Cricket

IPL 2020: Sunrisers Hyderabad steam through to playoffs while Rohit Sharma saga continues to perplex

  • Chetan Narula
  • November 4th, 2020
  • 9:46:52 IST

First thing’s first – what is going on with Rohit Sharma? Tuesday began with one question and that was a toss-up between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders for the last knockouts’ spot. Then, BCCI president Sourav Ganguly added another rider to it with his comments that made a splash across national news.

Ganguly hinted at a hamstring tear for Rohit and advised rest ahead of the knockouts so he could potentially be available for the Australian tour. It was a conflicting statement – earlier reports had suggested that Rohit only had a hamstring strain. Now, there is a huge difference between strain and tear.

Strain is just the hamstring being twitchy and you are advised rest, managing workloads and gradually getting back to full playing speed. Tear is more dangerous for an athlete – the leg cannot support the body’s weight, in certain cases surgery is needed to rebuild the muscle and certainly no training is allowed in case of a hamstring tear. So, which was it?

Let it be said here that from day one, there has been no clarity on Rohit’s condition. Mumbai Indians kept it under wraps and played mind games with their opponents. It would be a huge blow if he was ruled out. But then came the selection and his name was missing even as Rohit’s training video/pictures surfaced on social media – you would think the BCCI and selectors had a better idea about the extent of his injury. Turns out the answer is no. So much so the BCCI president, himself an ex-cricketer, is talking about two different injury situations.

David Warner and Wriddhiman Saha's unbeaten partnership of 151 for the first wicket helped SRH beat MI by 10 wickets as they reached the playoffs. Image: Sportzpics for BCCI

David Warner and Wriddhiman Saha's unbeaten partnership of 151 for the first wicket helped SRH beat MI by 10 wickets as they reached the playoffs. Image: Sportzpics for BCCI

Surely, Ganguly the ex-cricketer knows the difference between a hamstring strain and tear? But Ganguly the BCCI president has no business commenting on a player’s injury. This matter would be resolved by a simple press release detailing his condition, instead of obscure interviews to print and television.

And to make matters worse, 12 hours after Ganguly’s comments were first published, Rohit Sharma walked out for the toss. Murali Kartik even bucked the chance to ask about his fitness – it was unbelievable. The whole saga is a sad commentary on BCCI’s current affairs. Ganguly is proving to be a disappointing administrator and there is no clarity on a number of issues. This is not going to end well.

As far as IPL's league stage is concerned, it did end well for Sunrisers Hyderabad though. When you are in a must-win situation, against the defending champions and league leaders who have already qualified, things can get a bit tricky. In that respect, Mumbai did Hyderabad a huge favour – resting two frontline pacers in Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult, as also Hardik Pandya. Whatever the extent of his injury, Rohit played in a dead-rubber for reasons best known to Mumbai. Maybe he, and Mumbai, were making a statement. The politics didn’t matter to Hyderabad – the result did.

Very early in the 2020 IPL season, it was clear that Sunrisers needed to rethink their overseas players’ strategy. David Warner, Jonny Bairstow and Kane Williamson are an awe-inspiring top-three, but if it doesn’t work in the IPL, it doesn’t work. The batting line-up was heavily skewered at the top and despite Manish Pandey’s presence, they needed more balance in the middle. Mitchell Marsh’s injury didn’t help matters. Jason Holder arrived in good form and Hyderabad needed to find an alternative.

While the Warner-Bairstow partnership was really good in 2019, every season brings its set of challenges. 345 runs in 11 matches wasn’t a poor run for Bairstow but the team’s demands were of more importance. Batting with Bairstow, Warner tended to play the anchorage role, allowing more freedom to his English partner to go after the bowling. It worked for a bit but Bairstow’s strike-rate was only 126.83 this season (compared to 157.24 in 2019 IPL). Warner’s own strike-rate paled down too – he was scoring only at 127-odd in Bairstow’s company. Clearly a change was needed.

Perhaps they could have moved Williamson up the order, but Hyderabad went for the jugular. Instead of shafting Bairstow down, they left him out for Wriddhiman Saha. It allowed them to fit in Jason Holder who provided clutch control in the bowling attack as Rashid Khan couldn’t do it all by himself. More importantly, this move allowed Warner to free up his batting approach again.

Saha-Warner has opened in the last three games for Sunrisers Hyderabad and they have put on 100-plus partnerships on two occasions already. With Saha playing the anchorage role, Warner’s strike-rate has spiked to 164, including two half-centuries. It is a run of form that bodes well for the knockouts. Saha, meanwhile, has reaped the benefits of this move as well. His lowest score in three innings is 39, with two half-centuries to boot – he is now primed for India’s tour of Australia.

It is a wonder that someone like Saha – who is not your quintessential T20 player – would have such an impact on Hyderabad’s fortunes. As a batsman, he hasn’t had to change his game plan too much. Even in the longer format, he was always a free-flowing batsman and would rather encounter trouble if he tried staying at the wicket unnaturally. Batting up top allows him the freedom of expression, and with Warner on song, he doesn’t have to worry about run-rate either. It is a win-win situation for someone like Saha, who as it is doesn’t stand to lose much when called up in such a scenario.

Then comes the keeping bit. Let it be said here that Saha is India’s best wicketkeeper at the moment. His footwork to pace is optimal and his anticipation to spinners is just wonderful. Two dismissals stood out on Tuesday evening – first, his stumping of Suryakumar Yadav as the batsman dragged his backfoot just for the slightest second and Saha whipped off the bails in a flash. The second, Saurabh Tiwary’s dismissal caught behind, was even better. Saha stood outside the off-stump in anticipation of Rashid Khan’s googly and bagged a low catch despite the batsman edging it.

In a must-win situation, did anyone think this Bengal dynamo could have such an impact for Sunrisers Hyderabad so late in the 2020 IPL campaign?

Saha’s batting can potentially be a topic of debate when it comes to T20 cricket, but his keeping skills are beyond any doubt irrespective of the format. This game against Mumbai Indians was a fine example. With batting form under his belt, Saha now clearly shades out Rishabh Pant as starting keeper-batsman for that first Test against Australia in Adelaide.

Updated Date: November 04, 2020 09:46:52 IST

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