Shikhar Dhawan resorted to an inspirational quote from the ‘Iron Lady’ to seek motivation. Ahead of the IPL Qualifier 2 at Eden Gardens on Friday, the Sunrisers Hyderabad opener posted a tweet, saying: “down but NOT OUT.com’on @SunRisers, lets do this for our fans #orangearmy”. The picture that accompanied the tweet had a quote from the late Margaret Thatcher: “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it”.
Four losses on the spin have suddenly made Sunrisers jittery. There’s a school thought that they peaked a little too early as a team. Kane Williamson and company had six wins on the bounce at one stage, which helped them secure top-of-the-table finish. The opportunity to have a second bite at the cherry has kept Sunrisers in the contest, despite a sharp dip in form of late.
Uncertainties seemed to have trickled down to the skipper as well. Williamson had been outstanding with his captaincy throughout the group phase. Against Chennai Super Kings in the Qualifier 1, however, he erred at the death. Bringing on Carlos Brathwaite in the 18th over — Sandeep Sharma still had an over in the bag — against a well-set Faf du Plessis proved calamitous. Siddarth Kaul bowling to Shardul Thakur in the 19th, with the third man and fine leg up, and long-on and long-off back defied logic. The mistakes cost Sunrisers a direct route to the final.
Williamson the batsman, however, is going through a purple patch, as his tally of 685 runs in 15 matches at a strike-rate of 143.60 would attest. Problem is that Sunrisers have become a little too reliant on their skipper, batting-wise. In the return-leg group fixture against Kolkata Knight Riders, the ‘Orange Army’ slumped from 127/2 in the 13th over, when Williamson got out, to 172/9 after 20. Against CSK, Williamson scored 24 and his team teetered at 88/6 before a whirlwind Brathwaite knock gave the total some respectability.
A lot will depend on how Dhawan handles the KKR spinners tomorrow. The opener has four half-centuries this term, but he is not quite high-octane yet. The Eden surface had been deliberately kept a little drier to assist the KKR spinners during their home group league matches this season. Although a neutral curator, the BCCI East Zone curator Ashish Bhowmick, is supervising pitch preparations for the playoffs and the frequency of watering has increased, it’s a little too late to drastically change the character of the surface. The ball will grip here and it could even be a little two-paced. Dhawan, however, has the ability to neutralise the spin threat.
Manish Pandey’s form has flickered like a candle flame. The middle-order batsman hasn’t yet lived up to his Rs 11 core price tag. Sunrisers arguably have the best bowling attack in the tournament. But the bowlers can’t always defend below par scores or restrict the opponents to modest totals. In a virtual semifinal, Pandey needs to step up to provide the middle-order X-factor.
KKR have bounced back spectacularly following their heavy defeat against Mumbai Indians. They go to the Qualifier 2 on the heels of four successive victories. A settled team with multiple X-factors in Dinesh Karthik, Andre Russell and Sunil Narine. But the team management is revelling in the rise of the greenhorns.
Krishna makes a mark
Under the pump against Rajasthan Royals on Wednesday, Shubman Gill showed maturity beyond his years. Prasidh Krishna, who started the tournament as a net bowler, has now made himself almost undroppable, coming in as the injured Kamlesh Nagarkoti’s replacement. He bowled the last over against Sunrisers at Uppal, gave away four runs and took three wickets. Against Royals yesterday, he returned for his second spell in the 18th over, kept a big-hitter like Heinrich Klaasen in check and took the game away from the opposition.
Little wonder then that KKR bowling coach Heath Streak compared the callow medium pacer’s progress with Jasprit Bumrah’s rise. “He (Krishna) has been outstanding. He has brought a new dimension to the team, not just his pace, but also his height. The most pleasing thing to see is how much of a thinking cricketer he is. He is really being smart and using his options and variations well. He is using the double bluffs. That 18th over yesterday was world-class and it reminds me of guys like Jasprit Bumrah, who came on the scene doing exactly what he is doing. He is one of those names the IPL has unearthed and he is making a name for himself.”
KKR’s bowling had been a little scratchy in the first half of the tournament. Krishna is a reason why things have gradually become well-rounded.
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