A crack Twenty20 team usually comprises aggressive openers, an anchor player at No 3 who can do it all, middle-order nous, a cool-handed finisher capable of lusty blows, useful all-rounders and a crack bowling unit. Arguably the most important asset is the latter.
Few teams in this IPL can boast such a line-up, although why that is remains a mystery because the auction system should mean most can tick the boxes. But then there is no equating for common sense. Or rather the lack of it. Not signing the right players is one thing, signing them and then failing to pick a balanced XI is something else.
Take a bow, then, Sunrisers Hyderabad, who, predictably are almost halfway through the regular season and still have no clue as to what their best team is. Or, if they do, they don’t have the guts to pick it.
All brawn and ego
Sunrisers have lost five out of six. Sportsbook rate them as big as 40/1 to win the title, 16/1 to make the final and 15/8 to finish bottom. They would have to win a minimum of five of their last eight to stand a chance of a play-off spot on net run rate. Their race, surely, is run.
There remains, however, a sniff of a chance if they start making the big calls. And the biggest of the lot is to remove David Warner from the team. It’s a huge ask to effectively sack a captain halfway through a campaign but it is not unheard of in IPL. Eoin Morgan replaced Dinesh Karthik last season for Kolkata Knight Riders.
Warner is a multi-faceted problem. He is making dumb decisions as leader, he is batting too slowly and he takes up an overseas slot, damning their chances of picking the combination described above.
Let’s look at his captaincy. Against Delhi Capitals Sunrisers, batting second, tied a match they should have won (we’ll come back to that). Warner, all brawn and ego instead of brains and camaraderie decided he should face the Super Over. Warner had scored six off eight balls. Jonny Bairstow, his opening partner, seeing it like a beach ball, 38 off 18.
Worse was to follow against Chennai Super Kings. Warner crawled to a half-century on a good batting wicket. His struggle was painful to watch. The agony didn’t end when, much to his team-mates relief no doubt, he was dismissed. Kane Williamson came in and smashed 26 off 10. The solution to Sunrisers’ issues waltzed in and showed them a bright future.
But will the powers-that-be have the gumption to look with hard eyes. Will the bull-headed Warner fall on his sword?
Will coach Trevor Bayliss, an IPL and World Cup winner, suddenly rediscover his acumen? Probably not.
Warner is on the decline. In three of the last four years his average and strike rates are beginning to dip. He has suffered against high-quality pace as his reactions, seemingly, are not as sharp as they were. This, it is true, is surprising because 34 is hardly ‘old’ for international batsmen.
But the IPL is a harsh environment. It exposes the weary eye of the veteran opener. When young thrusters like Prithvi Shaw and Ruturaj Gaikwad are blasting away, Warner looks like he is playing an ancient game. He is striking at 110 when the minimum rate required for an opener is 135.
Improvement likely if making the big call
If Sunrisers can make the call they can improve beyond recognition. Manish Pandey, who has an excellent record in the powerplay, could open with Bairstow with Williamson slotting in at No 3. Virat Singh, whose numbers are good enough to suggest he can do a job at No 4, and Abdul Samad could be paired in the engine room.
Samad is the great hope for Sunrisers. His boundary percentage (the key metric for batters) is one of the highest around and he could single-handedly solve their ponderous scoring and inability to get over the line in a chase. They just need to get him fit.
At No 6 is where Sunrisers see the benefit of axing Warner. They could play either Mohammad Nabi or Jason Holder. Nabi has a boundary percentage of 17.1. and Holder 16.2. Those are decent hit rates. With Rashid Khan at No 7 they have more than enough batting depth without comprising their superb bowling attack.
This is what should happen. What will happen (probably) is a fudge. Sunrisres will take Warner out of the firing line and bat him at No 4, arguing that they need his experience in the chase to halt their pathetic sequence of defeats going after moderate totals. Why Warner will score more freely in the middle-overs than in the powerplay is a mystery Sunrisers are unlikely to be quizzed on.
Or they will indeed drop Warner. But for Jason Roy, meaning they once again clog up the engine room with the likes of Vijay Shankar or Kedar Jadav.
At the start of the tournament Sunrisers were discussed as a potential wager on the exchange outright because they were expected to start slowly before picking the right men, just like last season. The rationale behind it, however, assumed the hard reality of their selection foibles would be realised. Now we’re not so sure. Taking the 80.079/1 is not so much a bet on them winning enough games, but them getting the right men on the field and for long enough. And that’s why the 15/8 about finishing bottom may now hold more appeal.
Sunrisers best XI Pandey, Bairstow, Williamson (capt), Virat, Samad, Nabi, Rashid, Abhishek, Kumar, Khaleel, Kaul