The two matches before the clash between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Capitals produced four scores more than 200, including the highest second-innings score in IPL history. Thus, when Hyderabad put a mere 162/4 on the scoreboard, Delhi were touted as the favourites. However, with its larger ground and slower pitch, Abu Dhabi provided challenges entirely different from the venues in Sharjah and Dubai. That, combined with sustained accurate bowling, helped Hyderabad ease to a 15-run win and secure their first points in this edition.
Unlike other editions, IPL 2020 will be played across a mere three venues, which meant that the pitches were bound to get slower as the tournament progressed. What was probably not expected was that it would happen this early. While the pitches at Sharjah and Dubai are still holding firm, teams will change their strategies and starting XIs in the subsequent matches in Abu Dhabi. Spinners, even batsmen who can fill in with a couple of overs of spin, may do the bulk of the bowling in days to come.
But let that not take the sheen off the bowling performance of Hyderabad, especially Rashid Khan and T Natarajan. They went in with exactly five specialist bowlers, with only Kane Williamson (and perhaps Abdul Samad) as back-ups. It was an enormous risk, for one bowler having an off day might have ruined everything for them.
Only that it did not happen. Bhuvneshwar Kumar struck with his fifth ball. He conceded only seven runs in his two-over spell in the Powerplay overs. Then, Natarajan and Khaleel Ahmed stepped up, and Delhi struggled to only 34/1 after six overs. However, things were looking up towards the end of the powerplay, for Shikhar Dhawan and Shreyas Iyer had upped the tempo, having scored 19 off the last two overs.
The match was evenly poised, and it had come down to how Delhi handled the Hyderabad spinners, Rashid and Abhishek Sharma. Abhishek’s first over set the tone. He bowled slow, straight, and full, restricting the batsmen to drives down the ground that fetched singles. It took Dhawan four balls to try to step out and force the pace, but it did not work.
With Abhishek turning out to be difficult to score off, it was clear that Rashid would pose a serious threat. Iyer tried to counter that by stepping out and going over the top. He ended up holing to deep extra cover. Abhishek and Rashid bowled three overs apiece, conceding 29 between them, almost sealing the match. Amidst all this, Rashid had Dhawan brilliantly caught by Jonny Bairstow.
Even in the next over, Abhishek conceded just three runs off the first four balls. Rishabh Pant ruined his otherwise excellent figures (3.4-0-22-0) by finishing the over with two sixes, but they came too late.
Then came the fourteenth over, where Natarajan bowled five yorkers. He would bowl five more in the 18th, including the wicket of Marcus Stoinis, demonstrating that he needs to be considered more seriously as a death bowler. With Bhuvneshwar and Rashid getting more wickets, the match was done.
It might have been a comprehensive win, but Hyderabad are yet to strike the right balance. Jonny Bairstow scored 53, the highest in the match, but it took him 48 balls. It was a scratchy innings where he hit just two fours and a six, and looked far from convincing.
With David Warner, Williamson, and Rashid as certainties, and Mohammad Nabi likely to play key roles as the pitch gets slower, Bairstow’s place in the XI does not look too certain. However, that will force them to get in a wicketkeeper – Wriddhiman Saha, probably – ahead of Priyam Garg, who has now not batted twice in a row. Nabi’s inclusion will also address that sixth bowler problem.
Delhi’s issues lie elsewhere. The two sixes off Abhishek are the only ones Pant has hit in the tournament so far, and he is one of the most prolific six-hitters in IPL history. It is important for Delhi to allow Pant a free rein, for that is when he has always been at his best.
The other problem is at the top. Dhawan’s 69 runs in the tournament have come at a pedestrian strike rate of 115, and he is clearly not at his best yet. Unless he gets those boundaries flowing, Delhi’s powerplay scores may fall short of expectations. They do have a like-for-like replacement in Ajinkya Rahane, who may be someone they would want to consider.
Spearheaded by Kagiso Rabada, Delhi’s three-pronged pace attack looks potent, but with time they would have to draft in that third spinner to bowl in tandem with Amit Mishra and Axar Patel. Sandeep Lamichhane is an obvious choice.
If they have to opt for an Indian option in the absence of the injured R Ashwin, they may want to have a look at Delhi all-rounder Lalit Yadav, who has impressed with his boundary-hitting and economic off-breaks.
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