They have incurred a topsy-turvy season, owing to a spate of injuries, but SunRisers Hyderabad bounced back when it mattered the most, winning four of their last five games including each of their last three. Royal Challengers Bangalore peaked high in the first half of the season, but crashed low towards the fag end losing all four of their games in IPL 2020. Yet on Friday, all these numbers won't matter, for one defeat, for either side, and their IPL journey will be over for this season.
It has been an impressive return from SunRisers Hyderabad who lost Shakib Al Hasan to an international ban, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mitchell Marsh to injuries, minor injuries ruled out Vijay Shankar and Kane Williamson for a considerable period, all affecting their ability to find a solid and balanced playing XI, until the last three games when Jonny Bairstow was replaced with unheralded Wriddhiman Saha in a bid to bring back Williamson in the middle order and an all-rounder in Jason Holder with the pitches turning slow. And these new inclusions did not just lead to SRH's victory, it made them the team to beat. In the last three games, they defeated Delhi Capitals, RCB and table-toppers Mumbai Indians to reach the playoffs.
Despite their resurgence, the area that still stands as a huge question for SRH is their lower middle order. After Holder, there isn't any batter that could press for runs or boundaries in the death overs where SRH's performances has been the worst.
Bangalore showcased their most "balanced" side since 2016 leaving their fans in awe as they moved inch by inch closer to their first playoffs since 2016. But towards the back end of the league stage, they began to fade away. Devdutt Padikkal looked impressive, but only in the powerplays and is yet to put up a big score, the batting lineup has once again shown over-reliance on AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli, and Chris Morris seems to have faded away. These factors have been the key reason behind their four defeats in a row.
Amid these issues stand their struggle in the middle-over, especially against the spinners. RCB have a scoring rate of just 7.14 between overs 7 and 15, the worst among all eight teams and struggle to get going against the spinners with a scoring rate of 7.17, the second-worst after Chennai Super Kings (7.08).
Jonny Bairstow and David Warner were all crickets fans could talk about all through IPL 2019. The two opposite ends of the Ashes rivalry, had come together to form an unlikely pair which did not just tear part record books with their century stands but also left curious fans gasping for the secret behind the success of 'this' pair. However, SunRisers Hyderabad failed to reap similar benefits this season with both the batters blowing hot and cold, barring a 160-run stand against Kings XI Punjab early in the season in Dubai. Yet the franchise persisted, and why not, knowing that it was their only batting hope amid a spate of injuries that harmed their middle order combination. But with their backs against the wall, SRH made a brave call, replacing Jonny Bairstow with unheralded Wriddhiman Saha and the gamble handsomely paid off.
Bairstow did little wrong on his part. He scored 345 runs in 11 innings this season at 31.36 and a strike rate of 126.83 with three half-century knocks. But SRH were more eager to fit in an all-rounder with Jason Holder warming the bench, as head coach Treyvor Bayliss explained, and get in Kane Williamson in to solidify the middle order with the pitches turning slow.
"Kane [Williamson] has been batting very well for us when available, and obviously the other overseas is the captain [David Warner] so, Jonny was the odd one out on this occasion. But look, with the way Jonny plays, I’m sure he will play a lot more," Bayliss was quoted by Metro News.
SRH's only like-for-like replacement for Bairstow was Saha, who is more of a specialist keeper, a rare breed in T20 cricket. But those who have followed IPL avidly over the years will know that Saha has an a good striker of the ball, especially in the powerplays. His career IPL strike rate (138.2) is better than that of Chris Gayle (135), KL Rahul (132.7), Warner (138). And he proved is yet again this season with his knocks of 87 off 45, 39 off 32 and 58* off 45 in the three innings he played as an opener for SRH. His strike rate during this matches during the powerplay was 220.0, 140.0, and 164.7 respectively.
And how did it help SRH? They got their old Warner back.
In the first 10 games he opened for SRH, Warner's strike rate in the powerplays was 113.7 and overall was 127.6. With Saha's inclusion, Warner's corresponding strike rates increased to 176 and 163.9 with the Aussis scoring 159 runs with two half-centuries.
Not only so, the scoring rate of 8.23 of the Warner-Bairstow opening pair this season, increased to 9.51 for Saha and Warner who so far scored 268 runs in 169 balls in three innings. Against Delhi Capitals, the pair scored a 107-run partnership in 58 balls and then single-handedly pulled off the entire target of 151 against Mumbai Indians.
Saha's free-flowing strokeplay seemed to have helped Warner rediscover himself and return to his aggressive self which has once again strengthened AH's top-order batting. With Williamson and Manish Pandey to follow and Holder as finisher, SRH look at set to emulate their 2016 feat.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Kane Williamson, David Warner (c), Jonny Bairstow (wk), Manish Pandey, Mohammad Nabi, Priyam Garg, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Virat Singh, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Basil Thampi, Abhishek Sharma, Billy Stanlake, Sandeep Sharma, Shahbaz Nadeem, Shreevats Goswami, Siddarth Kaul, K Khaleel Ahmed, T Natarajan, Mitchell Marsh, Bavanaka Sandeep, Fabian Allen, Abdul Samad, Sanjay Yadav, Rashid KhanBench
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Virat Kohli (c), AB de Villiers, Parthiv Patel (wk), Aaron Finch, Josh Philippe, Chris Morris, Moeen Ali, Mohammed Siraj, Shahbaz Ahmed, Devdutt Padikkal, Yuzvendra Chahal, Navdeep Saini, Dale Steyn, Pawan Negi, Isuru Udana, Shivam Dube, Umesh Yadav, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, Washington Sundar, Pavan Deshpande, Adam Zampa.
Match starts 7.30 pm IST.