IPL 2022: Why Sunrisers Hyderabad are losing and how they can turn things around

In Monday’s match, it was difficult to separate Sunrisers Hyderabad and Lucknow Super Giants after nineteen overs into their respective innings. Lucknow, 152/4, added 17 to their total, thanks to some hitting from Ayush Badoni and Jason Holder against Romario Shepherd. Two hours later, Holder himself came to bowl at 154/4: he conceded three runs and took three wickets to seal the game for Lucknow.

While an improvement on the 61-run defeat against the Rajasthan Royals, the 12-run margin of defeat is still substantial in a T20. After finishing eighth out of eight teams in 2021, Hyderabad now languish at tenth place out of ten teams this season.

Sunrisers Hyderabad have lost both their opening matches at the start of IPL 2022 and sit bottom of the standings. Image: Sportzpics

To understand what has gone wrong, one must understand how Hyderabad tried to rebuild their team this year.

Until last year, a Hyderabad XI almost always featured David Warner, Jonny Bairstow, and Kane Williamson in the top four. This seems formidable, and worked often, but with Rashid Khan being indispensable, their overseas slots became filled. Thus, if they had to play Jason Holder or Mohammad Nabi to bolster their bowling or middle order, they had to leave out Bairstow or Williamson, leaving them one batter short.

So, they were forced to acquire two specific types of Indian cricketers: middle-order batters and seam bowlers.

This was not sustainable. While the Indian talent pool is deeper than it has ever been, they are also distributed more or less evenly across the teams. There was no immediate way for Hyderabad to find strong, all-Indian middle orders or pace attacks.

At the 2022 mega auction, they decided to have more diverse overseas cricketers. Of the three top-order stars, only Williamson remained. They got Nicholas Pooran and pushed Aiden Markram down the order. They still had their three overseas batters, but they were spread out across the order.

This left gaps, which they plugged in Rahul Tripathi (who struck at 140 in 2021) and two outstanding young talents, Abhishek Sharma and Abdul Samad, both of whom can hit big as well as bowl (as can Markram). Add Washington Sundar and an overseas all-rounder to the mix, and the batting line-up looks formidable.

Unfortunately, it backfired not once but twice. Against a target of 170, Williamson probably backed himself to play out the Lucknow seamers. One can understand the logic. Fast bowlers, particularly with the new ball, have been devastating at times – and who better than Williamson to weather the initial storm?

That, however, does not explain Williamson opening the batting against Rajasthan, where Hyderabad needed to chase 211. He was in outstanding touch in 2017 and 2018 (winning the Orange Cap in the latter), but has been neither consistent nor prolific since then.

While there is little doubt regarding Williamson’s class, it cannot be denied that he has not been the same batter in the IPL since 2019. To compound matters, injuries had kept him away from competitive cricket for over months before the IPL.

Opening batting with a batter who has not been at his best in the tournament was probably not a great move. Who, then, are the candidates?

Markram, a bona fide Test opener, is an option. There is some merit in using him down the order to produce finishing touches. He does not have a great IPL record, but in T20Is, he struck at 149 in 2021. That number shot up to 318 runs at 161 when he batted in the top three.

However, pushing Markram to the top and batting Williamson at three may push Hyderabad to the familiar top-heavy conundrum they faced until last season, particularly if Pooran is set to bat at four. Perhaps the best option is to take a punt with Tripathi, who strikes at 139 in the Powerplay in the IPL, and Sharma, followed by the three overseas batters.

But a batting order tweak may not resolve the problem. Hyderabad had conceded 210 against Rajasthan, which had nothing to do with their batting. Their bowlers seemed to do better against Lucknow, but it was not enough.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar was in form in India’s home season, and has done a decent job in the IPL. Sundar is the best spinner of the squad. And unless something drastic happens, Umran Malik’s extra pace makes him a near-automatic selection. They are backed by T Natarajan and Romario Shepherd, excellent T20 specialist seamers but not strike bowlers.

Rajasthan, who sit at the top of the table, have a long tail. Even then, they did back themselves to play five specialist bowlers, two of them – Navdeep Saini and Prasidh Krishna – of genuine pace. Gujarat Lions persisted with Mohammed Shami, Lockie Ferguson, and Rashid Khan, while Umesh Yadav, Tim Southee, Sunil Narine, and Varun C. will soon be joined by Pat Cummins at the Kolkata Knight Riders.

The top three sides in the tournament also have bowling attacks with most strike bowlers. Hyderabad’s bowling strategy, on the other hand, has been largely defensive. One cannot help but wonder why Kartik Tyagi and Marco Jansen, both genuine quicks, have been left out twice in a row.

While being primarily a bowler, Shepherd’s USP is his ability to hit boundaries (he strikes at 155 in all T20s). But Hyderabad use him too low down the order. In both matches, it was almost too late by the time he could demonstrate his six-hitting prowess. Jansen’s height, angle, and extra pace may provide the breakthroughs, thus restricting the opposition to lower scores. This will lead to Hyderabad missing out on Shepherd’s batting, but Hyderabad will certainly have the better bowler.

Another argument can be made for Tyagi for Natarajan. Left-arm fast bowlers have traditionally done well in the format, but if Jansen is in the side, the management may opt for Tyagi’s extra pace for Natarajan’s left-arm yorkers. Defensive bowling has worked for teams in the past, just not in this IPL.

Just like the Oakland Athletics of 2002, Sunrisers Hyderabad lack ‘stars’ in 2022. And just like the Athletics in 2002, they, too, have had a poor start to the season. Perhaps a turnaround is not far away.

Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor at CricketNews and co-author of Sachin and Azhar at Cape Town.

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