After cruising to a comfortable nine-wicket win in their opening Indian Premier League (IPL) match of the 2018 season, Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) hung on to claim a cliffhanger against Mumbai Indians (MI), as No.11 batsman Billy Stanlake scored the winning runs off the last ball of the match.
Once again Kane Williamson counted on his bowlers to see his side through, but this time without strike bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was ruled out of the match with an injury.
Sandeep Sharma — Bhuvneshwar's quid pro quo — found himself in the playing XI and delivered a fabulous return by picking two wickets for 25 runs from his four overs.
Sandeep started the innings with a corker of a delivery that beat Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma's outside edge, to set the tone for the evening.
SRH bowlers collectively maintained their stranglehold over the might of Mumbai's vaulted batting throughout the 20 overs. Of the five bowlers on display, Stanlake was the only one to concede over 8.5 runs an over, and he made up for this with the wickets of Mumbai's two most experienced batsmen: Rohit and Kieron Pollard.
Continuing his good run from the first match, Siddharth Kaul knocked out the big-hitting opener Evin Lewis with a well-disguised knuckle-ball, and in the same over — the last over of the Poweplay — removed the dasher Ishan Kishan as well, pushing the visitors on the backfoot.
The stage was set for Williamson to go for the kill and unleash SRH's main weapon, Rashid Khan. However, the skipper chose to rotate his bowlers around.
Recently named ICC's Leading T20I cricketer, Rashid, was at his miserly best on Thursday, finishing with figures of 4-0-13-1, choking the run flow by delivering 18 dot balls — most by a spinner in an IPL game — and helped his side restrict Mumbai to a modest 147.
The SRH think-tank had spent big money on bolstering the squad's pace bowling reserves, spending over Rs 8 crore on an uncapped Indian pace battery, including the likes of Kaul (Rs 3.8 crore), Khaleel Ahmed (Rs 3 crore), Basil Thampi (Rs 95 lakh), T Natrajan (Rs 40 lakh) during the IPL auction earlier this year. Even Sandeep himself has only played two T20Is, and was snapped up for another Rs 3 crore.
Bhuvneshwar, incidentally, was the only bowler SRH retained, which also shows their affinity for homegrown pace bowlers. This idea of having a pack of domestic pace bowling options indicates the franchise had planned for unwarranted situations, like for instance a bowler breaking down with injury in the middle of an action-packed six-week competition, or suddenly losing his form.
Bhuvneshwar's untimely injury vindicated the team management's thought process and drafting in Sandeep made for an easy choice. Many other teams have also had to seek late replacements after their first-choice bowlers pulled out of the tournament. This includes Kolkata Knight Riders (Mitchell Starc), Delhi Daredevils (Kagiso Rabada), Royal Challengers Bangalore (Nathan Coulter-Nile), Mumbai Indians (Jason Behrendoff and Pat Cummins) and Rajasthan Royals (Jofra Archer is said to be carrying a niggle).
But, SRH face no such dearth of pace bowling options, highlighting the depth in their squad, preparedness for the tournament, and readiness for a challenge.
With the bat, Shikhar Dhawan has been a consistent performer for SRH, scoring over 300 runs in every season since his arrival in 2013. David Warner's superior record for the club may cast a shadow over the Delhi-born batsman's achievements, but in Warner's absence, the time is ripe for Dhawan to bask in limelight.
After a scintillating unbeaten 77 in the first match, Dhawan, along with opening partner Wriddhiman Saha, gave SRH a flying start, storming to 56 in the Powerplay to lay the foundation for their second straight win, only for the team to then be punctured by Mumbai's new spin sensation, Mayank Markande.
With two T20 death overs specialists in Jasprit Bumrah and Mustafizur Rahman in operation, runs were hard to come by. Fortunately by then, the early blitz had them covered, and SRH's lower middle order didn't have to deal with a climbing asking rate or look for boundaries every over.
Fortunately, they had Deepak Hooda's fortitude and Stanlake's cool-headedness in the final over, after their middle-order almost made a mess of the match.