Coming into a crucial game against Mumbai Indians, Sunrisers Hyderabad made a few tactical calls that would have likely invited criticism had they lost. The real eyebrow-raiser was the omission of Kane Williamson in favour of Afghanistan allrounder Mohammad Nabi. After all, Williamson has played an important part in building on the platform laid by the openers, batting deep to take the pressure off a relatively fragile lower-middle order. He has scored 232 runs in six innings, including two fifties, at a strike-rate of 162.23 - he has scored more quickly than Warner, Dhawan and Yuvraj Singh.
The rationale behind retaining Moises Henriques as the first-choice allrounder might have been questioned as well. While Henriques has three fifties and has done well with the bat, he has done little with the ball, so why play him ahead of Williamson, the better batsman? However at the end of the game, which Sunrisers won by seven wickets with 10 balls to spare, VVS Laxman, the team's mentor, could smile, a man comfortable in the knowledge that the merit of his plans was reflected in their clinical execution.
First Nabi proved his backers right. Playing only his second match in nearly a month, he was handed the ball in the Powerplay, bowled Lendl Simmons off his fourth delivery, and went on to complete his four overs on the trot, conceding only 13. Laxman said Nabi's inclusion was to counteract Mumbai's left-hand heavy top-three which includes the in-form Parthiv Patel and Nitish Rana. The absence of rust in Nabi, Laxman said, showed the constant state of preparedness in the Sunrisers camp.
"We have players on the bench who can straightaway come into the playing XI and perform," Laxman said. "Nabi is someone very good not only after the Powerplay, but also in the Powerplay. That was the rationale behind getting Nabi in. To come and straightaway be in excellent rhythm and also execute the strategy which we had for the opposition batsmen was really good to see. Those first two-three overs set the tone for the match."
On a sluggish surface where a chase of 139 could have been tricky, Shikhar Dhawan batted with restraint to finish with an unbeaten 62 off 46. His 91-run partnership with Henriques, who scored 44 off 35, closed the doors on Mumbai. Despite Henriques conceding 15 runs in the only over he bowled, Laxman talked up his utility as a bowler even as he empathised with Williamson.
"We have to also understand that he came into bowl in the 14th over. As an opposition batting line-up, they will be looking to target the fifth and sixth bowlers," Laxman said. "But, I thought he bowled really well last match. We should be very happy with the way Moises has contributed to the Sunrisers franchise, not only with his batting and bowling but he is a leader within the group. Even on the field, his inputs are very good, and he definitely helps Warner by giving various suggestions.
"It is very frustrating I am sure for someone like Kane Williamson, because he is in outstanding form. But when you have only four overseas players to play with, you have to work out what is the best combination to go out on that particular day, against that particular opposition, keeping the conditions in mind."
He also lauded Yuvraj, who made 9 off 11 balls, for gritting it out despite having hurt his hand. Yuvraj also reportedly nursed a calf niggle and was seen wearing a brace on his left leg. With Sunrisers close to securing a playoff spot and the Champions Trophy looming, there is bound to be concerns over Yuvraj's fitness. Laxman, however, felt the injury wasn't very serious.
"He should be okay. Just that the hand got jammed into the ground while he was fielding. So there is some contusion, but luckily we are next playing a match after four days, so there is enough time for him to recover. But credit to him to go out there in spite of the pain, taking the responsibility that I will go out and bat and try to win the match."
Another noticeable aspect of Sunrisers' performance was the energy demonstrated on the field, with animated discussions between the captain and the bowler ahead of almost every over. At times, the tactical talk spilled over from beyond the boundary as well. On one occasion, coach Tom Moody appeared to be shouting out instructions from the dugout to swap the fielders at cover and short-third man. Promptly, Vijay Shankar, at third man, exchanged places with Siddarth Kaul at cover.
"I think it's quite common. Davey is in crucial [fielding] positions, he's at long-off or long-on. Sometimes it is very clear from the dugout, who is a better fielder in a certain position," Laxman said. "If a captain misses out, then the instruction is sent to players saying it is better to swap [fielders]. That happens quite frequently.
"You've also seen that Tom will... Whenever Davey is in front of the dugout, discussing various options [happens]. Just know what Davey is thinking about. T20 cricket is so quick, sometimes some outside help may be useful for the captain. This isn't the first time it is happening, and it won't be the last."