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Tripathi the link at No. 3 that SRH had been missing

In successfully chasing 215 against Punjab Kings, SRH have ticked their last remaining box ahead of the IPL 2024 playoffs

Vishal Dikshit
Vishal Dikshit
19-May-2024
Rahul Tripathi was the aggressor in the powerplay, Sunrisers Hyderabad vs Punjab Kings, IPL 2024, Hyderabad, May 19, 2024

Rahul Tripathi was the aggressor in the powerplay for SRH  •  BCCI

Are Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) in IPL 2024 what South Africa were at the ODI World Cup last year?
SRH could have started to feel like that.
No, not because of the presence of Aiden Markram and Henrich Klaasen in their squad.
But because SRH have been shredding those record books and redefining T20 batting by scoring 250 as frequently as South Africa had been going past 350 just before and during the 2023 World Cup. But… all batting first.
At the World Cup, South Africa went down to Netherlands chasing 246, managed to crawl over the line with just one wicket in hand while chasing 271 against Pakistan, and crashed to 83 all out after India posted 326.
SRH had sometimes been like a T20 version of that. Before Sunday, they had crossed the 200-run mark five times this IPL but four of those had come batting first. The biggest total they had posted while chasing was 204 in a loss against Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) right at the start of their campaign. When Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) posted 206 batting first, SRH managed 171; when Chennai Super Kings (CSK) put up 212, SRH were skittled for 134.
The pressure of chasing 200-plus targets seemed to be giving SRH the jitters despite having such belligerence in their batting line-up, and they headed into Sunday's game against Punjab Kings (PBKS) with the record of not having successfully chased a 200-plus target this season.
Were they over-relying on their openers? Was not having a settled No. 3 hurting them?
After Travis Head, their leading run-scorer this season, fell on the first ball of their 215-run chase against PBKS, Rahul Tripathi - who had not played for over a month, walked out at No. 3 for just his third innings of IPL 2024. Was he the right man for the job?
Tripathi started with two delicate dabs - one along the ground past point and another over short third - for fours in his first three balls with such nonchalance that it would have taken some pressure off Abhishek Sharma at the other end. Tripathi's ability was never in doubt, and when he went 6, 4 and 4 in the next over, it was clear that he wasn't there merely to pass the strike to the in-form Abhishek. Even before Abhishek had hit his first boundary, Tripathi had waltzed his way to 23 off ten balls. By the fifth over, Abhishek had also taken off and when Tripathi managed to swat a no-ball from Harshal Patel over fine leg for six, his strike rate had nearly touched 200.
"Losing Travis first ball provides the opportunity for someone else to take the game on and Rahul Tripathi did that brilliantly," James Franklin, SRH's fast-bowling coach, said at the press conference. "He hasn't played a game for a wee while so to come out and assert himself the way he did and create that partnership he did with Abhishek was brilliant, and got us ahead of the run rate in terms of chasing down a pretty big score."
He fell in that same Harshal over for 33 off 18 but perhaps after having made the No. 3 spot his own for the playoffs, ahead of Mayank Agarwal.
Tripathi showed that he could score almost as quickly as the openers and that he has always had the ability to stem a collapse if the situation asked him to. To add to that, in Nitish Kumar Reddy, the find of the season for SRH, they have another sound batter to consolidate should they face a top-order collapse.
Abhishek, meanwhile, continued to find the ropes after the powerplay. He went after Harshal - the top wicket-taker of the season - to bring up a 21-ball fifty and his back-to-back sixes off Harpreet Brar took his tally of sixes to 41 for this season, the most by an Indian batter in any IPL edition. What held even more promise for SRH was that it was Abhishek's second straight half-century, both while batting second, with strike rates of over 235 in each.
When Abhishek fell in the 11th over, he had taken his team way past the halfway mark of the chase to reduce the equation to a comfortable 86 off 59. Heinrich Klaasen and Reddy continued to belt sixes and even though neither closed out the chase - and Shahbaz Ahmed might still be looking for runs this month - SRH showed strong signs that they had regained their batting groove after a brief stutter in the middle of the season. It started with the jaw-dropping opening stand against Lucknow Super Giants (LSG), and with their best chase of this IPL sealed in the same manner that has fetched them buckets of runs batting first, they have ticked the last remaining box they had to before the playoffs.

Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo