Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) gained substantially on one front despite losing their Indian Premier League (IPL) loss to Chennai Super Kings (CSK) on Tuesday. Manish Pandey, expected to be their bulwark at the start of the season but struggling to string together a decent innings, rediscovered his mojo at a most opportune time for the team.
His half-century and his 115-run stand with opener David Warner came on a night when Jonny Bairstow, playing his last game this season, fell in the second over of the evening to wily Harbhajan Singh. Playing with refreshing freedom after having sat out of three games, Manish Pandey made 83 off 49 deliveries to celebrate his return to action with enthusiasm and efficiency.
From the time he stepped out to drive Harbhajan Singh’s first delivery to the straight field over the off-spinner’s head, it was apparent he was determined not to blow away the second chance. His team, especially coach Tom Moody and mentor VVS Laxman, would be pleased that Manish Pandey found that he could bat without pressure and express himself.
The 29-year-old armed himself with a lot of positivity and took a new approach to the pitch. Gone was the uncertain, doubt-laden stroke-making that was a hallmark of his batsmanship this season. He had not made 20 in any of the innings that he got to bat but, against a team who are hard to dislodge in Chennai, he found his bearings pretty soon.
Warner and he helped Sunrisers Hyderabad race to 50 inside the powerplay overs. And he countered the questions posed by Imran Tahir’s leg-spin and googly bowling with care and craft. His sixes off the wrist spinner were evidence that Manish Pandey had worked to clear any cobwebs in his mind that caused him to be wary at the batting crease earlier in the season.
It is just as well that Manish Pandey has found his touch at a time when Jonny Bairstow is heading home. There can be no doubt that Bairstow will be missed by the Sunrisers Hyderabad batting line-up which has not delivered to potential. His partnership with David Warner has been such that it gave the team confidence when it clicked and created doubts when it did not.
Sunrisers Hyderabad have faced shocking batting collapses and they slid from being tournament favourites to a middle-rung side in the league. Instead of entrenching themselves as one of the sides that would get two cracks at making it to the title round, they are left scrambling to get into the playoffs now.
They may not have crumbled on Tuesday but, despite the second-wicket stand, Sunrisers Hyderabad were unable to accelerate the pace of scoring in the middle overs. Harbhajan Singh drew Warner forward for Mahendra Singh Dhoni to effect a smart stumping. It was the setback that stopped the visitors from closing in on the 200-rum mark.
Besides finding more muscle to their batting, the one area that the Sunrisers will have to improve is their selection of bowlers to play in the coming games. They erred in not playing a third spinner on a Chennai track and allowed themselves to be punished for believing that three fast-medium bowlers would do the trick on a deck like that.
Of course, it was not the sort of track that wore the appearance of being totally spin-friendly but there was a good indication of how the home team expected it to play when they picked Harbhajan Singh, Ravindra Jadeja and Imran Tahir to play alongside fast-medium bowlers Deepak Chahar and Dwayne Bravo.
Without the sustained experience of bowling at the MA Chidambaram Stadium pitch that the members of the Chennai Super Kings attack have, it was going to be hard for Sunrisers Hyderabad to stop the hungry and determined home side from collecting the points for a victory. It needed a third spinner to try and stifle Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team.
Without that third weapon, it became easy for Chennai Super Kings’s Shane Watson to cause some mayhem by discovering his own touch. The Sunrisers Hyderabad bowlers, barring Bhuvneshwar Kumar, were taken by surprise that Watson chose this game to find his scoring methods at a crucial time for his side.
Well as Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled, the visiting team had no cover for two key bowlers being targeted. Sandeep Sharma was hit by left-handed Suresh Raina for 22 runs in an over to end power play at 49 for one. It set the Chennai Super Kings rolling towards the 176-run target. And Rashid Khan was not as effective on the track, making Sunrisers Hyderabad miss another quality spinner.
They no longer have the luxury to keep making the errors that they have thus far. Had the visiting team picked its bowling unit to suit the Chepauk pitch, Jonny Bairstow’s farewell game would not have turned out to be a less memorable trip away from Hyderabad; nor would Manish Pandey’s comeback ended in defeat.