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Feature

How Sandeep Sharma, Jason Holder and David Warner led Sunrisers Hyderabad's comeback

From being seventh not so long ago, the Sunrisers Hyderabad turned it around to finish third in the league stage

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
05-Nov-2020
Sunrisers finished the league phase with wins over the top three sides  •  BCCI

Sunrisers finished the league phase with wins over the top three sides  •  BCCI

At one stage in IPL 2020, the Sunrisers Hyderabad were lurking at the seventh place with just three wins from nine games. They were also hit by a spate of injuries to their key players: Mitchell Marsh was ruled out in the very first match, Bhuvneshwar Kumar after four matches, Kane Williamson was in and out while Vijay Shankar picked up niggles. Then, to book a playoff spot, they needed to win their last three league matches against the top three teams on the points table.
And, yet, somehow everything fell into place for David Warner's men. They not only beat the Delhi Capitals, the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Mumbai Indians in successive matches but also did it so comprehensively that by the end of the league stage, they were positioned third.
Here's a look at the factors that have helped the Sunrisers turn their campaign around.
Finding the right combination
A big factor in a team's success in the IPL is how quickly they can find their best XI. It took the Sunrisers nine matches. And even then it was more by accident than design.
When Williamson pulled out injured for the match against the Rajasthan Royals, the Sunrisers were left with no other option than to play Jason Holder. Playing his first IPL match in four years, Holder made an instant impact by picking up three wickets and effecting a run-out as the Sunrisers went on to win by eight wickets.
Holder's performance meant he was there to stay. Once Williamson was fit, he couldn't be left out either given the Sunrisers' fragile middle order. Therefore, the Sunrisers had to replace Jonny Bairstow with Wriddhiman Saha and that's how they stumbled upon their best combination.
The Holder effect
Holder was in the middle of a vacation when he was called up as a replacement for the injured Marsh. He didn't get a game straightaway but once he made it to the playing XI, he benefitted the side in more than one ways.
After Bhuvneshwar was ruled out of the tournament with a hamstring injury, the Sunrisers were looking for someone to lead their pace attack. Holder filled that void. With Abdul Samad not living up to the expectations, the Sunrisers wanted someone to shore up their lower-order batting. Holder put his hand up.
With the ball, Holder has picked up ten wickets from five games at an economy of 7.90. With the bat, his decisive 26 not out off ten balls saw the Sunrisers over the line in a tricky chase against the Royal Challengers.
Sandeep bowling three overs in powerplay
Of all the Holder benefits, arguably the biggest one is him taking care of the death overs along with T Natarajan. That allowed the Sunrisers to use Sandeep Sharma's three overs upfront, a move that has worked wonders.
Sandeep's ability to swing the new ball both ways at an annoying pace fetched the Sunrisers good returns in the powerplay. His effectiveness was further augmented by his canny use of the knuckle ball and the slowing nature of the pitches in the second half of the tournament. In his first six games, Sandeep had three powerplay wickets at a strike rate of 26. In the last five, he has six at a strike rate of 15.
Wickets in the powerplay mean Sandeep not only got big names out but also got them out cheaply: Shikhar Dhawan for 0, Virat Kohli for 7 and Rohit Sharma for 4, among others. In terms of most wickets in the powerplay this season, he is behind only Trent Boult and Jofra Archer.
Warner back to his aggressive best
All the above factors helped the Sunrisers stay competitive but the one which rammed the advantage home was Warner rediscover his mojo.
In the first ten games of the tournament, Warner had 335 runs at an average of 41.87 and a strike rate of 124.07. Decent numbers for an anchor but not for someone who is supposed to set the tone. Compare them to his last four outings: 194 runs at an average of 64.66 with a strike rate of 165.81. That's the Warner the Sunrisers were missing.
What liberated him? Opening up his front leg and going all out to find some runs on the pitches that were getting slower and slower. That decision could have also stemmed from having Williamson and Holder down the order. Either way, the Sunrisers aren't complaining.
Saha striking with the bat
Replacing Bairstow with Saha was a brave decision, because who separates as prolific an opening pair as Warner and Bairstow had been in the last season. However, it paid off handsomely.
In the IPL, Saha has been one of the best strikers of the ball in the powerplay and he proved it once again with the knocks of 87 off 45, 39 off 32 and 58* off 45 in the last three innings. With Warner at his aggressive best at the other end, there was no respite for the bowlers.
Against the Capitals, Warner and Saha added 107 in just 9.4 overs to set the platform for a formidable total. Two games later, the two chased down 150 against the Mumbai Indians all by themselves.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo