David Warner has linked up with Australia for their World Cup preparations. He has left Sunrisers Hyderabad on the doorstep of the IPL playoffs, but also faced with a difficult choice to make: strengthen the batting or the bowling?
The difficulty is compounded by the exits of Jonny Bairstow - with whom Warner forged a stunning opening partnership - and allrounder Shakib Al Hasan, who has now joined Bangladesh for a tri-series. And with them has gone the flexibility that could have allowed Sunrisers to play around with their combination. What are the options now?
On the face of it, Martin Guptill is as close a replacement for Warner that there is in the squad. He has four T20 hundreds, averages 33, and goes at a healthy strike rate of 128.53. His T20I numbers for New Zealand are even better, with a marginally higher average and a strike rate in excess of 130.
However, Guptill is yet to master the IPL. He has only one fifty in ten games and while his strike rate hovers around the 130s, his average drops dramatically to 21. All this is for two teams, Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab, across two seasons. Perhaps, therein lies the reason for his underwhelming returns: he hasn't had a consistent run. The question for Sunrisers is whether picking a lesser batsman and shoring up the bowling would bring them closer to the strength of the team of which Warner was a part, or is Guptill good enough?
Filling the void at the top of the order isn't Sunrisers' only concern. Their bowling has lacked the penetration of old this season. Last year, Sunrisers were the best bowling side with a total of 105 wickets, and more stunningly, restricted oppositions under 150 on eight occasions, four of those while defending totals of not over 151. In the three of the four matches that Billy Stanlake played and Sunrisers won, they bowled first and kept oppositions to totals of 125, 147 and 138. He took five wickets across those three matches, his ability to generate steep bounce at searing pace proving an ideal foil for Bhuvneshwar Kumar's swing.
However, roping Stanlake in unfurls a new set of problems such as finding an opening partner for Wriddhiman Saha who isn't called Martin Guptill.
What about Williamson?
What made bolstering the bowling easier in Warner's absence last year was the presence of a consistent performer like Shikhar Dhawan at the top. So, even as Saha struggled to come to grips with his new role and then picked up an injury too, Sunrisers had the reliability of Dhawan at the other end. As things stand, Kane Williamson could play that role, particularly with Manish Pandey finding form at No. 3. Williamson opened the batting on three occasions last year, the 51-ball 84 against Chennai Super Kings his most telling contribution from that position.
Also, with Pandey having locked the No. 3 spot, Williamson could slip further down the order if he doesn't open, which, though, would be a waste of a player of his calibre.
Who are the other options?
More left-field opening options include wicketkeeper Shreevats Goswami, local batsman Ricky Bhui, and Rashid Khan. Goswami, the most viable among those, opened thrice last year, including the first qualifier and the final. It didn't start too badly for him either, as he struck 35 off 26 balls in a 79-run opening stand with Dhawan against Kolkata Knight Riders. But he was dismissed cheaply in both the big matches against Chennai Super Kings in Mumbai.
Bhui had one outing as opener last year in Hyderabad, where he bagged a five-ball duck. Rashid hasn't batted higher than No. 5 in T20s but there's no doubt he has ability to hit big and takes his batting seriously. Useful cameos down the order are never a surprise from him but in a recent ODI series against Ireland in Dehradun, he showed that he is capable of much more.