Kane Williamson, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and David Warner © AFP
Kane Williamson, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and David Warner © AFP

Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) had, quite expectedly, retained David Warner and Bhuvneshwar Kumar for 2018. Not only had Warner led SRH to their only IPL  title, back in 2016, he had also won the Orange Cap in 2015 and 2017. Had Virat Kohli not decided to make 2016 his personal season, Warner could have done a hat-trick. Warner also has the most runs by an overseas cricketer and 5th-most overall in IPL history (4,014). Yes, that is the magnitude of what SRH is going to miss out on this season following the infamous ball-tampering incident on Australia’s South Africa tour.

Bhuvi, too, was an obvious choice. If Warner is fifth on the runs list, Bhuvi is sixth on the wickets chart — and has more wickets (111) than any Indian seamer. If Warner had won two Orange Caps, Bhuvi has won the Purple Cap twice — that too in the previous two years. And unlike Warner, Bhuvi will be around this season.

Before we proceed, we will analyse SRH’s past record in IPL a bit. SRH had entered the fray in 2013 as a replacement for the now-defunct Deccan Chargers. They have not done too badly, making it to the top four thrice in five attempts and staying in the top six every time. They did win in 2016, but a more telling statistic is their win-loss ratio of 1.21 (41 wins, 34 defeats): only Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians have better numbers.

Year IPL position Captain
2013 4th Kumar  Sangakkara, Cameron White
2014 6th Shikhar Dhawan, Darren Sammy
2015 6th David Warner
2016 1st David Warner
2017 4th David Warner

 

This is not too poor a record. In fact, barring SRH, Mumbai Indians are the only franchise who have played all five years and made it to the top six every single time.

Warner and Bhuvi were the cornerstones of the SRH success story, but others have contributed significantly as well. If Warner had amassed 2,579 runs, Shikhar Dhawan has 2,021 while nobody else has got even 800.The difference is indeed massive: Warner had 27 fifty-plus scores and Dhawan 15, while the rest of the team has 20 between them.

And to absorb some pressure off Bhuvi, they have Rashid Khan, who was a revelation for them in 2017 with 17 wickets.They did not ‘chase’ Amit Mishra or Karn Sharma once Rashid was there, which means that the Afghan leggie will be their go-to bowler in the middle overs. Let us, however, do a more detailed SWOT analysis.

Strengths:

Assortment of all-rounders: Shakib Al Hasan, Mohammad Nabi, Mehedi Hasan Miraz, Chris Jordan and Carlos Brathwaite: the list is enough to inspire awe. All of them are overseas cricketers, but in all probability one or more of them will play. There are also Yusuf Pathan, Bipul Sharma, and Deepak Hooda, of whom we will discuss at some point.

Explosive top order: Warner’s absence creates a massive hole at the top. Alex Hales has been roped in as replacement, but Kane Williamson’s appointment as captain would probably make Hales an irregular in the side. Despite that, SRH boast of a strong army of hitters in Dhawan, Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan, Wriddhiman Saha (1,557 runs at 25.52 in IPL, strike rate 131), Sachin Baby (strike rate 136), Tanmay Agarwal, and Ricky Bhui.

Weaknesses:

Thin Indian seamers: Bhuvi will obviously lead the pack, but his support cast isn’t as impressive. Of course, Sandeep Sharma (71 wickets at 22.35, economy 7.77 in IPL) will bring in all his experience, but Siddarth Kaul (21,27.09, 8.45), Basil Thampi (11, 38.54, 9.48), and T Natarajan (2 wickets) do not have impressive numbers at all. Under-19 seamer Khaleel Ahmed seems a better bet than most: he will also fit into the SRH’s usual plan involving left-handers quite nicely.

The Williamson conundrum: Losing Warner has been a bigger blow to SRH than it meets the eye. Williamson is an excellent batsman and a quality leader (also the nicest bloke around you), but has not been a regular in IPL. However, as captain he will probably have to take field every time. If Rashid plays as well, that would mean at most two of Shakib, Mehedi, Nabi, Jordan, and Brathwaite can play. Hales will have to sit out at the start, just like Billy Stanlake.

Opportunities:

Smother by spin: The team is not outstanding, but the spin attack can be formidable. Rashid will be supported by Shakib and perhaps Nabi as well; and even if one ignores Yusuf, there is Bipul. Bipul has played only 18 matches in three seasons, but a strike rate of 163 and that two-overs-a-match bowling role is what SRH for their balance. Similarly, Hooda has a strike rate of 139 and sends down the occasional over of off-breaks.

In-form giants: Not only have Dhawan and Bhuvi (along with Warner) carried SRH on their shoulders, they are in spectacular form as well. Over the past 12 months Dhawan has scored 468 runs in T20 Internationals (3rd-most in the world) at 36 and a strike rate of 146. Bhuvi, on the other hand, has 12 wickets at 19.75 and an economy rate of 6.83 — and he has missed 8 of India’s 18 matches.

Threats:

How long will Kane last? As explained above, SRH may not have Williamson as captain for all their 14 matches. IPL franchises rarely name vice-captains, but SRH have nominated Bhuvi for a reason. Why not appoint an Indian captain full-time in that case, before the season? Would that not have been better for the morale of the team?

Inexperience: Only six men in the current SRH squad have played 50 or more IPL matches —Yusuf, Dhawan, Pandey, Bhuvi, Shakib, and Sandeep. They probably needed a couple more old hands in there, but then, perhaps the overall change may help them recover from the Warner shock.

Likely starting XI:

Williamson will, in all likelihood, lead the charge along with Dhawan. He has a good record at the top in T20 cricket, and his presence will also encourage Dhawan to go over the top early on. The other option is to open with Saha, who very recently slammed a 20-ball 102* for MohunBagan in a club cricket match in Kolkata. Including Hales doesn’t seem likely at this point, and unless Saha gets injured, Shreevats Goswami may have to sit out the entire tournament.

Pandey, Yusuf, Nabi, and Shakib will form a dangerous line-up along with these three, the last two (if not three) also adding to the bowling. SRH will play their first two matches at Uppal, where a slow pitch is likely to suite their spinners. Expect Bipul to be in the XI at some point of time along with Rashid, Shakib, and Nabi, though probably not in the first match.

Bhuvi and Sandeep will be obvious choices as seamers. One of the Indian pacers will have to fill up. We will go with Kaul, the least inexperienced of the lot, though the left-handed Khaleel may get a look-in too.

The Sunrisers Hyderabad likely starting XI may look like this: Kane Williamson (c), ShikharDhawan, Manish Pandey, Yusuf Pathan, Mohammad Nabi, Shakib Al Hasan, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Rashid Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Sandeep Sharma, Siddarth Kaul.

Sunrisers Hyderabad squad: Kane Williamson (c), Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Shreevats Goswami (wk), Shakib Al Hasan, Shikhar Dhawan, Rashid Khan, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Manish Pandey, Sachin Baby, Ricky Bhui, Tanmay Agarwal, Carlos Brathwaite, Yusuf Pathan, Deepak Hooda, Mohammad Nabi, Bipul Sharma, Chris Jordan, Billy Stanlake, Mehedi Hasan Miraz, Khaleel Ahmed, Siddarth Kaul, Basil Thampi, Sandeep Sharma, T Natarajan, Alex Hales.