Switched-on Sunrisers foil Supergiants' best laid plans
This seemed to be the night that Rising Pune Supergiants were finally getting their act together. Lost the toss on a sluggish surface? No problem, just ensure the seamers don't leak many runs in the Powerplay. Then revisit some of MS Dhoni's signature moves: throw your best spinners at the batsmen, back them up with attacking fields, pin the opposition down to a modest total, promote a lower-order batsman to gain back-end leverage, and line up an assembly of hitters to close out the chase. It works well in theory. It almost worked in practice, too, but not quite.
The bottomline was Sunrisers Hyderabad successfully defended 137 - no team has defended a lower total this season - and all but pushed Supergiants out of the competition. This despite Adam Zampa producing the second best haul across IPLs. The defeat was as much down to enterprising late-over bowling and fielding from Sunrisers as Supergiants' inertia in the chase.
Supergiants lost Ajinkya Rahane - their most successful batsman in IPL 2016 and an expert navigator of low chases - off the third ball, and managed only 25 runs in six overs, the second-lowest Powerplay score this IPL. Small totals can be tricky and teams have generally found blasting off in the Powerplay - like Sunrisers in Rajkot - to be the best safeguard against any late floundering. George Bailey (34 off 40) and the promoted R Ashwin (29 off 25) made up for their slow start to an extent but there was too much left to do later; Supergiants needed 86 runs at the halfway stage on a pitch that, as Moises Henriques later said, was up and down. While Ashwin's elevation to No. 4 ensured the team's dashers - Dhoni, Saurabh Tiwary and Thisara Perera - were available to counter Mustafizur Rahman & Co. at the end, it could be argued Supergiants had relied too much on their power-hitters coming off under pressure.
Sunrisers deserved credit for sticking to their plans, which, while predictable - like their seam-heavy attack on a surface where seven of their wickets fell to opposition spinners - have brought them success. They weren't clinical in the field, letting a run-out chance offered by Bailey pass, but they upped their game when it mattered. With six runs required off two deliveries, Nehra bowled a sharp bouncer to Dhoni, who top-edged it over the wicketkeeper and set off for a non-existent double given that the ball was directed towards the smaller part of the ground. What followed was a play that, according to Henriques, won Sunrisers the game. Yuvraj Singh rushed towards the stumps at the keeper's end from backward point, received the throw and made a dash to knock the bails off to run Dhoni out.
"When Yuvi came running in for that run-out... an inexperienced player would have been just watching the game and not known what was going on," Henriques said. "It's that little play, otherwise Dhoni would have been on strike and he's a master-class in those situations. But to have a new batsman out there for the last ball, it was because Yuvi was aware and just having that experience shows in a game of cricket, when under pressure especially."
The last ball, too, was an example of how switched on Sunrisers were when it mattered. With five runs required, Zampa's fine edge off Nehra could have sped to the boundary had Naman Ojha, who had earlier allowed four byes between his legs, not flung himself to his right to pull off a one-handed catch. Just as applaudable was how Sunrisers conceded only three boundaries in the last four overs when Supergiants required 42 to win. Henriques said fields were set to make allowance for more than one type of delivery - Mustafizur's leg-side-heavy fields were an example of that.
"Whether it's a yorker or a slower ball or a bouncer to someone like Dhoni and Perera, you can't show in the field what the next ball [is going to be]," Henriques said. "So if you show them that 'I'm going to have all these fielders here because I'm going to bowl the ball right here', and you miss that by one centimetre, you're going to go for a six. We set fields where we covered a few different options, so that the bowler could bowl the yorker or back of the length or the slower ball."
Henriques admitted Sunrisers were 10 to 15 runs short, though, and that Supergiants had caught them off guard with their use of Ashwin with the bat and Zampa with the ball. "Did you anticipate that? I didn't," he said, laughing, referring to Ashwin's promotion. "We weren't expecting Zampa to bowl the last over either. But, he did, and bowled it well. If you put it [Ashwin's innings] in the context of the match, it was a pretty good innings. He [Dhoni] made two big calls that actually worked quite well." Not well enough to fetch Supergiants that elusive victory, though.
Arun Venugopal is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo. @scarletrun