When Sunrisers looked at the schedule, it was love at first sight, they were playing in Chennai and Delhi - with one of the best spinners in the tournament - Rashid Khan. Now combine that with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and T Natarajan, their bowling really shouldn’t have any worries, right?
Like a fantasy scoreboard, Sunrisers Hyderabad even after winning the toss, suffered at the hands of Kolkata Knight Riders. Admittedly, there were a lot of positives - Rashid Khan’s form, Manish Pandey’s form and definitely, Jonny Bairstow’s form. But like in a fantasy league, the players who you trusted blindly rather underperformed and left the team in the worst state of manner. One game in, no Williamson, should there be any kind of concern for the Sunrisers, led by David Warner?
No, too early to pull the trigger
Definitely, one of the things that have tilted Sunrisers Hyderabad as the favourites is their depth, not just with the bat but also with the ball, especially on slower surfaces where it is going to stick and turn, more than pace and bounce. So when they did go with Mohammad Nabi over Jason Holder, no one, literally no one batted an eye. But at the same time, a glance over the playing XI, where Williamson was dropped to the bench for Jonny Bairstow, created a ruckus on social media.
Now while we weren’t quite aware yesterday, whether it was a drop or whether there was concrete reasoning behind it, we now are very well aware of it. Kane Williamson isn’t totally fit and the most that Sunrisers could do is field Jonny Bairstow, who in fact has been fielded as No.4 batsman for the English national team. Statistically, he possesses a good record and on the night too, he had a great game, which really shows that there is nothing to change on the batting end.
The flipside is where the problem existed, Sunrisers fielded their best XI, best bowling attack and failed miserably with the ball. Not Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Not Sandeep Sharma, not even T Natarajan could save them from the blushes. But should they be worried already? No, because it is just one game in and the problem isn’t that bad it needs a swap immediately. Keep calm and don’t touch that trigger.
Pull the first trigger, drop Sandeep Sharma!
Hang on, the first trigger? Ah, alright, there goes Sandeep Sharma but why? Given that Sunrisers are going to be playing in Chennai and Delhi for most parts of their season, there really doesn’t exist a reason that they should be playing four pace options. Nope, never! Especially two bowling options of the same type - Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Sandeep Sharma. While Bhuvneshwar is the willy veteran amongst the two, it would see the back of Sandeep in the bowling attack. Three games at the venue, including the loss against KKR - Sandeep has picked up just the wicket, conceding nearly 11.2 RPO and striking it at 65.
What can they do, that’s better? Two options, Siddarth Kaul and Shahbaz Nadeem, two forgotten heroes from the last two seasons. This year, for Punjab, the pacer has picked up four wickets, at an economy rate of 5.75, averaging 11.5, which is close to being gold. Given that, in Chennai pacers have had success, only when they were bowling the hard length, SRH could arguably look at him to replace Sandeep.
While Shabaz Nadeem had a terrible run for India in the longest format, his exploits last season were underrated, bowling in the IPL for the Sunrisers. Now, he won’t and shouldn’t be expected to pick the new ball but his form last season should be enough for him to walk into the setup, allowing Rashid Khan and Mohammad Nabi to operate with more freedom.
Too many triggers, where is the second?
Just like last year, the second one is fairly simple - one that SRH has exercised last season - dropping Jonny Bairstow to accommodate Kane Williamson. What this brings is, of course, solidarity and a lot of trust in the Indian finishers to come up with the job alongside Mohammad Nabi. Fairly easy, Williamson has his second-best average, batting at No.4, where he has scored 369 runs for the franchise, averaging 41 while striking it at 129.5.
What it does around him, give solidarity in the middle-overs while giving a launch-pad to the likes of Abdul Samad, Vijay Shankar and Mohammad Nabi, of course, to tee off. In addition to that, it is a tried and tested method, which has worked well in the past, including in the playoff game against RCB, where Williamson’s experience helped the franchise to get past the struggling line.
Oh wait, there is a better one, how about swapping places? While it would definitely take away Manish Pandey’s prowess, it would bring out the best of Williamson, increasing his strike rate to 134.6 and run tally to 1028. That’s an out of the box option in the regular category for the Sunrisers, which would also force Pandey to score boundaries.
The third trigger, of course - axe Mohammad Nabi
But here is the twist, bring in Kane Williamson to strengthen the middle-order, which ultimately means Mohammad Nabi has to miss out. Now that would also mean that SRH could continue to have the services of both Williamson and Jonny Bairstow in the setup, a dream come true moment for the franchise. While the twist is where they would have a problem with, who could replace Nabi?
Now for a bowling option, there are certainly three options - Jagadeesha Suchith, Abhishek Sharma and Shahbaz Nadeem. While two of them in the past have shown their form for the franchise, Suchith has shown his prowess in various leagues across the country, not to forget his stint with Mumbai in the IPL, where he picked up valuable wickets and scored some crucial runs, which would ultimately mean that Abdul Samad would get a bigger role in the scheme of things, which could allow him to flourish.
But what about Saha? Certainly, another player who can be replaced in the setup, especially with Kane Williamson and David Warner opening the innings would bring about a sense of solidarity in the SRH setup. And more incredibly, SRH can easily field another batsman, Priyam Garg or Kedar Jadhav in the middle-order, with both of them being in form, after the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
Fourth trigger - an outside option - bring back Jason Holder
This is exactly where you lose the switch and find out that there is something wrong with the system entirely. Now hear me out, Mohammad Nabi is a handful on surfaces like this but is he a proven customer in the IPL over Jason Holder? No, that’s where and why Jason Holder walks into the picture. Batting at 6 last year for SRH, Holder scored 58 runs off 41 balls, at an average of 29 and a strike rate of 141.5. Yesterday, Mohammad Nabi, at No.5 scored 14 off 11 balls, at a strike rate of 127.27.
Let’s get to a bigger point of view, the reason that Holder could be the key to Sunrisers’ chance this season - Chepauk. If the first game was of any indication, a lanky pacer could be a vital cog to any team’s chances at the venue. For Mumbai, there was Marco Jansen and for Bangalore, there was Kyle Jamieson. Both of them were not ferocious, weren’t too quick but had a height that could trouble batsmen instantly, a reason why they both were successful in the first game.
The second game had a similar pattern - Andre Russell, Prasidh Krishna and Pat Cummins - all of them succeeded due to their hard length and height. If SRH has to really take away something from the first two games, it wouldn’t be a bad option to chuck Nabi, bring in Holder and field an Indian spinner instead of Sandeep Sharma, which makes the composition worthwhile for the Men in Orange.