They were a joy to watch, left-handed David Warner and his opening partner Jonny Bairstow. As were left-arm paceman Khaleel Ahmed and leg-spinner Rashid Khan. Each time any of these was in charge of Sunrisers Hyderabad’s (SRH) operations in the Indian Premier League (IPL) this season, they would raise hopes that they would pull their weight for the team’s cause.
Warner and Bairstow raised four century stands and three half-century partnerships for the first wicket in the 10 games that they paired up. They accounted for both centuries and 10 of the 14 half-centuries made by Sunrisers Hyderabad this season. Warner was involved in each of the five century and the 12 half-century partnerships that SRH posted in this season.
Warner made 692 runs in 12 innings and Bairstow 445 in 10 games before they returned home. The bustling energy of the Warner-Bairstow combine was in stark contrast to the listlessness that followed the pair. If they provided the fizz, the rest were flat. Indeed, that is revealed even by something as cold as statistics.
No other batsman came close to the 400-run mark this season. Manish Pandey (3 half-centuries) and Kane Williamson (1) were the only other batsmen who reached the minor milestone. Manish Pandey (a century and three half-century stands) and Wriddhiman Saha (one half-century partnership) were the only other batsmen who had meaty partnerships this season.
Their batting, especially the middle-order, barring Manish Pandey, lacked one of the most powerful tools in sport, resilience. Instead, they embraced an outlook of resigned acceptance that things were not going their way this season. The flaming desire to turn situations in their favour and see them across the finish line was sorely missing when they needed such fuel the most.
The apparent lack of will among the batsmen, barring Manish Pandey in his second coming when he scored 290 runs in six innings, to play an innings of substance was most striking. Kane Williamson, who was injured to begin with, was in and out of the team. In several games when SRH batsmen had the opportunity to bat long and guide the team to a good score, few seemed ready to take the onus upon themselves.
Even Manish Pandey will reflect on the last two innings — one against Royal Challengers Bengaluru and the other in the Eliminator against Delhi Capitals — and realise that he frittered his wicket away. This was not what the team would have expected of the batsman who had assumed the mantle of mainstay in Warner and Bairstow’s absence.
There are a couple of questions that do not seem to have easy answers. How much work did the team management do on batsmen like Vijay Shankar (244 runs in 14 innings) and Deepak Hooda (64 runs in seven innings)? And on bowlers like Sandeep Sharma (12 wickets in 11 matches) and Siddharth Kaul (six wickets in seven matches)?
There can be no doubt that their below-average form contributed a great deal to Sunrisers Hyderabad’s disappointing run. With a terribly weak and unreliable middle-order, there was no question of resilience being one of the key traits of the batting unit this season. Once the opposition got past the top order, SRH were a most vulnerable outfit.
The return of left-arm paceman Khaleel Ahmed, who missed the first few games as he was recovering from an injury, helped the attack regain some balance. Their mainstay, Bhuvneshwar Kumar was not in his elements but used his rich experience to finish with 13 wickets this season while neither Sandeep Sharma nor Siddarth Kaul hit the wicket-taking lengths they could have.
Of course, the coaching staff would have attempted everything in the book to help them, but the results were not evident. In the end, the team had to drop both Kaul and Sandeep Sharma and field Basil Thampi in the last three games, including in the Eliminator against Delhi Capitals when Rishabh Pant picked him up for special treatment in his final over.
It was just as well that Khaleel Ahmed (19 wickets) and Rashid Khan (17) carried the attack on their shoulders with some help from off-spinner Mohammad Nabi who was pressed into service in Powerplay in many of the eight games that he played. Few teams can plan for bowlers who have served admirably in the past couple of seasons to have lesser returns than earlier.
It would have been frustrating for the team to miss out on several opportunities to come together as a strong unit in the league stage. It would have been more disappointing for the coaching staff that despite being handed a lifeline into the Playoffs, the batsmen did not eliminate errors from their approach in the match against Delhi Capitals. Not one of them played a match-winning knock.
And then, Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowled his second-most expensive spell this season before Basil Thampi’s three good overs were undone by Rishabh Pant who went berserk in the end. The back-up seamer had done well, but his final over turned that on its head. Everyone looked askance at Thampi but it really was the batsmen who had let the team down.
It has been a season that promised much for Sunrisers Hyderabad, but the squad fell significantly short of actualising that. It was almost as if the squad was overwhelmed by the tag of favourites that had been accorded to them after the IPL Player Auctions. It was quite like the team was affected by pressure and fumbled in the key moments that sort a great side from a good one.
The dividing line between fizz and flat was such an obvious one. Through the season.