Sunrisers' surge crafted by Warner's talent, bowling grit
Where they finished
Champions, by winning a hat-trick of knockout matches.
How they got there
The Sunrisers Hyderabad story isn't quite Moneyball as much as it is 300. The Spartans lured the Persians into a nook between the mountains where the strength of numbers was useless. David Warner was one peak, their fast bowlers formed the other and rarely was an opposition allowed to breach. Sunrisers were able to ward off teams more powerful than themselves in this fashion, like Royal Challengers Bangalore in the final.
To further the analogy, there was plenty of bravery from the players as well. Warner opted to bat first in two must-win matches when the flavour of the season was to chase and while knowing he had to provide most of the runs. Bhuvneshwar Kumar kept faith in his yorkers when he had begun the season bowling six full-tosses in a seven ball over that cost 28 runs looking for that elusive delivery. Shikhar Dhawan weathered a slow start to the season and became one of five players with 500 runs in the season. Ashish Nehra, failing body or not, was their bowling leader, hitting speeds of 140 kph and mentoring the other fast bowlers in the squad.
Sunrisers began with two losses, but won seven out of the eight games that followed. They waylaid the defending champions Mumbai Indians twice, stunned Gujarat Lions thrice, capsized Royal Challengers twice and bested Kolkata Knight Riders' big-game instinct in the Eliminator. Every one of those teams knew taking out Warner and tempering the impact Bhuvneshwar and Mustafizur Rahman have would have given them a grand chance to win. None of them were able to do so well enough.
Twenty20, by its nature, allows individuals to dictate its course. And Sunrisers proved if those individuals took control of key stages during a match enough times, glory cannot be far behind.
The empowerment of the bowlers. Mustafizur may not have always understood what was told to him, on account of his "problem" with English, but he knew he was Sunrisers' trump card. He had three men in the ring on the off side, even in the slog overs, poised for the cutter that produced the outside edge. Moises Henriques, who is known more for his batting, was given his full quota of overs almost as much as the frontline bowlers. Team mentor VVS Laxman had had a chat with Bhuvneshwar to ensure he did not stray from his pursuit of the blockhole. Ben Cutting, who got to play back-to-back matches only in the knockout stages, was asked to stick to his strengths - back-of-a-length bowling to cramp the batsmen is natural for someone who is 1.92 m [over 6 feet] tall.
The productivity of the captain. Warner expected himself to score quickly in the Powerplay. Then he had to temper himself so that he could bat as deep as he could. So well did he pace his innings that only four times was he stopped from making a fifty once he had crossed a score of 20. To be the kick-starter and the finisher, and to do it as often as he has knowing there wasn't much firepower behind him, showed the growth in his batting and his penchant for leading from the front.
The middle order. Often it seemed taking out the openers meant taking out Sunrisers' chances of a competitive total. Their Nos. 3 to 5 averaged 17.48, the worst among all teams this season, although it improved in the later stages of the tournament. Yuvraj Singh returned from injury to play a couple of vital cameos. Cutting's assault on Sunday night when Sunrisers were slipping away was particularly pleasing, because he did not let his team panic and, instead, instigated panic in the opposition.
- Warner scored 468 runs while chasing in this IPL, the most by a batsman in a single season
- The Sunrisers fast bowlers took 82 wickets in 2016, the joint second-most for a team in a single IPL season. The Rajasthan Royals quicks took 89 in 2013.
- Their six wickets taken by their spinners is the least for any team in an IPL season
- They were the first team to finish outside the top two in the league stage and yet take the trophy, since the Eliminator and Qualfiers were added to the IPL schedule.
There were two, and both of them featured a quality that has defined Sunrisers. Resilience. They went into Qualifier 2 without Mustafizur and that may have contributed to Warner preferring to chase; to give his bowlers a chance at facing less pressure. After all, two days ago he had said he liked having runs on the board in knockout matches. Gujarat Lions set Sunrisers a target of 163. Sunrisers crumbled to 84 for 5 and an irate Warner needed to vent. It was a quiet kind of anger, barring the outburst with Tom Moody. It was the kind of anger that fuels a person's resolve and makes him dangerous in a fight. By the time Warner was done, he had 93 unbeaten runs and his team was in the final.
They gave Rising Pune Supergiants one of their five wins in the competition. And it had everything that can give nightmares to a Sunrisers fan. Warner was out for a duck and only three batsmen made double-figures. They were put in to bat, slipped to 32 for 5 and could only manage 118, their second-lowest total in all IPLs. Steven Smith then bullied Mustafizur and denied Sunrisers even the notion of a comeback.
What they need most next season
They seemed to have back-ups ready for most of their key players. When Mustafizur was unfit, Trent Boult came in. With Kane Williamson and Eoin Morgan misfiring in the middle-order, they had a decent replacement in Cutting. In the same way, they bought Yuvraj Singh and Deepak Hooda to strengthen the middle order but the former is on the wane and the latter hasn't displayed the skills to bat long. An experienced player who can control the innings from No. 4 - preferably accustomed to Indian conditions - should be on their shopping list.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo