David Warner and Jonny Bairstow were back in the hut inside three overs. Kane Williamson wasn't playing. The much-debated fourth overseas player's slot was occupied by someone who hadn't joined the team a month ago. Four attempts at chasing down a total had all been lost causes so far in the tournament.
Most signs pointed to a seventh defeat in 10 games for Sunrisers Hyderabad. All roads, in that eventuality, would all but lead to a first non-playoff finish since 2015.
Yet, despite close to nothing from their overseas batsmen – a rather rare occurrence – and very little from their domestic bowlers – also an uncommon event – Sunrisers have a win after two weeks.
What’s more, they sit only two points adrift of the fourth spot – and enjoy, comfortably, the best net run rate among the teams that are ostensibly in a five-way race for one qualifying berth.
For all the talk around Kane Williamson’s continued stay in the SRH lineup, at the expense of the all-round capabilities of Mohammad Nabi or Fabian Allen or Jason Holder, the change was highly unlikely to come for Thursday’s clash with Rajasthan Royals, unless their hand was forced. While David Warner’s frailties against Jofra Archer were well documented (now six dismissals in 45 balls in just the last two months), Williamson was the best bet for Sunrisers, having hit 27 off 15 balls against Archer in T20s – and boasting of no dismissals to the English quick in 101 balls across formats.
But with the Kiwi skipper having injured his quadriceps, West Indian captain Holder got his first go in the IPL in more than four years, presumably for the twin role of boosting SRH’s new-ball attack and lower-middle-order power.
The second of those suits weren’t required, but Holder more than accounted for it in the first half of the game: He couldn’t strike with the new ball in a two-over spell, but ran out Robin Uthappa; in the middle overs, he outfoxed Sanju Samson; a fantastic 19th over gave up only seven runs, along with the wickets of Steven Smith and Riyan Parag. 3/33 was impressive enough without any context, but in Uthappa, Samson, and Parag, Holder was responsible for disrupting Rajasthan’s most dangerous batsmen on the day.
Holder, along with Rashid Khan, allowed Sunrisers the breathing space of a sub-160 target.
But when Warner and Bairstow were sent packing 16 balls into the innings, and only 10 balls into a sensational opening burst from Archer, even that 155 briefly appeared mountainous.
Only briefly, though – Manish Pandey had raced to 39 off just 19 balls by the end of the Powerplay alone, with some of the sweetest striking you’ve seen from any SRH blade this season.
But the threat was real, still. Prior to Thursday, Warner and Bairstow had played together in 19 matches for SRH. Out of those, there had been only four in which neither of them scored 40. Sunrisers had scored 96, 142/4, 164/5, and 147/8 in those outings, winning only once. And in the entire existence of the franchise, now into its eighth season, SRH had never had a century stand between an all-Indian pairing. So unless they were leaving it for the two remaining overseas options, probably slated in at seven and eight, respectively, the Orange Army needed their Indians to do the heavy lifting.
Fortunately, Pandey’s pristine timing extended well beyond his Powerplay burst, as SRH’s senior-most Indian batsman played out an innings fit to rank with his two well-celebrated efforts – the maiden IPL hundred by an Indian in 2009 for RCB, and the match-winning 94 in the 2014 final for KKR. He finished on a near-chanceless 83 not out off just 47 balls, with eight sixes and a false-shot figure as low as nine percent.
While Pandey and Holder starred in each innings, there was one common link of support to both the key performers - Vijay Shankar gave his first ‘3D’ performance in a high-profile game in a while.
Three frugal overs from Shankar, costing SRH only 15 runs, included the vital dismissal of Jos Buttler right at the start of the death overs; 52 not out off 51 balls looks like a slow-burn in isolation, but with Pandey firing like he was, the only requirement was to just stick along with him at the crease.
And so, in a game where Daivd Warner and Jonny Bairstow returned 14 runs off 11 balls, and Sandeep Sharma and T Natarajan returned 0/77 in eight overs, Sunrisers Hyderabad returned their first win while chasing – and breezily at that.
Look what it does to the table: Three teams are bunched together, just two points behind fourth-placed Kolkata Knight Riders, and a fourth could be on eight points too by the end of Friday. As things stand, SRH are the only team out of these five with a positive net run rate.
The route to the playoffs, however, is probably the toughest for the 2016 champions – in their four remaining fixtures, Sunrisers face Kings XI Punjab, the form team among the bottom half, and the top-three of Delhi Capitals, Royal Challengers Bangalore, and Mumbai Indians.
But if they could cruise on a quiet evening for most of their usual suspects, who’s to say what could be if it all comes together in a late-season surge? As Warner’s opposite number and national teammate Steven Smith said at the toss on Thursday, it’s all about peaking at the right time.
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Labuschagne, who contributed a solid 70 off 61 balls in the second ODI which Australia won by 51 runs on Sunday, has scored two hundreds in three Sheffield Shield matches.
Warner will miss Wednesday's final ODI and all three Twenty20 internationals beginning Friday in Canberra to undergo rehab in an effort to ready for the Test series which begins on 17 December in Adelaide.
Waqar said Australia will come hard at India as they must be still hurting from the defeat in the 2018 Test series at home.