At the end of the 2018 IPL auctions, it would have been quite a surprise if any team would have bet on having assembled a more complete squad than Sunrisers Hyderabad. They had a tried and tested opening pair, a strong and explosive Indian middle order, two of the best all-rounders and bowlers in T20 cricket, arguably the best wicketkeeper in the world and a large battery of Indian pacers. All they needed was the plan on paper to work like a machine.
And yet, the exclusion of one David Warner has thrown all that balance in disarray. With their reluctance to use Alex Hales, so far they have lacked the firepower at the top that Warner provided. Kane Williamson, who would’ve probably found it difficult to make it to the XI in Warner’s presence, now apart from just leading the side has to provide that muscle at the top.
For as good a batsman as he is, and for as well as he has performed, to expect him to provide the firepower to their batting would be a bit unfair. The role was well set for Yusuf Pathan and Deepak Hooda, two of the most brutal hitters of the cricket ball in the country. Maybe neither of them are in their peak form, but when at their best, at No. 6 and 7, they are as good options as a team can find.
Most teams look to impact players who may not play a big role but boost the scoring rate in a matter of few balls, in the lower-middle order. Apart from the fact that they provide the late flourish, they also have the tendency to change the course of match in a short span. As AR Srikkanth, KKR’s scout and video analyst, said, “Some times, you need match winners. There are different types of players who provide that kind of madness. The guy who you are expecting to provide that kind of madness, you can’t expect him to be consistent.”
They come into the side with the teams fully aware that they can’t be counted upon for consistency. And it’s a fair risk that teams are willing to take, expecting these players to win them those one or two games from difficult situations. With No. 6 (11.32 balls) and No. 7 (8.64) facing far lesser deliveries than the top order batsmen (around 20 balls), the dangers of their failure are also lesser. At worst, they may not win those games. At best, they may hit a purple patch and be consistent with their demolition.
Much like Sunrisers Hyderabad, their opponents on Tuesday (April 24), too are likely to field two Baroda players – Hardik and Krunal Pandya. Like Hooda and Yusuf, the Pandya brothers too come with a reputation of hitting big and being multi-utility players. And thus, despite limited credentials at the international level, it’s no surprise that the four Baroda men commanded a total value of Rs 25.9 Crore at the auction/retention this year.
Despite what the paper shows about their CV, Yusuf is no more the bowler he was and Hooda isn’t being used for his bowling at all. For Hardik, bowling is his third most useful skill and something similar is the story of Krunal too. Thus, it was primarily for their batting – that maverick in them – that the big money was splurged on them.
Yet, in only the first half of the season both teams have already felt the pinch when these four players haven’t shown a more reliable face with the bat. While there are several factors which have contributed to the two sides putting up below-par performances so far, the inability of the middle order to shift their gear and move on has been a critical area of concern. They have all fired in patches and parts – a role they are all assigned to play – but think tanks, by now, would have realised that they need their ‘mad hitters’ to display greater consistency with the bat – a role they have not been accustomed to.
Unlike Hyderabad, who need the desperate firepower lower down to compensate for it’s absence at the top, Mumbai Indians have been consistently losing the momentum after strong starts from the top order. To go with Pollard’s poor form, the Pandyas haven’t quite clicked on a regular basis, making the death overs push a little difficult for them. Despite good starts provided by Evin Lewis, Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan, MI are time and again finding themselves posting totals a few marks below the projected score at the half way.
For Hyderabad the form of the big, muscular duo has become more of a necessity, even if the top order does well. If positives are to be seen, it offers them an opportunity to get accustomed to a more mature role and take their game a level higher, irrespective of the fact whether they succeed or not.
The unfortunate bit for the teams, and the good fortune of the players, is that whether these four men do well or not, such is the nature of T20 cricket that the teams will have to continue persisting with them. Not only does their absence affect the balance of the side, the mavericks always offer hope; and in hope, life and T20 cricket survive.