Has the Sun Set for the Sunrisers?

After five consecutive years in the Play-Offs, Sunrisers Hyderabad look set to miss out this year. With a team anchored to the bottom of the IPL, it feels as if this is an end of sorts for the franchise. Naturally, you start to think about what has caused this painful decline.

Current State

The place to start is to look at the current state of affairs. Quite simply what do you see when you look at Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2021?

The elephant in the room right now is David Warner. If you look at SRH’s run since 2016, his contribution immediately stands out. In 2016 he scored the second most runs, he got the third most in 2020, and he snagged the orange cap in 2017 and 2019. In the simplest terms possible, Sunrisers had a man capable of starting games with a bang.

Usually, I’m hesitant to put too much stock in the orange cap. Often it can benefit openers who play in a slightly more conservative style, opting for wicket preservation over all-out attack. Peak Warner has to be treated differently. When at the height of his ability, David Warner is able to effectively win games within the first half of an innings.

At the top of the order, Sunrisers have grown to rely on one man capable of performing miracles. With a high volume of runs at a rapid rate, Warner is capable of carrying a batting order.

The most obvious problem facing SRH, is what happens when Warner is not performing.

This was tested in 2018, when David Warner was absent amidst the ball-tampering scandal. Instead of disaster, Sunrisers simply found a new saviour. Kane Williamson scored a cool 735 runs, taking the orange cap, and also taking on the burden previously carried on a very stocky pair of Aussie shoulders.

But it is now in 2021 that it feels like we are seeing what in theory was always a risk. Without Warner playing well, Sunrisers are in an abject state.

As well as struggling to cope without Warner’s volume of runs, Sunrisers are struggling because of the fairly one note nature of their remaining batting attack. In the top and middle order they lack players who can bat with urgency and bat with aggression. They’ve become a cautionary tale for filling a team with similar, accumulator style players.

Slow starts this season have quickly turned into slow middles, slow middles have turned into slow ends. Sunrisers simply cannot bat to threaten.

On top of personnel issues, one could argue that SRH’s batting woes have been made worse by two selection issues.

One is the choice so far not to try out Jason Roy. If Warner is not scoring quickly or scoring at all, it might be worth rolling the dice with someone who will at least try the former. As a batter, Jason Roy can never be accused of dying wondering. At this point, it might be worth a go.

The other is the reluctance to bring Rashid Khan up the order. Rashid Khan has a daring array of shots, and does not hang around before he brings them out. SRH seem happy to limit him to cameos, but seem hesitant to give him more balls to face. Again, is a Sunil Narine pinch hitter gig not worth a go for the Sunrisers? Trying out Rashid Khan nearer the top should not be scoffed at quite yet.

That is not to say however, that Sunrisers do not already rely on Rashid Khan enough.

Indeed, here lies the other main issue of Sunrisers Hyderabad, their bowling attack.

Over the years, SRH have had multiple weapons to rely on. Rashid Khan is the one who very much still works.

Thousands of people have already used all the right words to describe Rashid Khan so there’s very little for me to add other than to state the very obvious fact that he’s brilliant. With his ability to make marginal adjustments to his spin, his ability to marry economy and wicket taking threat, he’s already one of the best ever.

Sunrisers have the problem right now that he’s all they have.

In past campaigns, SRH have had other options to threaten teams. Most obviously you have Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Bhuvi could probably get an orange to swing, and his bowling has long been a staple of SRH’s success. In their championship win, he took the most wickets of any bowler.

Aside from Bhuvi, you have had individually strong seasons from bowlers. 2016 saw Mustafizur Rahman’s slower ball mastery shine, and 2018 saw Siddarth Kaul rise to 3rd in the wicket-taking charts.

This season, Rashid is getting no such help. Bhuvneshwar is not hitting the levels that he has before, and the rest of the bowling attack is totally blunt. The danger with having only one bowler to fear is that it becomes a game in and of itself of simply seeing out those four overs.

If a team know that outside of Rashid Khan the bowling is pretty tame, they may look to avoid taking any chances against him and try to cash in against the other bowlers to make up any deficit created.

This looks as if it spells out a pretty glum end to the IPL campaign for Sunrisers Hyderabad. In the UAE, pitches so far look to offer pretty decent rewards for high pace bowling options. The likes of Anrich Nortje and Adam Milne have looked electric in the opening games, SRH have absolutely nothing to try and mirror this. Unless the pitches change and age to suit turn a little more, SRH may find themselves drowned in a wave of rapid bowlers.

So, what can Sunrisers do about any of this?

In the most reductive terms, they’re pretty fortunate to crumble in this year of all. January brings a Mega Auction, a lovely chance for a reset.

With harsher retention rules, teams can for the most part completely rearrange themselves. Sunrisers Hyderabad have a chance to stop the rot and come back next year as challengers.

In terms of retention, one can guess their plan. Build around Rashid Khan.

When a player exists who is both that young and that talented, you have to make them the centre of the team. First of all, give him a bowling attack to work with. Maybe a good Powerplay wicket taker, maybe a rapid enforcer in the middle overs. However you look at it, SRH need to find players to complement Rashid Khan. If you create a team with a consistent bowling threat, Rashid Khan will likely become even more effective. Gone will be the days of playing him out, as teams will no longer be able to afford to bunk off four overs.

In terms of batting, a sensible but tough decision has to be made. David Warner has been a fantastic servant, and is, in my books, one of the IPL’s greatest ever players. The question for SRH is whether or not they think he’s in a slump or a decline. I’m not qualified to make this assessment, but what I can say is that this is not the time to let sentimentality rule.

IPL franchises are often guilty of keeping popular players due to a sense of fan pressure and a sense of obligation. This is not how you rebuild, this is how you let the house fall down.

Due to the nature of the IPL, it’s very doable to turn a wayward ship around. Sunrisers simply have to identify their problems, and take appropriate action.

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