A worried Warner: Can he break the siege of an early exit?
David Warner will be a miserable captain after the Sunrisers Hyderabad slumped to three consecutive defeats in their three opening games. A strong comeback is required, and Warner knows it.
The Sunrisers Hyderabad are familiar with the word ‘consistent’. The men in orange have made the playoffs in every edition of the IPL from 2016 to 2020, and emerged victorious in the 2016 season. This season too, their friendship with consistency seems to have continued, but not in the way they would have been hoping. The David Warner led side has been consistent in losing their first three games of the tournament, their worst start ever to the tournament. While their first game against the Kolkata Knight Riders can be called a genuine loss, the two matches that followed against the Royal Challengers Bangalore and Mumbai Indians were just total pandemonium. SRH threw the game away from comfortable positions for two matches on the trot. Collapsing from 115/2 to 130/7 against RCB, and from 71/1 to 104/5 against MI, while chasing manageable targets of 150 and 151 respectively.
After failing to get any points on the board after three games, David Warner is a worried captain. The Australian run machine and Englishman Jonny Bairstow, are the only batsmen scoring runs for the team, while the others seem listless as to how to support them out in the middle, mounting unwanted pressure on them. After missing out in the first game, Warner came back strong in the second match versus RCB, top scoring for Hyderabad with a sublime 37-ball 54. Warner was looking good in the next match against MI too, scoring a calculated 36(34), the second highest for SRH after Jonny Bairstow’s 43, before some Hardik Pandya brilliance in the field sent him back to the dugout. One major issue for SRH has been their egregious middle order, that has been contributing hardly anything in most matches, and can be thanked only for increasing the required run rate.
Manish Pandey, who comes in at number 4, has now had strike rate problems for quite a while now that he has been unable to mend. Pandey’s leisurely 39-ball 38 against RCB was one of the main reasons for his side’s defeat, and the Karnataka batsman was out for 2 in the game that followed, versus MI, worsening matters for himself. SRH’s batting seems to dissipate once Pandey is dismissed, as he is followed by all-rounder Vijay Shankar, and then inexperienced youngster Abdul Samad. Lack of quality Indian batting options has started to sting Hyderabad, as poor shot selection, nervousness and panic out in the middle is apparent when the game starts going slightly downhill.
While having multiple overseas players seems to be a luxury to the outsider, it is a dilemma that has haunted SRH for some time now. As per the rules, a team can go into a match with a maximum of four overseas players, and Hyderabad have a lot more than that in their squad, all of them established international performers. Though there is no doubt about three of those individuals, Warner, Bairstow and Rashid Khan, picking the fourth overseas player puts SRH in a spot of bother now and again. With the likes of Kane Williamson, Jason Holder, Mohammad Nabi, Jason Roy and Mujeeb Ur Rahman in their ranks, it is a complex task to pick just one given their outstanding ability in their respective areas of expertise. There have been recurrent calls to include Williamson in the playing XI, the Sunrisers just don’t seem to find a way.
In the 2018 season, when Williamson led SRH in the absence of Warner, he guided them to the final, finishing as the tournament’s highest run scorer with 735 runs from 17 matches. Williamson again played a massive role in ensuring that SRH entered the playoffs in 2020, and also single-handedly guiding them over the line against RCB in the eliminator. But the inclusion of Williamson came at the cost of either Holder or Bairstow, who were shuffled around throughout the tournament to ensure Williamson stays in the mix. The team’s inability to play Williamson has meant that the team is left to fend for themselves with a fickle middle order in place, and a solution will have to be found soon if SRH is to bounce back. One reason why the management has persisted with Manish Pandey for so long, despite his batting woes, is probably his inhumane brilliance in the field. After Ravindra Jadeja, Pandey is the finest Indian fielder around at the time, throwing himself on and about the field and plucking balls out of thin air is a regular practice for him. Wherever the ball goes, Pandey goes.
But to keep a man in the team solely because of his fielding ability defies logic, and there will have to be one overseas player ostracized from the team in order to push Williamson in. Pandey, however, might not be given the axe as Williamson cannot replace him due to the four overseas player rule. Nevertheless, Pandey will have to pull up his socks quickly, as his cautious approach is costing his team. The over-dependency SRH has upon its overseas players means that there is not enough Indian talent in the side, barring Bhuvneshwar Kumar and occasional brilliance from Pandey and T. Natarajan. One wonders how SRH has made it so far in the tournament year after year with a seemingly imbalanced side, but Warner has somehow made it work. But the loopholes within the SRH system are now being exploited by opposition sides, as is evident by their dismal performances this season. The bowling department is the only arena where Hyderabad has considerable firepower.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Rashid Khan and T. Natarajan combine to make it an intimidating attack, but the incessant failures of the batting unit leave the bowlers with just too much to do. Having got off to their worst start ever this year, it is going to be a herculean task for David Warner and his men to get back in the reckoning for a playoff spot. But all is not lost for the orange army, two of the three games that they’ve lost have been due to their own errors. Some vacuous and shambolic batting has contributed to them slipping down to the bottom of the pit. Warner is currently living under the threat of an early exit from the tournament, but he should not dampen his spirits, but some competent thinking and necessary tactical changes can see them turn heads in their direction in no time. The orange army has for years been the understated dark horse in the Indian Premier League, and with the tournament still in its early stages, Warner and his men will look to bounce back with a vengeful attitude, as only they can.