Did David Warner voluntarily step down as the Sunrisers Hyderabad captain? Or was Warner told he had no choice?
ESPNcricinfo understands Warner agreed with the team management it was better he stepped down to allow flexibility in team selection, which could potentially lead the Sunrisers to recover from their joint worst ever start in an IPL season. They are right now last on the points table, with a solitary win in six games.
Kane Williamson, who will now take charge of the Sunrisers, is understood to have once again readily stepped in for the sake of the team without placing any conditions. The final call to change the captaincy mid-season was taken by the Sunrisers' team management comprising Tom Moody (team director), Trevor Bayliss (head coach), and the two mentors in VVS Laxman and Muttiah Muralitharan.
The Sunrisers have had equally bad starts in terms of number of wins in their first six games twice before, in IPL 2014 and IPL 2015. Incidentally, those have been the only two seasons in which the Sunrisers have failed to make the IPL playoffs.
Since then, Warner has steered the franchise to consistent highs, including leading them to their only IPL crown, in 2016. Williamson, however, matched Warner in both leadership and batting prowess when he took over as the captain in IPL 2018 while Warner was serving a ban, and then during the playoffs in IPL 2019 when Warner left early to join the Australian team before the 2019 World Cup.
While both men have complemented each other well with Williamson being Warner's ear piece as far as on-field leadership is concerned, the Australian's reduced impact as a batter this season, where he has been circumspect, has been a sticking point. This season the Sunrisers chased totals on five occasions in their six matches and lost four times, including in a Super Over against Delhi Capitals.
Warner has been Sunrisers' second-highest run-getter so far this season with 193 runs, including two fifties, but at a weak strike rate of 110.28. In the Sunrisers' last match - against the Chennai Super Kings - where they batted first for the first time this IPL, Warner struggled to time or place the ball while scoring a 55-ball 57. Meanwhile Williamson, who has played just three matches, has walked in with the pressure of upping the ante to overturn a slow beginning and yet managed 108 runs at a strike rate of 135, without being dismissed yet. Alongside Jonny Bairstow and Rashid Khan, Williamson has made a strong case to be a direct pick in the first XI.
With Warner as captain, that left no room for any further overseas players. However, this season, one of the Sunrisers' weaknesses has been in their fast bowling department. That is mainly due to losing Bhuvneshwar Kumar to a niggle for the past few matches, and having to do without T Natarajan's services altogether after the left-arm seamer was ruled out of the tournament due to a knee injury. In the absence of two first-choice pacers, the Sunrisers have had to rely on Khaleel Ahmed, Siddarth Kaul and Sandeep Sharma, none of whom have had any significant success so far.
The team's other weakness has been a lack of batting depth after the top order, with an inexperienced middle order to follow. The Sunrisers have back-ups to fill these gaps on their bench in the form of Jason Holder, Jason Roy and Mohammad Nabi. Roy can link up with Bairstow to replicate their explosive partnership for England, Nabi provides depth and experience with bat and ball especially on slow, spinning surfaces. Holder, who was brought in as a replacement for Mitchell Marsh in IPL 2020 in the UAE, had emerged as an instant match-winner for the Sunrisers.
The gap in batting and bowling would point to the Sunrisers needing either of Holder or Nabi in the playing XI, and that is likely to have been put forth to Warner during the meetings he had with the team management. It is likely that Warner was told that his position was not indispensable, despite his great deeds for the franchise in the past.
The franchise remains confident Warner still has a big role to play for them, and will be utilised during the season both as a batter and part of the leadership group. "Nobody can write off Warner as he is a great player," a franchise official said.
Despite that, the call the Sunrisers' team management has taken is a brave one. It is rare that IPL teams displace an overseas captain mid-season, even if the player in question has been struggling individually. Objectively, the Sunrisers' decision is both bold and logical. Freeing up the slot taken by Warner allows the team better options for team balance.
Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo