Sunrisers Hyderabad had chased 53 times in 122 matches in the IPL. They had never had a 50+ stand for the fifth wicket or below in a winning cause. But this time, they had Kane Williamson and Jason Holder.
Two international captains – in a rare SRH assembly that boasts of four overseas picks of whom everyone has been in-charge of his respective national side at some point, and three of whom are presently at the helm in at least two formats – came together to keep the Orange Army alive in IPL 2020, as the Sunrisers overcame Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Eliminator at Abu Dhabi on Friday.
Experience matters. Regardless of what the ‘T20-is-a-young-man’s-game’ merchants might have to say. Remember, a team called the ‘Dad’s Army’ came within one ball of having won the last two titles in this competition alone. And the ball that denied them the second title in a row was delivered by a 35-year-old.
So, the combination that the Sunrisers eventually settled on – the one that produced a rousing turnaround to put them in the IPL 2020 playoffs – included Williamson and Holder, and Rashid Khan and the ‘main’ skipper, David Warner.
The SRH campaign in the UAE could probably be clubbed into pre-Holder and post-Holder timeframes, such has been the reversal of fortunes since the West Indies Test and ODI captain walked into the lineup for the 10th game of the season, against Rajasthan Royals on 22 October. How ironic that this happened to be an individual who wasn’t even part of the tournament when it began in September!
Holder has twice been at the crease to finish off a chase versus RCB, with two polar opposite efforts – a 10-ball 26* to polish off one, a 20-ball 24* this time to seal an eventually-tricky knockout. With the ball, he’s punched magnificently above his weight – 13 wickets in six games, enough to put him within three strikes of the top-10 wicket-takers despite missing more than a month of the season. The real unexpected gain for SRH has been through Holder’s never-seen-before returns as a death bowler: nine of his 13 wickets in IPL 2020 have come between overs 16-20, while conceding less than eight per over (with a wicket every five balls!) – in all T20 cricket before this IPL, Holder had picked up 11 wickets in 35.2 death overs, at an economy of 10.70.
Williamson might not have been in the greatest nick, but this outing showed just why he was persisted with and preferred over Jonny Bairstow. It was clear, for the longest time, that SRH didn’t have any concerns at the top of the order, irrespective of which combination of players they picked – Williamson, instead, was deemed essential as a calming influence on a young, volatile middle-order. He proved his weight in gold, on the basis of two shots alone – not so much for the timing of the shot per se, but for the timing of the blows in the context of the game.
At 13.4 overs, the Sunrisers required 59 off 38 balls, with Washington Sundar completing what had been another quiet over of spin. Six, slog-swept sweetly over deep midwicket!
At 15.5 overs, the Sunrisers required 41 off 25 balls, with Yuzvendra Chahal about to deliver his last ball of the evening (RCB’s leggies, at that point, had bowled 7.5 overs for 30 runs). Six, slog-swept over deep midwicket!
The third of the present international skippers in the ranks might be the youngest of the lot, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Rashid a T20 veteran – and this season, the 'T20 mercenary' has been at the peak of his powers. 15 games into the campaign, Rashid’s 19 wickets have only cost a jaw-dropping 5.30 runs per over; only once in the history of the IPL has a bowler with 20+ overs in a season had a better economy (Muttiah Muralitharan, 5.22 in 2009).
The official man in-charge, too, has looked a man freed of several burdens in the business stretch, especially since the arrival of Wriddhiman Saha to accompany him at the top. David Warner was trudging along at only 7.44 runs per over and managing a boundary once every 7.5 balls in the first 10 games; in the last five, the Warner of old has resurfaced as the SRH skipper has gone about his business at 9.45 per over while needing only 4.5 balls per boundary.
Sunrisers will head into Sunday’s second qualifier, against Delhi Capitals, having won five times and lost only once since Holder’s entry into the side a fortnight ago. In this period, what had been a mediocre batting unit has improved marginally, but enough to be among the best – while SRH’s scoring rate has been similar (up from 8.14 to 8.19), they’re putting a much bigger premium on their wickets, which has taken their batting average to 38.82 from 27.11. The bowling department, though, has gone from decent-yet-mid-table to being in a league of its own: Sunrisers have conceded only 6.81 runs per over in their last six games – the next-best in the tournament over this period is KKR’s 7.53 – and are also losing just 18 runs per wicket (next-best 24.75).
Oddly enough, the attack that has been responsible for the bowling upswing comprises four people who presently don’t even make their country’s T20I plans – Holder, plus the Indian trio of Sandeep Sharma, T Natarajan and Shahbaz Nadeem.
Sharma, aside from having one Virat Kohli as his IPL bunny, is also now the most successful Powerplay bowler in IPL history (53 wickets in all, nine this season at 6.29 per over). Nadeem, in the last four games, all must-wins, has cumulative figures of 5/92 in 13 overs – wickets of Marcus Stoinis, AB de Villiers, Suryakumar Yadav, Krunal Pandya and Aaron Finch.
Arguably the most impressive of the lot, and surely soon-to-be in contention for a national call-up, is Natarajan. His already-impressive haul of 16 wickets is despite seven dropped catches (the most for any bowler in IPL 2020). His economy of 8.02 reads infinitely more impressive when you take into account that more than 40% of his overs have been bowled at the death – where he leaks just above 10 per over, but strikes once every 12 balls. The crowning glory, however, lies in those corking yorkers – what a peach that was to get de Villiers! – Natarajan has landed more than double the yorkers managed by anyone else this season, and also picked up five wickets with them (next-best: Jasprit Bumrah/Anrich Nortje, with three).
When it clicks, it just clicks. Sunrisers entered the playoffs beating the league’s top-three in DC, RCB and MI. They needed to repeat that threesome to match their own exclusive feat of winning the IPL playoffs despite finishing outside the top-two. The first hurdle has been crossed.
RCB's middle over woes continued
When you hit a rut, you just can’t catch a break at times. RCB really couldn’t in the last two weeks of their existence in IPL 2020. With four losses in a row, they went from being within touching distance of a top-two finish to within 0.04 net run rate points of elimination – before meeting that fate one game later.
Their rut, however, was of their own making.
You could point to the marginally diminishing returns with the ball all through the second half of their campaign, but really, there was only one constant area of concern, one common pitfall that continually consumed them. Who, in their wildest imagination, would’ve thought it would be the one area typically manned by Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers.
To call RCB’s middle overs batting a slow crawl would be a disservice to all slow crawlers in this galaxy. Between overs 7-15 this season, RCB stuttered and stumbled at 6.93 runs per over. Even Chennai Super Kings, with their lack of intent/spark/what-not, managed half a run more every over than RCB in this period.
To be so far behind the rest of the field in any area or phase of the game is damning enough for a team; to have those numbers in the presence of two of the greatest batsmen of all-time, is just inexplicable.
But that’s just how it panned out. Kohli and de Villiers, combined, scored 6.71 per over in the middle phase of the innings, with as many as 13 balls between every boundary.
In Kohli’s case, it’s not even as though there were any superheroics in other phases to make up for lost time. The RCB captain finishes IPL 2020 with a strike rate of 121.35, his lowest season strike rate since 2012. Worse still, Kohli took 11.3 balls for every boundary hit this year – he had never previously had a season where he needed more than eight balls per boundary.
To put things in perspective, Kohli had hit 342 boundaries in 1987 balls – 5.8 balls per boundary – from IPL 2015-2019.
De Villiers, for the first part of the journey – the part where RCB were, you know, winning – was making amends with his supremacy at the death. And it perfectly adds up that as AB’s runs dried, so did the RCB fortunes.
In the first 10 matches, de Villiers was striking at 190 and clearing the ropes every eight balls. Over the last five games – all defeats – the strike rate fell below 125, and he only hit four sixes in 136 balls.
At the point of elimination, RCB had three batsmen with 450+ runs. The only team that can match the count is Mumbai Indians, and looking at present numbers, it is unlikely to be bettered by any team this season. Unfortunately for the Royal Challengers, two of those three – Kohli and Devdutt Padikkal, among the finds of the season regardless – scored their runs at strike rates in the 120s, and the third, one of the most destructive batsmen ever seen, also fell to the same 120s in the final stretch.
De Villiers aside, the only two batsmen on the RCB roster with strike rates above 125 this season faced 21 and 11 balls, respectively.
‘Play Bold’ was the motto for the Royal Challengers Bangalore in IPL 2020. They never did.
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