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IPL 2017: Sunrisers Hyderabad find the right balance

LiveMint logoLiveMint 10-05-2017 Vimal Kumar

Only once in an Indian Premier League (IPL) season have the Orange (most runs) and Purple cap (most wickets) winners been in the same team. That was in 2013, with Michael Hussey and Dwayne Bravo, respectively, playing for Chennai Super Kings.

Four years down the line, David Warner and Bhuvaneshwar Kumar are on their way to repeating the feat for Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in the ongoing IPL 10. Warner missed it last year by a whisker (he scored 848 runs, but fell short by 125 runs to Virat Kohli), though Kumar’s 23 wickets were the most by a bowler in a single IPL season ever.

This year, Warner has 535 runs from 12 matches so far while Kumar already has 23 wickets from the same number of matches, with one league game remaining on Saturday.

This year, Warner has 535 runs from 12 matches so far while Kumar has 18 wickets from the same number of matches, with one league game remaining on Saturday.

Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Bhuvaneshwar Kumar leads the wickets’ list.

“We have had a reasonable start to the campaign,” says Tom Moody, coach of SRH, the defending champions. “We know there is still a lot of work ahead of us but I am pleased how key players have teamed up together on and off the field. It has helped that some of our key players are in form.”

SRH are currently ranked fourth. If Kings XI Punjab win their last two matches, Hyderabad could miss the play-off if they lose to Gujarat Lions. However, if Punjab lose to Mumbai tonight then SRH’s last match result won’t have any bearing on reaching the play-off.

Only the top four teams qualify for the play-off.

Along with captain Warner, Shikhar Dhawan is among the top five scorers this season—he is currently second (before yesterday’s match), with 450 runs from 12 matches.

“Warner is one of the best in all formats and Dhawan has been part of the (Sunrisers) family for long. They have got a great understanding and they bat well together. Their record as openers in the IPL is probably the best in the last five years,” says Moody.

In 2016, both featured among the top four scorers, playing pivotal roles in the title win.

Ideally, captain Warner’s team would have liked to qualify for the play-off before they play their last game—against Gujarat Lions on 13 May, in Kanpur. Yet, they must be relieved that last year’s performers (Gujarat and RCB) have failed miserably this time.

“The IPL is one of the hardest tournaments to win in world cricket because all the teams are packed with stars. The key is getting the right combination and environment and that’s why we said we are not the favourites or close to favourites. They all look good on paper, as you say, but what matters is how you perform on a day,” says Moody, a former national coach of Sri Lanka.

In 2016, Bangladeshi left-arm seamer Mustafizur Rahman (the only bowler with an economy rate of less than 7 among those who took at least five wickets in the tournament) was instrumental in SRH’s title. This year, Rahman has struggled with fitness and form and has managed to play just one match.

Yet, if this team hasn’t missed Rahman terribly, it is largely due to Kumar’s lion-hearted show for the second consecutive year. “The main reason is Kumar, who has led the attack beautifully,” says Moody, even before the question is put to him. “More often than not, he takes the wicket in Powerplay, which is key, and certainly he is one of the best in the business during the close of the innings.”

In every sport, champion teams usually find a way to replace one exceptional individual with another. If Rahman was the X-factor then, Rashid Khan has provided the spark in difficult moments this year. The leg-spinner from Afghanistan (14 wickets in 12 matches) has ensured that every rupee spent on him during the auction was worth it. Khan is among the top 10 wicket-takers and has conceded less than seven runs per over.

“I had asked (Gautam) Gambhir (of Kolkata Knight Riders) and (Virender) Sehwag (of Kings XI Punjab) for Rashid but they said they have some good spinners. Then I contacted VVS (Laxman, SRH) and pushed his case and I am sure they must be delighted with this surprise package,” says Lalchand Rajput, Afghanistan’s coach.

Besides Khan, Moisés Henriques and Kane Williamson are two of the overseas players who have elevated their games this season. If Henriques is averaging under 55, with a strike rate of around 135, it’s the refreshingly aggressive Williamson (with an average of 46 and a strike rate of more than 162) who has caught attention.

Along with Kings XI Punjab’s Hashim Amla, Williamson has astonished many with a new facet to his game, particularly in this format. Yuvraj Singh’s contribution too is better than last year (his average is up from 26 to 30 and the strike rate, from 131 to 145) and the team may benefit from his big-match experience during the last stages of IPL 2017.

Of course, it has not been an easy campaign for the 2016 champions. Veteran Ashish Nehra is yet to hit top gear and has fitness issues. Among the Indian players, Vipul Sharma, Deepak Hooda and Naman Ojha haven’t contributed much.

“We have got depth in young players like Mohammed Siraj and (Siddarth) Kaul (15 wickets in eight matches), who has been in the squad for many years but is now getting the opportunity,” says Moody.

Over the last two seasons, SRH have remained one of the best teams along with Mumbai Indians and Kolkata Knight Riders. No one knows if the same team will play as a unit next year, but Moody would like the core to remain unchanged.

“That’s up to the IPL and the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) and what the retention rule is going to be. Sunrisers are identified by Warner, Dhawan and Kumar. It will be a shame if we lose them,” says Moody.

Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.

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