Shahrukh Khan and Priety Zinta might well be the movie mafias of the IPL but if there's one team worth making a movie on (hit movie unlike something made on KKR/KXIP), it would be Sunrisers Hyderabad. They are a full Bollywood story. It starts off with underestimation. No one gives them a chance.
After that there are setbacks (injuries to Marsh, Bhuvneshwar) for an already underestimated side. The rockstars (Warner and Rashid) around whom the whole story hinges are off to anything, but a dream start. Imagine the extent of getting written off in such a scenario. Disaster and disappointment soon follows (three wins in nine games). But just at the time of the climax, just when it matters the most, the do-or-die phase, everything falls in place at the snap of fingers.
Suddenly, the setback turns into a blessing in disguise (injury replacement Holder). The supporting cast (Saha) starts getting the best out of the biggest superstar (Warner). The lone superstar (Rashid) starts getting all the required support (Nadeem, Sandeep) in the world. There is also a rags to riches story (Natarajan). Story of an underrated individual (Williamson) coming off age and proving himself every which way. And just when it seems the movie will have the most unexpected and heartwarming ending, there is again heartbreak (loss to DC in eliminator).
This wasn't a blockbuster Bollywood suspense-thriller movie but how Sunrisers Hyderabad's journey unfolded last season. And today, we will try to decipher, as difficult as it is for a team like SRH, given what all they have, and then what all they do, to preview what the 2021 season might unfold for them.
What was the story last year?
They had a disastrous start as they were the last team to put points against their name in the league’s table.They were down in the points table even after nine games as they had won merely three games. But, then they managed to win four of their last five games to reach the playoffs. Were once looking good to even win the tournament. Eliminated RCB before finally succumbing to a loss against Delhi Capitals in qualifier 2.
Where exactly do they stand this season?
SRH's Achilles heel has been their batting and the last season was no different. To put things into perspective, all it took Wriddhiman Saha (214 runs) was four innings to break into the top-five leading run-getters for the team. The powerful opening duo of David Warner and Jonny Bairstow wasn't as effective. Manish Pandey blew hot and cold. Priyam Garg and Abhishek Sharma were too raw. David Warner batted too slowly until he got the support of Saha at the top. Kane Williamson with an average of 45.28 and SR of 133.75 stood out and might not have had a 500-run-season like Warner but emerged the real deal. Abdul Samad (SR of 170.76) was the young star of the season. All in all, batting was average, at best.
Powerplay: Best starters in 2020, no need for major changes in 2021
From an average powerplay score of 55.92 in IPL 2019, SRH's average powerplay score fell down to 47.6 but it was still the best among all the eight teams. Talk about powerplay dominance. They averaged 50.8 runs per dismissal in the first six overs which was again the best in the tournament. When it came to boundaries, they hit the second most number of fours and sixes respectively.
Need to stick with what has worked
As surprising it may be but David Warner (SR of 126.4) and Jonny Bairstow SR of (117.9) weren't the reason behind such a dominant powerplay performance from SRH like the 2019 edition. It was Manish Pandey, considered a slow starter and an accumulator, who scored 181 off 116 balls in the first six overs with an average of 90.5 and a strike-rate of 156. Not to forget, Saha completely changed the dynamic of the team's opening batting in the last few games. He was striking at 169 in the powerplay. In fact, David Warner's strike-rate before Saha’s opening burst was 113.7 and after that, it went up to 152.9. Saha had a strike-rate of 172.3 in the first six overs in the 2019 IPL as well. And he should be starting this season with David Warner given how well they batted together last season.
However, this season, Warner will need to go berserk right from the word go given the first nine games of SRH will be played on slower wickets of Chennai and Delhi where its needed to make most of the new ball and the field restrictions.
In case the Warner-Saha opening fails to prosper, Manish Pandey can open as well. Not only did Pandey score at 156 last season but in the 2019 edition, he was even better and had a SR of 162.2 and is a quick starter, at least, of late, in the field restrictions, as left field a choice as it may seem. Bairstow should be batting in the middle-order if he plays, as it provides the much needed firepower which is lacking there. Given the lack of quality Indian batsmen, SRH need to use foreign slots very strategically, especially in the batting. Opening is anyways the easiest role in T20s and bigger players should be taking difficult roles like Williamson did last season.
Middle overs: Lack of Indian firepower and role-based players
In the middle overs (7-14) phase, last season, SRH struggled immensely. On an average, they hit 5.5 boundaries in the eight over phase, which was the second poorest among all the teams. They were striking at 120.7, and scored 57.93 runs on an average, the fourth-worst among all the teams. They had the second best average runs per dismissal - 37.08, but that only shows how conservatively they batted.
Manish Pandey (100.7), Kane Williamson (113.6) and Vijay Shankar (85.7) batted too slowly in the middle phase. The likes of Priyam Garg and Abhishek Sharma were too raw and unreliable. So, it was a middle-order disaster for SRH.
Did SRH do anything to address the issue?
