Opening batsmen David Warner and Jonny Bairstow were the twin pilots in charge of Sunrisers Hyderabad’s bumpy flight to the playoff stage of the Indian Premier League (IPL). From their bases in Australia and England respectively, they will be willing some of their team-mates to fill those seats seamlessly so that the squad can continue its journey.
They made it to the playoff stages for the fifth time in seven seasons of existence, riding a roller-coaster. In fact, there have been another simultaneous trip – a remarkable slide from being among pre-tournament favourites to also-rans who needed results of other games to nudge them into fourth place. They made it to the top-four despite gaping holes in their middle-order batting.
They have had a healthy chunk of luck catapult them into the playoffs. Sunrisers Hyderabad edged ahead of Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab with a better run-rate (made possible by the Warner-Bairstow partnerships in 10 games). Then again, they would not have needed such a fortunate extension of their participation in the tournament had they handled a few games better.
The start-stop campaign saw them lose their opening match in Kolkata, which they should have won, but string together three successive victories over Rajasthan Royals, Royal Challengers Bangalore and the formidable Delhi Capitals. They secured only three more wins in the next 10 games, twiddling their thumbs nervously waiting for Sunday to bring good news.
There was an early warning sign when Sunrisers Hyderabad were bowled out for a pathetic 96 when chasing 137 against Mumbai Indians in their own home ground. And not much later, the side was bowled out for 116 by Delhi Capitals – and this after a 72-run opening stand between Warner and Bairstow.
However, with Kane Williamson scoring 58 runs off 60 balls in his first seven games and Vijay Shankar routinely gifting his wicket away – an average of fewer than 20 runs is testimony to that – and Deepak Hooda making 60 runs off 59 deliveries in 10 games, it needed Manish Pandey time on the bench to rediscover form with 260 runs in five innings upon return to the XI.
It must be said that New Zealand’s Martin Guptill, who waited for 12 games to get a look in, and Wriddhiman Saha have filled in adequately for the Warner-Bairstow duo. The team will be hoping that the partnership will last beyond power play in the playoff so that there is less pressure on the others, leaving Pandey and Williamson to manage the middle-order.
Yet, the middle-order conundrum has not really been resolved with Manish Pandey and Williamson rediscovering their scoring touch. The cricket intelligence expected of high-profile players and the team at large was conspicuous by its absence, nearly each time Warner or Bairstow fell early. They are indeed fortunate to stay afloat because of the better net run-rate.
It would be a surprise if coach Tom Moody and mentor VVS Laxman had not worked on getting the batsmen into the right mindset. With his own reputation at stake, the experienced Williamson egged himself on in that final innings in the league stage. Manish Pandey, who scratched around in the first six games and made just 54 runs, could have been stung by being benched.
Indeed, with so many batsmen misfiring, Sunrisers Hyderabad would be relieved at getting to the playoffs. Yet, to say that the Sunrisers Hyderabad’s flight was crafted only by Warner and Bairstow would be to turn a blind eye to the efforts of the bowlers who helped them win five of the 10 matches before Bairstow returned to England.
They did have a role in the wins in Delhi and at home against Chennai Super Kings. But, quite curiously, the bowlers have also not been as destructive as in previous seasons. They have claimed the fewest wickets among the top-four sides while being the second most economical bowling unit in the league stage.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar took some time to be the go-to bowler that his team has always seen him as. It is to his credit that he found the rhythm even as Siddharth Kaul and, at time, Sandeep Sharma, added to their woes by not being as effective as in the earlier seasons. Happily for the team, things did not degenerate as much in the bowling department as they did with the middle-order batting.
Left-arm paceman Khaleel Ahmed’s recovery from injury helped the attack rediscover its cutting edge. Despite missing the first six games, he has emerged the team’s leading wicket-taker with 17 scalps, two more than leg-spinner Rashid Khan. Yet, if Sunrisers Hyderabad have lost five of the eight matches in which Khaleel Ahmed has been the spearhead, their batting weakness is apparent.
With their batting not being the best suit this season, Sunrisers Hyderabad bowlers will have to turn in an outstanding effort on Wednesday to earn a berth in Friday’s Qualifier 2 and hope that skipper Williamson will retain the touch that he rediscovered in that last game in Bengaluru where he made an unbeaten 70 despite an unholy procession to and from the wickets by the middle-order.
Sunrisers Hyderabad know that Delhi Capitals had to travel to Visakhapatnam rather than Chennai only because of their net run-rate not comparing favourably with Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings. But with a balanced outfit that has delivered results on a range of surfaces, Delhi Capitals can be quite a challenge to overcome.