Spirited Sunrisers exceed expectations
Where they finished
Sunrisers Hyderabad exceeded expectations in this IPL, and had the support of many who backed a side making its debut, having been bought over by a new owner after the previous franchise was terminated last year. Their run ended in a closely-fought Eliminator, and while they'll be disappointed at not having progressed to the second Qualifier, they went farther than most would have thought possible with the resources they had at their disposal. And their success came at the expense of Royal Challengers Bangalore, a popular franchise with big stars and flamboyant owners.
What went right
Sunrisers' biggest strength was a formidable bowling attack, though only Dale Steyn appeared a serious threat on paper at the time the tournament began. He lived up to his reputation, but was supported ably by the rest, and that combined effort enabled Sunrisers to compensate for the relative weakness in their batting.
Ishant Sharma was largely consistent, Darren Sammy had his good days, and the success of the leg-spin combination of Amit Mishra and Karan Sharma stood out. So effective did they prove that a score of 130, especially on a slowish track, seemed secure. Home advantage has been a big feature of this IPL season, and Sunrisers were hard to beat in Hyderabad, winning seven out of their eight matches there, one of them in the Super Over.
What went wrong
The bowling unit had its occasional off days, but the batting was Sunrisers' Achilles heel. Shikhar Dhawan was recovering from a hand injury at the start of the tournament and missed three weeks of his team's campaign. His return was a boost for the side, at the top of the order, but the overall batting blew hot and cold through the tournament. Sunrisers appeared to rely too much on their bowling to defend targets, and though they put up a spirited fight - even in the Eliminator while defending 132 - the batting depth of the opposing team at times won out.
It didn't help Sunrisers that the going was slow in the first 10 overs, with occasional periods of stagnation when the top and middle order struggled to push on, leaving the likes of Cameron White and Thisara Perera to surge at the death and take them to a par score. Among all teams in this IPL, Sunrisers were the slowest in the first 10 overs, going at 5.85 an over. That climbed to 8.87 in the final five overs, which was the still fifth among all teams.
Without a doubt, Dale Steyn. He was a regular wicket-taker and finished as the second-most economical bowler (min. 20 overs) this IPL, going at 5.66 an over, but what stood out was his intensity and commitment on the field. It seemed each time he came on to bowl, he was bowling a fresh spell. He bowled with pace and regularly ruffled the batsmen with jaffers that nipped away to beat the edge, or were banged in short.
He was the most energetic on the field when brought on to bowl, trying desperately to save the single when the ball was knocked around, and celebrated with the kind of excitement we're accustomed to seeing in Tests. He was Sunrisers' go-to man in times of a crisis, a responsibility he shouldered well, and was easily the most feared and respected by the opposition.
Kumar Sangakkara was one of four overseas captains this season who had to relinquish his place in the side as a result of poor form. His tournament began on a steady note, as he scored 15 against Pune Warriors, but he didn't push on. He had to sit out after five games, with Cameron White taking over, but did get a chance to return, unlike Ricky Ponting of Mumbai Indians. However, his performances turned out to be worse, with scores of 4, 21, 8, and 3, before he had to sit out again. A player who has expertly anchored innings in his international career, Sangakkara couldn't fulfil that role for Sunrisers this season, and wasn't part of the playing XI for half the team's campaign.
The lack of spin options in India has been a worry for a while, and it remains to be seen if Karan Sharma, a legspinner, will allay some of those concerns. For Sunrisers, he was the find of the season, working very well in tandem with senior partner Amit Mishra. He had the variations, imparted considerable turn on the ball, and proved quite economical at 6.60. He was brought on mostly between overs 7 and 14, and picked up nine wickets in that period. This, after an impressive three games for Railways in the Ranji Trophy in which he picked up 21 wickets at 19.04.
Recommended for retention
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo