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Match Analysis

The Sunrisers slump: Freak injuries, out-of-form stars and a nightmare two weeks

Ten days ago, they were flying with five consecutive wins. What has gone wrong since then?

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
How the tide turns. Ten days ago, Sunrisers Hyderabad were amid a purple patch. Five back-to-back wins after two big opening losses had not just revived their campaign, but gave them the thrust to make the playoffs.
For a side smarting from the debacle of 2021, this was the impetus they needed. That they were able to put themselves in such a position even without Kane Williamson coming to the party was an encouraging sign. His strike rate (96.13) among batters to have faced at least 150 balls this season is the worst.
For Sunrisers to have rebounded the way they did without their captain's contributions made one imagine the kind of force they would be when he hit form. Teams were beginning to get wary of them.
Almost everything was in sync. Bhuvneshwar Kumar's control upfront: check. T Natarajan's death bowling: check. Marco Jansen's bounce and hustle: check. Umran Malik's thunderbolts: check. Rahul Tripathi's cameos: check. From slow starters, they'd become pace setters.
Their early-season troubles seemed to have dissipated. They were cruising to such an extent that their seat belts had loosened.
And then, without any warning signs, they endured a sudden drop. The ones that send you shuddering. The same bowlers who had been a menacing force were suddenly leaking runs.
In their first seven games, Sunrisers went at an economy of 7.99 and averaged 19.80. Over the last four games, they've gone at an economy of 10, while averaging 61.54. This drastic drop in numbers has also come about due to their bowling combinations going haywire.
Natarajan's familiar injury woes have resurfaced. There has been no official confirmation, but the word is the troubled knee is giving him headaches. The same knee that forced him out of action for a nearly a year, having him rehabilitate for six months. The timing hasn't been kind either.
Natarajan is fourth on the list of wicket-takers as on Sunday. His 17 wickets in nine games have come at an average of 17.82 and an economy of 8.65. If you can pick the kind of wickets he has, captains aren't worried about the high economy, and Natarajan was giving them key wickets.
Then came Washington's injury, something that has riddled him for over a year now. His career was meant to take off post the heroics of Australia last year, much like Natarajan's. Instead, he has spent more time looking at X-rays and rehabilitation reports. Hamstrings, knee, ankle, finger, webbing - he has endured pain through all.
Early in the season, he split a webbing that forced him out of action for 10 days. He returned and got hit in the same region, resulting in him missing the last two games. In the game against Chennai Super Kings on May 1, he didn't bowl a single over.
"It's very unfortunate that he had a knock on the same hand where he split his webbing," Moody said after the Super Kings game. "It had healed completely but he re-injured that area. It's not injured to the point that he needs it re-stitched. But unfortunately, it wasn't in a state where he could bowl. It really did have an impact on for us in that early phase of bowling, given he has such a critical bowler for us."
With Washington out, in came Shreyas Gopal, only to be left out one game after getting tonked for four sixes in a single over. On Sunday, they went back to J Suchith's left-arm spin. From the outside, it appears as if they're trying everything they can, but things aren't working.
Then there's the case of Jansen. Moody likes the bounce and pace he brings to the fore, but on docile surfaces, he has struggled with his lengths, allowing batters to hit him through the line without any fuss. Against the Super Kings, his four wicketless overs went for 38. A game earlier, against Gujarat Titans, he was walloped for the most expensive figures this season: 4-0-63-0, the same game where Malik picked up a five-for in a losing cause.
Jansen's dip in form forced them to look at Sean Abbott, but he went for 47 in his lone outing. Kartik Tyagi, who impressed two seasons ago for Rajasthan Royals with raw pace, has lacked consistency, and Malik himself has been carted for plenty even as pundits continue to gush about his raw pace - for good reason too, he clocked the fastest ball of IPL 2022. Bhuvneshwar's excellence hasn't been able to mask such gaping holes in the bowling.
It's no coincidence that they've conceded scores of 207, 202 and 199 coming into Sunday's game. Royal Challengers Bangalore, who slumped to 68 all out the last time these two sides met, paid them back in kind this time, walloping 192 against a sloppy Sunrisers unit that dropped three catches, including one of Dinesh Karthik, who smashed an eight-ball 30.
Add to it the memories of David Warner's bruising, Glenn Maxwell's reverse slaps, Ruturaj Gaikwad's artistry and Devon Conway's industry - the last couple of weeks have been the stuff nightmares are made of for the Sunrisers. Four losses in row after that inspired mid-season run leaves them in do-or-die territory.
That their slump has come about because of cracks in their stronger suit will disappoint them even more. Do they have it in them to fuel another late dash to the playoffs?

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo