Sunrisers Hyderabad, IPL 2018, IPL 11
Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) have been a phenomenal bowling unit (Image courtesy: AFP)

118, 132 and 151 are the scores Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) managed in their last 3 outings in the VIVO IPL 2018. Considering that they are placed at No.2 in the points table, and have been involved in the race for pinnacle spot with Chennai Super Kings (CSK), these are modest totals. Meanwhile, CSK have been making a habit of making 10 an over a normal affair.

SRH, for a fact, made these scores batting first, which is almost like going into the battle with a bullet in your leg. But they have won all the three matches.

Less than a year after a proud Azhar Mahmood said after a historic Pakistani triumph at the ICC Champions Trophy 2017 “batsmen win you games, bowlers win you tournaments,” Sunrisers’ management shows us and the seven other franchises how a quality T20 side should be built.

Big-hitting and effortless shots are alluring but a trap only a fool will fall into, in this case, the batting-heavy franchises of IPL. A cricket match is won on the field but in these kinds of tournaments, a fraction of it is won at the auction table and that is exactly where Tom Moody and his compatriots showed their brilliance.

Hyderabad have dealt with many blows in this season, some being really hard ones to cope up with. To start with, their skipper and main architect behind their meteoric rise, David Warner was banned from IPL. The price has to be heavy for indulging in malpractices that severely violates the cardinal laws of the game.

Warner was a player retained by SRH, alongside pace spearhead Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Their three Right To Match (RTM) picks were very much on the expected lines – Shikhar Dhawan, Deepak Hooda and of course, the Afghan spin sensation Rashid Khan. If we look at the completely fresh team Hyderabad assembled at the auction, we will see that they have not picked many renowned batters. They broke their bank on Manish Pandey who hasn’t really exploded, but besides him, it is has been a quiet affair. It was Yusuf Pathan’s luck that got him picked.

Now coming to their bowlers, their main assets Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Rashid Khan were as previously mentioned retained and right to matched respectively. They went in hard for another Indian pacer in Siddarth Kaul, who had previously played just 21 IPL games. But they did not stop there and went on for what looked like a scavenger hunt.

T Natarajan and Basil Thampi, two Indian pacers filled to the brim with talent, were next on their list. They were later joined by Sandeep Sharma, Khaleel Ahmed and Billy Stanlake. Sandeep was a consistent performer for Kings XI Punjab, Khaleel Ahmed had delivered some great spells in the domestic circuit and big Billy from Australia has made a reputation for himself.

INR 19.65 crores, which is almost one-fourth of a franchise’s total available purse, was spent only on the six Indian pacers. Some laughed at their seemingly stupid decision, some said it is a coup de maître, but an outré confusion was the general reaction, like one of those MCQ questions where one is tempted to pick ‘all of the above’ option because every option sounds similar.

Bowling is a terribly neglected aspect of T20 cricket, but Moody devoted most of his attention to his. He got his reward soon enough which can be concluded by the score SRH’s first three oppositions posted – 125, 147 and 138. Then they were subjected to some batting friendly tracks and hence two consecutive losses followed. Rashid, too, had lost his sheen in those games and they suffered.

Yet, the success of the pace partnership of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Billy Stanlake was a very positive sign for the team. One might ask, why do you want six Indian pacers in your team? The answer is straight and simple – it prevents a team from getting derailed when its two main pacers are injured. And pacers breaking down isn’t uncommon.

IPL 2018, SRH mid-season transfer strategy: an explosive batsman or two, perhaps?
IPL 2018, SRH mid-season transfer strategy: an explosive batsman or two, perhaps?

Kolkata Knight Riders’ (KKR) Mitchell Starc was injured before the tournament and they are still lamenting over their loss. Mumbai Indians knew about Pat Cummins’ unavailability even before their first game and they still cannot get their bowling combination right. On the contrary, Bhuvi and Stanlake were injured in the middle of the tournament, when they were in sublime form.

KKR have got only three Indian pacers in their team, two of them making their IPL debuts this year and one already way past his prime. MI squad shows a similar picture with four Indian pacers, Jasprit Bumrah being the only notable mention among them. The cricket experts blabber about bench strength after every auction and this is exactly where it comes into play. Moody had his backup plan ready, and the exuberant and hungry for more Thampi and Sandeep were ready to deliver.

Economy rate is something SRH management can be very proud of since their economy rate of 7.1 runs per over is way below the tournament’s average that is close to 9 runs per over. Thampi’s economy rate has been few notches above 7 runs per over whereas Sandeep has been a master among misers with an economy rate of under 5 runs per over.

Kane Williamson has led well in Warner’s absence. In an interview with CricketCountry, Sandeep revealed how Williamson does his homework on batsmen and has particular bowlers for set of different batters. Yes, it’s the department of bowling that wins tournaments.

The global picture – the policy that works nearly everywhere

A team reliant on its bowling dominating a tournament is not a new thing. Two-time IPL winning skipper Gautam Gambhir has often emphasised the importance of having good bowlers in a side. In an analysis carried out by White Ball Analytics, the top match-winning performances and top tournament-winning performances were compared.

It was found out that the top three match-winning performances came from batters – MS Dhoni, Chamara Kapugedara and Manish Pandey. On the contrary, the top three tournament-winning performances featured one all-rounder, one batsman and one bowler – Moises Henriques, Chris Hartley and Alfonso Thomas. This clearly validates Mahmood’s statement.

If we have a look at the winners of various T20 tournaments and compare their bowling and batting rank in that particular tournament, we will see a similar picture. In 2012, Kolkata Knight Riders’ batting line-up was ranked sixth in the tournament but they won it because of their bowling attack, which was the tournament’s best.

A similar trend followed in ICC World T20 2007 and 2014, where India and Sri Lanka won the trophy respectively because of their bowling attacks. Indian batting line-up was ranked 7th in the first edition of ICC World T20 while Sri Lankan batters occupied 5th spot in its 2014 edition.

Peshawar Zalmi will have to give credit to their top seed bowling line-up for winning Pakistan Super League in 2017, where their batters ranked 3rd. Big Bash League’s one of the most consistent sides, Perth Scorchers’ main weapon is their bowling. They won 3 BBL titles and had two things common in their triumphs – first ranked bowling unit and third-seeded batting unit.

It must also be mentioned that things might not go in the bowling-heavy team’s way always. Brisbane Heat won the 2012-13 edition of BBL despite having a 4th ranked bowling unit, because of their batters who ranked first in the tournament. West Indies won the ICC World T20 2016 because of their destructive batters whereas their bowling department ranked fifth. Coming to the IPL, Mumbai Indians had the tournament’s best batting line-up and third best bowling line-up in their title-winning campaign of 2015.

However, statistics reveal that 54% of tournament-winning teams have the best bowling attack of the tournament whereas 21% of the winners have the best batting attack. Sunrisers Hyderabad understood it well enough and hence are sitting at the top of the table.

But only their strong batting lineup might not assure them the trophy. KKR required Manvinder Singh Bisla’s heroics in IPL 2012’s final, Gautam Gambhir’s knock was vital in India’s victory against Pakistan in ICC World T20 2007 final and Shaun Marsh played a marvellous knock in BBL 2014-15 final, to hand Perth Scorchers their second title.

Also, rather than billboards, they also went for Wriddhiman Saha as their wicketkeeper. A bowler would need safe pair of hands behind the stumps and Saha is amongst the finest with the gloves.

Having a good bowling side ensures SRH will always stay in the hunt and will play as a title-contender, not as a bottom-dweller. One bad day at the office might prove costly, but a good overall season is what we are expecting.