How difficult is it for a team to stage a turnaround - defend two low totals in consecutive games after conceding 180-plus in two back-to-back matches before that? That, too, with a depleted pace contingent without spearhead Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Billy Stanlake? Ask Sandeep Sharma, and he'll decode Sunrisers Hyderabad's bowling might that humbled his former side Kings XI Punjab by 13 runs while defending 132.
"All the bowlers are playing their roles very well which is why we've been able to defend two low totals. Our bowling unit is going to get a lot of confidence from these two wins," Sandeep said after the match. "We had bowled very well in the last game too [against Mumbai Indians], and our bowling unit is performing together, which is very important."
Sandeep's role in that line-up, as he said, was to assess the pitch as soon as possible after opening the bowling and advise the rest of the bowlers. Varying the length between full and good length, Sandeep made generous use of his slower-ball variations, including the knuckleball, in his three-over opening spell that conceded only 11 runs. Even though Kings XI marched to 44 for 0 in the Powerplay, he tied both Chris Gayle and KL Rahul down with 10 dot balls and a solitary four off his first 18 deliveries.
"Since I bowl the first over with the new ball, I am able to read the pitch quickly. I try to convey that message to the other bowlers," Sandeep said of his role in the absence of Bhuvneshwar and Stanlake. "Today, the knuckleballs and slower ones were getting a lot of help from the pitch and were getting stuck. They were not easy to hit. I gave them that suggestion and you must have seen that Basil Thampi got Gayle with a slower ball. So I just try to convey this message to the other bowlers as soon as possible."
A 139kmh delivery on full length in Thampi's first over had been bludgeoned over long-on for six by Gayle. In the ninth over and his second, Thampi took the pace off and bowled one short which Gayle top-edged and Thampi sprinted to square leg to pouch a return catch.
"To bowl a slower one on that particular delivery wasn't really my idea but I had given him (Thampi) the suggestion that the slower ball is getting a lot of help from the pitch so you can bowl more of those than the seam-up deliveries."
Even though Kings XI's prolific opening pair registered their fourth fifty stand in as many innings, Sandeep counted the early dismissals of Gayle and Rahul as the crucial junctures in the game.
"There wasn't any one turning point because we were defending such a low total," he said. "It was important for our bowlers to play their roles properly. Like Rashid Khan got KL [Rahul] out and Gayle's wicket was very important. Their openers have been doing really well so it was important to take those two wickets and after that there were two back-to-back wickets in my over which were also very important. Collectively, we bowled well."
With Sunrisers now positioned second only to Chennai Super Kings on the points table, Sandeep attributed the team's resilience to captain Kane Williamson's cool-headed demeanour on the field. On April 24 too, Williamson led his team to a 31-run win against Mumbai, after they had been bowled out for only 118.
"Kane Williamson is a really good captain. He is really calm. These are pressure games but he's always calm on the ground," Sandeep said. "He always remains positive. Even though we didn't score much, he said, 'We will give our best, we won't look at the scoreboard. We will give it our best shot and then if we lose, it doesn't matter.' It obviously helps your team if your leader is so calm and gives you positive vibes.
"He had said that we're not going to focus on the situation of the match, we will just focus on our bowling. We'll keep trying to take wickets. That was the plan and it worked for us tonight."