Chennai Super Kings' (CSK) euphoric return and triumph in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2018 will find itself a glorious place in the annals of the tournament. It was an epic. On the other hand, the journey that Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) traversed was a fine ballad without the parting song.
Popular opinion after the mega IPL auctions in January suggested that Sunrisers had purchased wisely to form the most balanced squad in the competition. However, their squad’s balance was put to test earlier than expected, having lost their talismanic leader, David Warner – around whom the team was built – just over a week before the start of the 11th edition.
New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson, who finished a Test series back home and joined the franchise three days ahead of the tournament, was christened the new captain.
Under the new leader, Sunrisers thrived and went on to top the league stages including an undefeated string of six games, largely due to some disciplined bowling.
The stature of SRH’s bowling grew with every passing game, while their batting mostly relied solely on the brilliance of Williamson. The Black Caps skipper had an admirable IPL last season, while this year he scored runs at a greater rate and frequency hammering eight half-centuries – the most – this edition.
What went wrong?
As you would expect with the team that finished second, there weren’t too many things that didn’t go according to their plan, but the game defined by fine margins the little chinks made difference for Sunrisers.
Nothing hurt the Orange Army as much as their lack of firepower in the middle order. Something they tried addressing in the auction by shelling out 11 crores on promising batting talent in Manish Pandey. The 28-year old wasn’t able to fulfill his potential as he struggled throughout the season and his lack of fluency left a gaping hole between the top order and the power-hitters that would follow. Adding to their middle order woes even the young Deepak Hooda missed out to clasp the opportunities he was given. All-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, followed by Yusuf Pathan did make timely contributions to their side, but couldn’t cover up for the misfiring number 4 and 5.
Sunrisers tried beefing the batting by adding WT20 2016 Final hero Carlos Brathwaite, but he too batted at number 6 or 7. Thus having no like-for-like replacement for the inconsistent Pandey resulted in SRH ending up making par and sub-par totals on a number of occasions and then dependent on the bowlers and the fielders to make up for runs that they missed out with the bat. Eventually, SRH dropped their biggest draw for the final two matches of the season – second Qualifier and the Final – and tried to get over the line. In the second Qualifier, it did require the magic of Rashid Khan, who used his all-round skills to take the team one step closer to the title.
Also, losing a key player in early stages of the season did not go down well for the team. After Warner, the Sunrisers lost another Aussie in Billy Stanlake, the fast bowler had put an impressive show in the four games he played before injury ruled him out of the IPL.
Turning Point of the Season
Opener Shikhar Dhawan found his form and started to get amongst the runs, lifting pressure off Williamson and just when it seemed Sunrisers’ batting was starting to click, their bowling dipped. The likes of Sandeep Sharma and Siddarth Kaul were found out. The opposing teams started targetting Sandeep and Siddarth allowing them to stave off the threat that Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rashid Khan possessed.
In the first 7 matches that Sandeep played, not once did he concede more than 9 runs an over. While in the last 5 matches, his economy never dropped below 9 – leaking runs at 9, 10, 10, 15 and 13 runs an over respectively.
Kaul too suffered especially while bowling during the death, which was his forte, first Faf du Plessis exposed him in the Qualifier 1 while he was carted for 43 runs off the three overs in the finals.
Hits and Flops
Captain Kane Williamson was their biggest ace this season. He single-handedly dragged his side to victory. The Kiwi batsman’s reputation as a Test batsman was never in doubt, but his adaptability in the shortest format was second to none this season. SRH coach Tom Moody echoed the opinion calling the leading run scorer of IPL 2018 a ‘three-dimensional cricketer’. Williamson's astute reading of the game and the conditions were on display as well. He showed his cricketing acumen via his willy field placements and bowling changes apart from bringing out the best from his troops.
Sunrisers’ only retained player to play in this IPL, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, repaid the franchise's faith in him by leading their bowling unit. With a plenty of noteworthy performances, he underlined his class as a bowler, who could bowl at the start and at the back end with equal aplomb.
The rise of Rashid Khan is incandescent. Williamson’s go-to bowler throughout the tournament tormented the best in the business. Despite Shane Watson being in the mood that he was in the finals the idea of playing out Rashid seemed like a wise move, a tactic deployed by other teams as well. Having being taken apart in a couple of games during the league stage, the 19-year old corrected his flaws and came back a stronger bowler.
Even Indian legend Sachin Tendulkar hailed him as the best bowler in T20, while Moody was emotional in his appreciation, “Rashid is a terrific cricketer. Not only India but the cricketing world has fallen in love with him.”
Manish Pandey scored three scratchy half-centuries in the tournament, couple of which resulted in team’s loss while he remained unbeaten. Pandey amassed 246 runs in 15 innings at an average of 25.82 but it was his poor strike rate of 115.44 that reflected his struggles with the bat. Shakib was SRH’s unsung hero with the ball, but the all-rounder failed as a batsman, having scored 239 runs in 17 games averaging just over 20.
What next for them?
Williamson in his post-final address said, "We've fought hard. A shame not to come across the line, but a lot of positives." The Sunrisers have a lot to smile and be proud of having finished as the second-best team of the tournament. Certainly more positives than negatives and that is a sign of a team that will improve. Skipper Williamson kept reinstating the collective effort of the side and the team rallied behind their captain to reach the finals which bode well for the years to come. The relatively young bunch of players will only get better in the next season and with the explosive Warner expected to return the fold it will make SRH one of the most formidable forces in the tournament. If they are able to add a middle-order batsman to their ranks going into 2019, the squad would appear more or less complete.