IPL 2013: Relatively weaker sides have shown they cannot be taken for granted

What has been impressive for the Sunrisers Hyderabad is the way players chipped in at the right junctures © IANS

By Karthik Parimal

When the Indian Premier League (IPL) first came into existence, the idea was to feature teams that would be on an even scale in order to make the event more enthralling. In due course of time, certain sides grew in strength, and money, owing to transfers and timely evolution of raw talent. By the start of the third season, the term ‘favourites’ was associated with the likes of Chennai Super Kings and the Mumbai Indians, whereas units in the genres of Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab moved to the lower bracket — least on paper. This distance increased with every passing season and the current edition presents a clear graph of that.

Nevertheless, the tournament so far has shown that the fancied teams don’t necessarily have odds stacked in their favour. Rajasthan comfortably trumped the defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) after scraping through against Delhi Daredevils; Kings XI Punjab registered a good victory over the relatively stronger Pune Warriors, whereas Delhi — always touted to win with the firepower in its tanks — have lost three on the trot. The most heartwarming story, though, is that of Sunrisers Hyderabad. After swimming in doldrums season after season, they’ve put up spirited performances thus far, scoring two wins out of three, thereby showing that with proper guidance, no feat is arduous.

A management with cricketing sense

Post Deccan Chargers’ debacle, the Kalanithi Maran-owned Sun TV Network took over the Hyderabad franchise and immediately arranged for the right artillery. The recently-retired VVS Laxman was roped in as the team’s mentor-ambassador, Tom Moody — given his equation with Kumar Sangakkara — was appointed the coach, and the man who was well versed with the functioning of a team as a national selector until recently, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, was named the mentor. The responsibility of reversing the side’s fortunes was thrust upon their able shoulders, and, by adding a few formidable players to the team they’d already inherited, a decent report card, until now, is theirs to show.

An almost similar unit that is being played in the current season was fielded during the previous editions as well, but seldom did they appear this cohesive. The zeal, that was clearly amiss previously, is there for everyone to see.

A complete team effort

A few weeks prior to the commencement of this year’s IPL, I’d written about how the batting was still a chink in Hyderabad’s armour. If the overseas players were discounted, only Shikhar Dhawan and Parthiv Patel could have been considered as frontline batsmen. With Dhawan being injured, the department was further depleted. Even in the first two games — which they eventually won — the scores were below par. It was the bowlers, led by the supersonic Dale Steyn, who successfully cordoned off the opposition. Nonetheless, to see the likes of Hanuma Vihari surface and thrive against some of the best speedsters in the world is gladdening. Not only was he instrumental in Hyderabad reaching a decent score against the Royal Challengers of Bangalore (RCB), he accounted for Chris Gayle’s wicket. In a side where mostly the overseas players are touted to make a difference, the rise of local talent is encouraging.

What has also been impressive is the way players chipped in at the right junctures. Cameron White and Thisara Perera have done a commendable job in the middle-order, especially considering the frailty of batting unit, whereas Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra have rallied well around spearhead Steyn. This line-up, combined with a good think tank, has been working well in Sunrisers’ favour thus far.

Can they keep barging ahead?

The biggest challenge for relatively weaker teams like Hyderabad, Rajasthan or Punjab will be to never let their guard down. Considering the prolonged format of the tournament, the stronger sides always have the ability to cross the line towards the latter stages, despite fumbling during its early days. This was demonstrated by Chennai Super Kings (CSK) last season. But, as the cliché goes, well begun is half done and Hyderabad certainly have a good platform to build on.

There is no denying the fact their hopes rest on overseas batsmen and Steyn’s prowess, but if the likes of Vihari and, Akshath Reddy, the opener, keep doing their bit, then there is every possibility that Hyderabad can make the playoffs. There is also an equal chance of the start going downhill hereafter, but, as was seen during the first IPL, an average skilled team with unflinching determination, back by a good core team, have the potential to go the distance.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal )