Warner, Bhuvneshwar sparkle in solid Sunrisers season
Where they finished
Lost the Eliminator to Kolkata Knight Riders after finishing third in the league stage.
Sunrisers won the 2016 IPL title primarily on the back of their bowlers; Mustafizur Rahman, in particular. He only played one match this season, but they hardly missed him, as Rashid Khan took over the role of the go-to overseas bowler, undoing the opposition frequently with deadly variations. Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who won the Purple Cap last season, has an excellent chance of doing so again - he ended his tournament with 26 wickets - and, at the time of writing, his nearest active challenger, Jaydev Unadkat, has 22.
While Sunrisers' batting was exaggeratedly top-heavy in 2016, responsibilities were distributed far better this season, with Kane Williamson (256 runs at a strike rate of 151.47), Yuvraj Singh (252 runs at 142.37) and Moises Henriques (277 at 136.45) complementing the efforts of David Warner (641 at 141.81) and Shikhar Dhawan (479 at 127.39).
Warner, as always, was phenomenal, scoring four fifties and a brutal 59-ball 126 against Kolkata Knight Riders, and ended the tournament with a 155-run gap from his nearest rival, Gautam Gambhir, in the race to the Orange Cap.
Having begun the tournament as its best-performing bowling team by some distance, they ended up looking over-reliant on Bhuvneshwar and Rashid through its second half. Siddarth Kaul and Mohammed Siraj showed flashes of potential, but couldn't entirely make up for Ashish Nehra missing large chunks of the tournament due to injury. The biggest disappointment, though, was Henriques. Last season, he had struggled with the bat while proving to be a valuable bowling asset - he took 12 wickets at an economy rate of 7.98. This season, he flipped that performance around, excelling with the bat while only taking one wicket in 12 matches and conceding 10.33 runs per over.
The missing ingredient
- Sunrisers' Powerplay run rate, 7.73, was the second-lowest in the league, above only Royal Challengers Bangalore's 6.53. This wasn't so much owing to a lack of form or hitting ability in Sunrisers' top order, as it was due to an unusually cautious approach: Sunrisers only lost 11 wickets in 14 Powerplays - the least among all teams.
- It is quite possible that they adopted this approach due to a lack of faith in the lower-middle order. The numbers seem to bear this out: Sunrisers' top five had, by far, the best average, 42.32, in the tournament, with Knight Riders a distant second with 34.96. But Sunrisers' strike rate, 139.39, was only the fifth-best.
- As a result, Sunrisers' Nos. 6 and 7, only faced 88 balls in the tournament. By contrast, the batsmen occupying those positions for Knight Riders, who faced the second-fewest balls among all the teams, faced nearly twice as many balls - 170. Naman Ojha, Sunrisers' wicketkeeper, only batted five times in 14 matches.
- Sunrisers may have structured their innings differently had they possessed a proper lower-order hitter - ideally an Indian batsman - since the presence of so many other quality overseas players had already restricted Ben Cutting to playing only four matches.
- Being able to take more risks during the Powerplay may have swung a couple of tight matches Sunrisers' way. This is lent some credence by their performance in their away game against Rising Pune - Warner and Dhawan made 73 off 69 between them, and Sunrisers only lost three wickets while scoring 176. Pune chased it down in an MS Dhoni-inspired last-ball finish.
Out of their control
The rain in Bengaluru, twice. The first time, it washed out their match against a Royal Challengers Bangalore team low on form and morale. It was a contest they may have expected to win but, due to the one-point sharing rule, they eventually finished a point behind second-placed Rising Pune Supergiant in the league stage, despite boasting a better net run rate.
The second time rain hit the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, it arrived halfway through their Eliminator on Wednesday. They had only made 128, but conditions were challenging to bat in. Their bowling attack could have made a decent fist of defending 128 in 20 overs; instead, they had to defend 47 in six. With early strikes, they still managed to cause some flutters in the Knight Riders camp, reducing them to three down in 1.1 overs.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo