IPL 2017: SRH’s bold decision to pick Mohammad Nabi over Kane Williamson paid rich dividends

David Warner switched places in the dugout. The Sunrisers Hyderabad were in pursuit of the target the Mumbai Indians had set them. But unlike a lot of other cricketers, he did not mind shifting places in the hut with his team in the heart of a crucial chase. This was one superstition he did not believe in. This was one team he believed in.

Warner had pulled up a chair outside the shade of the dugout, in front of the rest of his teammates. Mohammad Nabi was engrossed in a discussion with coach Tom Moody behind him. Soon the captain joined the discussion, which was laced with laughter.

Sunrisers Hyderabad's Mohammad Nabi celebrates the wicket of Lendl Simmons. Sportzpics/IPL

Sunrisers Hyderabad's Mohammad Nabi celebrates the wicket of Lendl Simmons. Sportzpics/IPL

A while later, Warner moved back under the dugout’s roof. He now had Kane Williamson for company. The smiles remained a constant.

Williamson is the captain of New Zealand. There are few batsmen better than him in world cricket at present. And, he has been in majestic touch this IPL. But for this encounter against the Mumbai Indians, which the Sunrisers almost had to win, he had been resigned to the bench.

Nabi is a former Afghanistan captain. He is a wily off-spinner and a handy batsman. He is not of the Williamson quality, but he replaced the New Zealander in the playing XI on Monday evening.

Warner spent time in the dugout with both. He smiled with both. First with Nabi, then with Williamson. This was Warner’s team. These were Warner’s men. Irrespective of who played, Warner’s goal would be the focus. And, that goal was to ensure the side from Hyderabad triumphs.

Eventually, the side from Hyderabad triumphed. The over 32,000 people at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium had enough reasons to wave their orange flags with fervour as their team cruised to a seven-wicket victory. But the joy of these supporters was not as assured at the toss when Warner revealed his cards. He had gambled with Nabi for Williamson against a visiting side that had been in ominous form, in a game his side could ill-afford to lose. By the end of it, fortunately, Warner’s throw of the dice fell favourably.

After the defeat to the Rising Pune Supergiant a couple of nights ago, the Sunrisers were in need of a slight shake-up. Their collapse had been shocking, while the lack of impact of Bipul Sharma’s spin on a track that assisted the slower bowlers had been damning.

The situation demanded Warner to be bold. Even if it meant that one of the world’s finest batsmen, in sublime form, had to sit out. That is how Nabi was handed his second game of the season. The inclusion of the Afghanistan all-rounder strengthened the batting and bolstered the spin department at one go.

That is not where the surprise ended, though. Mumbai were stunned further when Nabi opened the bowling with his off-spin along with the purple cap holder, Bhuvneshwar Kumar.

It was a move aimed to trouble the left-handers in Mumbai’s top-order. But, Nabi delivered more than what he was unleashed for. He bowled around the wicket. He added to the tidy start by Bhuvneshwar. The pressure mounted, which forced Lendl Simmons to try and send a Nabi delivery into the stands. But the ball did not turn, beat the West Indian’s slog and crashed into his stumps.

Nabi had not just maintained the pressure built by Bhuvneshwar, he had earned his team a scalp in just the second over. From there on, he suffocated the left-handed batsmen for room and fired in quick deliveries to the right-handers to keep the run-rate in check.

“I just thought Nabi should bowl up front considering their left handers and the long boundary and breeze. It was a bit of a hit-or-miss, but it paid off tonight,” Warner revealed after the game.

It was indeed Nabi’s spell of a mere 13 runs in four overs along with a wicket that was instrumental in the Mumbai Indians huffing and puffing to 138 for seven. Hyderabad’s effort in the field had been better than their display on Saturday. It was now time for their batsmen to not botch up a straightforward chase.

When Warner was sent back early, the Sunrisers camp would have turned anxious. A repeat of Saturday’s failed chase remained a possibility.

Williamson would have walked out at that point, usually. On Monday, he sat in the dugout and watched along with his nervous teammates as Moises Henriques strode out. This was the second half of Warner’s gamble.

Henriques had scored three half-centuries in the season, but the Australian all-rounder had been punished for fifteen runs in the one over of his medium-pace earlier in the evening. It was his over that had gifted Mumbai a few additional runs. A failure with the bat on Monday could have been ruinous.

Henriques had walked in with the Sunrisers one down for seven. The next man was Yuvraj Singh, whose bruised finger was never going to make it easy for him to survive for too long. By the time, however, he fell to Jasprit Bumrah’s slower delivery, Hyderabad had 98 on the board and were on course to steamroll Mumbai.

Williamson is the fifth-highest run-getter for the Sunrisers this season. And, he has just played half of his side’s games. Such consistency meant he had established himself as the preferred number three, despite Henriques being preferred over him against Mumbai.

Thus, almost as if he had a point to prove, the Henriques that turned up against Rohit Sharma’s men was a different, more assured batsman.

For years, batsmen across the globe have fallen prey to Lasith Malinga’s slow yorkers. But, Henriques met the disguised delivery with style. He picked it, waited for it, punched it to the mid-wicket fence and then posed for the shutterbugs.

The next ball, Malinga dug it in shorter. But, Henriques was ready again. He pulled it to the deep square-leg boundary. In essence, he had an answer for almost every challenge that Mumbai threw at him.

Shikhar Dhawan was Henriques’ partner in the 91-run stand that ensured there were no hiccups in the chase of another lowly total their bowlers had restricted the opposition to.

Dhawan’s 77 against the Kings XI Punjab a few days ago was a knock that begged for attention. The left-handed opener wanted to play an innings that was hard to miss for the selectors, who were still to name the Champions Trophy squad. He played the kind of shots that do not constitute a part of his repertoire. The knock had been successful, but it was not Dhawan.

On Monday, Dhawan was booked on the flight to England for the Champions Trophy. The selection appeared to have relieved him as he was back to is elegant self in a critical chase.

Dhawan cut Bumrah’s skiddy deliveries, drove Malinga’s faster fuller deliveries and danced down to loft Karn Sharma’s leg spin over long on for a couple of classy sixes. This had been as successful as the knock against Punjab, but more importantly, this was Dhawan.

Dhawan had celebrated his return to the Indian team by playing himself into greater form ahead of the showpiece event in England. In the process, he had helped the Sunrisers consolidate their grip on a playoffs spot on a night when Warner’s gamble had laid the stage for him to sparkle upon.

Published Date: May 09, 2017 08:39 AM | Updated Date: May 09, 2017 08:39 AM

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