Another Sunrisers Hyderabad v Royal Challengers Bangalore game at Uppal, another thriller and another ‘strangle job’ from SRH’s highly efficient bowling unit. It’s a habit now.
On Monday (May 7), RCB had a good outing with the ball and seemed on course for an easy win when the scoreboard read 60 for 1 after 7 overs. SRH had dropped a crucial catch and Virat Kohli looked in ominous touch with AB de Villiers still to come. Pressure on SRH? What pressure?
Deep inside, SRH knew what they were capable of – triggering collapses in the middle overs, regardless of the batting line-up facing them. Captain Kane Williamson brought back Sandeep Sharma for the eighth over and the move turned out to be a master-stroke.
The stumps were ignited first ball as Manan Vohra tried a fancy sweep and dragged the ball onto the sticks. And thus began the procession. In a little under five overs, RCB slumped to 84 for 5. Vohra, Kohli, de Villiers and Moeen Ali were all shunted back to the dressing room. RCB were blown away and SRH snatched another victory from the jaws of defeat.
How do they manage this game after game? Upon closer inspection, there is a pattern in most of SRH’s wins this season.
SRH know their primary strength is bowling, so they don’t try to be fancy with the bat. They have got good starts in a couple of games, but mostly it is a case of people batting around Williamson, who has scored five half-centuries in ten games. The captain, or someone else, hangs around to take the score close to 140 and 140 is a score they know they can defend even on decent batting pitches.
And then they get to the main business and it begins at the top. SRH have great exponents of swing bowling in Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Sandeep Sharma, but the ball hasn’t swung much, especially in Hyderabad. So they have a clever strategy of not trying too much and focusing mainly on bowling just the containing length. Not once thus far have their opponents managed a run rate of 10 runs per over in the first 5 overs of the game.
In Siddharth Kaul, Bhuvneshwar, Basil Thampi, they have got bowlers who can vary the pace and nail the yorkers at the death as well. So they don’t have to rely on one specific bowler for the death like RCB or even CSK do.
The real magic though happens through the middle overs – a phase when opposition teams drop their guard. That is when SRH use their trump card – Rashid Khan. The Afghan wonder-kid comes on mostly after the powerplay, bowls three overs through the ‘middle’ and one at the death. His variations, with no discernible change in action, make him a nightmare for the best of batsmen, so much so that even de Villiers tried to read him off the pitch and failed. Rashid has 13 wickets in the season so far, mostly of batsmen caught in the web between attack and defence.
Shakib Al Hasan is another key bowler here. He comes on for an over or two in the powerplay and then bowls in the middle period. He has taken 10 wickets using the tons of experience behind him – evident once again in the way he dragged his length back slightly to trap Parthiv Patel LBW after being hit for back-to-back fours.
When there is swing on offer, Sandeep has an extended spell at the top, but normally is used for a couple of overs in the powerplay and finishes before the death overs. What is staggering about his bowling is that he possesses an economy rate of 5.26 from the 23 overs so far. The story of Kaul, meanwhile, has been amazing to watch. His ability to run in hard and target those boots, slip in that slippery bouncer and more importantly use those knuckles expertly to take pace off the ball. He has been their best pacer.
And finally there’s the Bhuvneshwar bank of four overs. The way he has transformed himself into a great pressure-overs bowler is well documented. He can come up and bowl a partnership-breaking over through the middle or wait to finish off the job at the death. He was sidelined for four games due to injury, but he is back bowling toe-crushers and knuckle balls for fun. Ask Mandeep Singh and Colin de Grandhomme.
“They understand their strengths really well and they play according to that. They don’t go out of the their limitations and that’s why they are so successful so far. They are the strongest bowling side in the tournament,” Virat Kohli said in a candid acknowledgment of SRH’s bowling riches.
So what makes opposition so vulnerable against SRH through the middle phase? Perhaps the fact that SRH have accounted for an average of only one wicket in the first five overs acts as a wonderful smokescreen to what comes thereafter. Teams are tricked into thinking too far ahead in the middle overs and gift wickets, as was the case with RCB on Monday night.
Interestingly, in the only two games SRH have lost this season, they conceded 113/2 against Kings XI Punjab (Mohali) and 116/1 against Chennai Super Kings in the middle-overs (between overs 5&16) period.
Therein lies the answer to those paying attention. Play the middle smartly or the end will always have an orange hue. #KhabarLive