Shaky middle could be SunRisers Hyderabad’s Achilles heel (Preview)

One of six teams to have won the Indian Premier League (IPL) title, SunRisers Hyderabad have always been a force to reckon with in every season since they won the title in 2016. They finished fourth in 2017, runners-up in 2018, and fourth again last season.

And in their previous avtar, as Deccan Chargers, they won the title in 2009.

David Warner and his opening partner Jonny Bairstow took the IPL by storm last season. Warner smashed 692 runs in 12 matches, which made it the fifth consecutive season in which he had accumulated more than 500 runs. Bairstow, on the other hand, plundered 445 runs in 10 matches. The pair averaged an opening partnership of 75 and included a hat-trick of century stands.

It is when they look below these two that SRH face a bit of a selection dilemma. They would be looking to make the most of the slow wickets that could be on offer in the UAE and in that case, SRH would be tempted to pick Mohammad Nabi, who is also a reliable bat in the lower middle order. But that could also mean that SRH will have to bench Kane Williamson, a man widely rated among the best batsmen in the world.

Williamson’s status as an expendable in the SRH XI when he is not captaining the side has been one of the strangest aspects of the IPL. A player who would otherwise be seen as an automatic starter in the XI, the dugout has been a familiar place for Williamson at SRH and with Nabi’s fellow Afghan Rashid Khan an integral part of the SRH bowling attack, the New Zealand captain maybe wearing the bib once again in quite a few matches this season.

Williamson was No.3 for SRH last season and this year, they may go for the fresh-faced Priyam Garg, India’s captain at the 2020 U-19 World Cup, or the seasoned Wriddhiman Saha, in that position. Virat Singh, who scored 343 runs at 57.16 with a strike rate of 142.32 in the last Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, is also an option they would be looking at.

Manish Pandey has been a rock for SRH over the years and could be a shoo-in at No.4 but after this, SRH have among Vijay Shankar, Fabian Allen, 18-year-old Abdul Samad and Nabi to choose from for 5, 6 and 7 slots. With the selections of Nabi and Allen affecting other spots due to the foreign player rule, other teams will be looking at this are as SRH’s soft spot.

Their bowling has usually revolved around Rashid Khan and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. However, a series of injuries have affected the latter’s international career in recent years and so it remains to be seen of it catches up with him in the IPL this year.

With 133 wickets in 117 matches under his belt, 30-year-old Bhuvneshwar is the senior statesman among the bowlers but this is not something that bothers him too much.

“Well, there’s no pressure at all because the team is never dependent on any one player. It’s about all 11 guys who contribute. Although being a senior player you always want to take more responsibility, there’s no pressure at all,” he said.

Nabi’s form in the Caribbean Premier League (12 wickets at an average of 17), coupled with the slow wickets in the UAE will make him an ideal pick. SRH also have Khaleel Ahmed, Sandeep Sharma and Siddharth Kaul to choose from in the fast bowling department alongwith towering Australian pacer Billy Stanlake.

Strengths:

SRH have in their squad players who can win matches single-handedly. Warner and Bairstow were terrorising bowling attacks up and down the IPL table throughout the league stage of the previous season while Rashid and Bhuvneshwar are challenging prospects for any team to face anywhere in the world. The depth they have in the bowling department is an enviable one with the likes of Nabi, Stanlake, and Khaleel all capable of making up a strong supporting cast for Rashid and Bhuvneshwar

Weaknesses:

In case one of the top four does not make it to the end of the innings, SRH will find it challenging to bat in the death overs as they don’t have a proven performer in the finishing positions of No.5 and No.6. Trying to fit Allen into the side would mean that they would have to consider dropping Bairstow or Nabi. If not, then they have the options of the unheralded Abdul Samad and Vijay Shankar. The former comes with a strong reputation though finishing the previous domestic season with the most sixes (61) across formats for Jammu and Kashmir.

Squad: David Warner (captain), Abhishek Sharma, Basil Thampi, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Billy Stanlake, Kane Williamson, Manish Pandey, Mohammad Nabi, Rashid Khan, Sandeep Sharma, Shahbaz Nadeem, Wriddhiman Saha (wicket-keeper), Jonny Bairstow (wicket-keeper), Shreevats Goswami (wicket-keeper), Siddarth Kaul, Khaleel Ahmed, T Natarajan, Vijay Shankar, Abdul Samad, Fabian Allen, Mitchell Marsh, Priyam Garg, Sandeep Bavanaka, Sanjay Yadav, Virat Singh

Coaching Staff: Trevor Bayliss (head coach), Brad Haddin (assistant coach), Muttiah Muralitharan (bowling coach), Biju George (fielding coach), VVS Laxman (mentor)

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