson was all artistry. His big shots were mostly caressed and hardly bludgeoned, and his innings of 40 off 25 balls made a massive impact.
Faced with a mountain of runs, the KKR batsmen were under an immense scoreboard pressure from the very beginning, and kept on losing wickets at regular intervals.
Sunil Narine came out to open with captain Gambhir again, but failed to fire and soon Gambhir departed himself. Uthappa and Manish Pandey provided a semblance of resistance. Uthappa continued his rich vein of form, playing some breathtaking strokes, sending the ball miles into the stands on more than one occasion, and made his way to his third half-century in a row and the fifth in the IPL this season. But after his 78-run partnership with Pandey ended and after Uthappa himself departed for 53, it was virtually all over for KKR.
There was a faint hope of Pathan coming good, but he has left his best days far behind and is no longer the player he used to be with Rajasthan Royals. The quicker the KKR management understands this, the better. They are fast approaching a stage where they will have to take a firm decision on whether to retain Pathan in the starting eleven.
Woakes and Colin de Grandhomme can use the long handle to good effect, but by the time they came in, it was too much of a mountain to climb. Perhaps, it would have made sense to send the all-rounder duo before Pathan and Sheldon Jackson.
But then, there can be no room for 'ifs' and 'buts' in cricket and the best team on the day won. It is as plain and simple as that. But in bringing up a victory as convincing as this, Warner and Co may have unlocked the secret to counter the table-topping Kolkata franchise.
Brendon McCulllum, Aaron Finch and Suresh Raina of Gujarat Lions gave a hint of this ploy when they played KKR at the Eden Gardens, and now Warner and Williamson has made it certain. KKR must be tackled on the front foot, with more than a smattering of aggression, in order to wrest the initiative right at the start. If you are passive and wait for KKR to make a mistake, nine times out of ten, Gambhir and Co would be all over you, even before you know it.