They did get in Kedar Jadhav for the middle-overs role in the auctions, albeit, a few years late in his career. Jadhav is on the decline and had a horrendous season in the middle-order despite all the backing he got last year. In fact, in the last three years, the right-hander has had a strike-rate of 98.7 in the 7-14 overs period in the IPL. Then again SRH messed up an opportunity to replace Mitchell Marsh with a batting all-rounder as they went for Jason Roy, in a team full of top-order players.
What can be done now?
Now, Jonny Bairstow is someone who can solve a lot of issues at No.4, a position he has been batting for England in T20Is. In fact, he had an average of 65 and strike-rate of 141.3 since the culmination of the IPL 2020 in the middle-overs. He will greatly strengthen the middle-order but then the problem is how feasible it is to have both Williamson and Bairstow in the XI? Not to forget, Kane Williamson was arguably the batsman of the 2020 season for SRH as he nailed the finishers position. But then both are fighting for the same role more or less and for the team's balance, there is a need for a Nabi/Holder in the XI. Warner and Rashid will be starting in all games if not for injury. So, it will be tricky to pick two players for remaining overseas slots.
Alternatively, there is one more thing that SRH can do. In most of the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy games this year, Abdul Samad batted at 3 and played cameos. Be it his 22-ball-39 against Railways, or 35-ball-54 against UP, or a 10-ball-17 against Punjab. They can use him in the middle-order and ask him to up the ante by tonking the spinners, and give breathing space to team’s anchors/accumulators.
Death overs: Poorest team last season
If SRH's middle-overs batting was poor, their death overs (15-20) performance was a disaster. SRH collected the lowest number of boundaries (86), at an average of 5.375 boundaries per game, the best being Mumbai Indian's 136 to understand the difference between the two. No other team in the competition had a strike-rate of less than 150 and then there were David Warner's men with the lowest strike-rate of 138.98. Their average per wicket was also the worst at 15.69, in a year, when no other side averaged less than 19.89 runs per wicket.
What has been done to address the death woes?
SRH piled up yet another opener (Roy) even when they possessed, at least, a half-dozen openers. They failed to address the issue in the auction. The Hyderabad-based franchise only have one powerful hitter in the form of Abdul Samad (177.2). But, he hasn't completely grown into the role yet and will need more time. Williamson (162.8) took on the role well last year to showcase his versatility but Holder (132), Pandey (139.4), Shankar (129.3), Abhishek Sharma (124.3) and Priyam Garg (161.7) remained a disappointment. Garg had a good strike-rate but his average was merely 12.7.
What’s the possible solution?
They can use Mohammad Nabi as a lower-middle-order batsman as he can use the long handle well. Since the start of the 2020, Nabi has averaged 22.8 with a strike-rate of 160.8 in the 15-20 overs phase and can provide the much needed support to someone like Abdul Samad and a certain Kane Williamson, if he continues to fire like last year. Holder can also be a possible option as he averages 42 and strikes at 146.5 at death since 2020. Depending on the pitches and team’s need for more batting/bowling firepower, they can be used in different conditions.
SRH clearly lack a multi-dimensional Indian batsman and power-hitters/batting all-rounders. But what goes their way is they will be playing their first five games in Chennai which had an average first innings score of 144.25 and then four games in Delhi, where 156.28 runs were scored on an average by sides batting first in the 2019 IPL. Their batting is far more suited to these tracks as they won't need to target 170-180 runs or chase it down unless the tracks change drastically this season. And it will give them a chance to possibly slot in both Bairstow and Williamson in the middle-order, which will strengthen their batting. Also, if Samad can further evolve and the Indian capped duo of Vijay Shankar and Kedar Jadhav do justice to their roles, it will give the team the much needed diversity and flexibility. But, it is a largely flawed batting unit with visible cracks.
SRH’s 2020 mantra- ‘Teamwork makes for dreamwork, personified.’
Hit the deck express fast bowler? Nah.
Team's most experienced bowler? Injured.
One-dimensional pacers? Hell, yeah.
Now, writing off SRH's bowling after such a scenario was as obvious as RCB releasing the players they shouldn't, KKR messing up with the batting order, RR again failing to reach the playoffs, Punjab choking when they shouldn't, and Chennai playing middle-overs of T20 cricket as if Tests.
But despite all the setbacks, and little expectations, the great Hyderabad bowling exhibited that forget anything else, SRH, bowling, IPL, and it's a sure-shot ingredient for guaranteed success. Not for nothing this team has reached the playoffs every time since 2016 with such an average batting line-up. SRH's bowling stood up to emerge as one of the best attacks, led by their star spinner Rashid Khan. Jason Holder bowled terrific spells in the second half while Sandeep Sharma made full use of the powerplay overs, never letting anyone miss Bhuvneshwar. And not to forget, T Natarajan made the world take notice of him and completed the death puzzle with Holder.
Powerplay: Brilliant last season; Even stronger this time
Sunrisers were phenomenal in terms of powerplay bowling as they conceded 7.49 runs per over, and had the third best ER after Mumbai Indians (6.99) and Chennai Super Kings (7.48) respectively. They took the second most powerplay wickets (26) only behind Mumbai (31), despite not boasting a star-studded bowling line-up. The 2016 IPL champions scalped 1.625 wickets per game, again the second best in the league only behind Mumbai Indians.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s return strengthens team’s bowling
Last year, Sandeep Sharma was a show stealer in the powerplay overs as he swung the ball, scalped big fishes and ended with nine wickets in 13 innings, third-highest in the phase with an economy of 6.44. T Natarajan partnered Sandeep exceptionally well with an economy of 6.50. Not that bowling needed much intervention, especially after a remarkable 2020 season, but Bhuvneshwar Kumar will further boost the bowling attack. The UP swinger had a SR of 20 in the five-match England series and gave away 5.80 runs per over and is back to his best. Also, SRH have Khaleel Ahmed who strikes every 19.6 balls in the first six overs in the IPL as a back-up option. Not only Khaleel, Siddarth Kaul has regained his confidence and was in top form in the SMAT 2020/21, as he took 14 wickets in six games and was among the wickets with the new ball.
They also have enough options to go the horses for courses route, especially on the first few spin-friendly wickets. They can get either of Mujeeb or Nabi as an aggressive option. Since the start of the 2020, Mujeeb has a strike-rate of 22 in the first six overs and has been economical too giving 5.60 runs per over. Nabi can be an even better option as he's a power-hitter and then with the ball, takes a wicket every 15.7 balls in powerplay since the beginning of 2020 with an ER of 6.47.
Middle-overs: The Rashid Khan show in 2020; high expectations in 2021
SRH nailed the middle-overs better than any other side last year thanks to Rashid Khan. They took 2.0625 wickets per game, the best for any team in the tournament. And they did so without losing control as they also had the best economy rate of 6.69, on an average, in the eight overs phase.
Possession of right resources, need to make optimum use
In the 2019 IPL, Rashid wasn't as prolific in wicket-taking, making experts wonder whether he was yet another bowler to have been figured out. Then after the first five matches, last season, there were questions raised on his spot given only once he could take two wickets or more in a game and was largely economical. But then he made a splendid return to prove his detractors wrong. He reigned supreme in the middle-overs (7-14) and hunted 16 scalps, the most for any bowler that too at a mad economy of 5.08 and a SR of 18.75. Meanwhile, Shahbaz Nadeem (7.59) did the defensive role brilliantly. Natarajan (6.63) also bowled accurately in the 7-14 overs phase, while Vijay Shankar (5.54) also exerted pressure and bowled economically in the five innings he bowled.
With the first five games to be played in Chennai where spinners have taken 58.42% wickets, like stated above, Mujeeb/Nabi especially the latter can be a good option. It will also provide the much needed variety to the spin department which has two spinners who bring the ball in as an off-spinner will take the ball away from the batsmen. Also, with the comeback of Bhuvneshwar, Natarajan can be used as an enforcer in the middle-overs rather than being used with the new ball. For flat wickets, which will be the case in the last five SRH league games (Kolkata and Bengaluru), Jason Holder can come into the picture as he has a good strike-rate of 22.5 with the ball in the middle-overs phase.
Death overs: Natarajan leading an impressive attack in 2020; further boost in 2021
SRH (9.7) were very good in the death as well as only Mumbai Indians (9.01) and Kolkata Knight Riders (9.67) conceded at lesser economy rate than them. They also took the third highest number of wickets - 40, while Warner's men had the fifth best strike-rate with the ball in hand- 13.45.
Brace up for the epic Bhuvi-Nattu association
Bhuvneshwar Kumar's absence was a body blow last season not only because of his powerplay but also death over exploits. If Sandeep bettered Bhuvi's last few seasons powerplay impacts, Natarajan wasn't behind by any stretch of imagination. In fact, he rose to the occasion, turned into a star with third most wickets (13) in the 15-20 overs phase. He had a SR of 12.85 and an economy of 9.84. Holder also did great with an ER of 8.82 and was striking every 7.33 balls. He took nine wickets in 11 overs, which is pretty crazy. Also, Sandeep Sharma (9.36) and Rashid Khan (6.43) showed their versatility and bowled accurately to give less than 9.5 runs per over at the fag end.
With the comeback of Bhuvneshwar, SRH have 2/3rd of India's potential death bowlers for the T20 World Cup, later this year, which is some coup. Bhuvi is a master at death as witnessed in the England T20Is, recently, where he had a remarkable ER of 8.17, and didn't concede even a single six. He and Natarajan have the potential to turn SRH into the best death overs side this season. Not to forget, Kaul has an ER of 8.85 and strikes every 14.6 deliveries at death in the IPL and given his recent form, can be a great back-up.
SRH have a blockbuster bowling attack which will get boosted with the return of the bowling spearhead Bhuvneshwar Kumar. They had done remarkably well last season and if they use their bowling resources efficiently, they will be hard to beat especially in the first nine games on spin-friendly wickets. Yes, it would have been great had they got a hit-the-deck fast bowler but a foreign pacer was anyways not going to get accommodated in the XI given their inherent need for more batting depth. Don't be surprised if you see Rashid, Natarajan, and Bhuvneshwar, three quality T20 bowlers, making batsmen dance to their tunes, with some brilliant back-ups to fit in the side for different conditions, again making it to the final four like the last five seasons.