Bhuvneshwar Kumar had picked up wickets at a consistency friendlier to the runs batsmen score in the slam-bang T20 cricket of the IPL. With 25 wickets, he had left his competitors in the top wicket-takers’ list behind.
The new ball had swung as if on drugs when released from Bhuvneshwar’s perfect wrist position. Once the ball was older, he targeted the feet of the batsmen with precision that could put a hawk to shame. He had built muscle, he had bowled at pace and he had for the second season in a row been the bowler most batsmen wanted to avoid.
It was early Thursday morning by the time Bhuvneshwar had the ball back in his hand in the Eliminator against the Kolkata Knight Riders. Rain in Bangalore had meant the start of the second innings of a game that commenced on Wednesday evening had been pushed by over three hours. It also meant that Sunrisers Hyderabad had a meagre 48 to defend in six overs in order to continue their title defence. Most importantly, it required another spell of magic from the swing bowler from Uttar Pradesh.
For a moment, around 1 am on Thursday, the fans of SRH believed in Bhuvneshwar’s magic. He had the dangerous Chris Lynn caught behind, and followed it up by running out Yusuf Pathan on the next delivery.
But the successive wickets later, when captain David Warner and Bhuvneshwar met by the pitch side, the celebrations were not intimidating or in-your-face. They were subdued, capped off by a quick high-five and a piece of advice from the captain to his bowler.
Warner and Bhuvneshwar were, perhaps, aware that despite the momentary hope that floated, their season had slipped by with the Bangalore rain.
The two of them had been the Sunrisers’ warriors that had shone the brightest throughout the season. While Bhuvneshwar had bamboozled the batsmen with his movement and accuracy, Warned had annihilated the opposition bowlers with his blade. 641 runs placed him atop the batting charts this IPL season, with Gautam Gambhir in second, 155 runs behind.
With the league’s highest wicket-taker and run-getter among their ranks, SRH would have been expected to make it to the final at least. But their brilliance with the bat at the top of the order and their threat with the ball had been deflated by a below-par middle and lower order that appeared to be out of gas throughout the season.
On Thursday too, SRH had a platform to launch for after the strong start from the top order had carried them to 75 for one. But, like has been the case throughout the season, the rest of their batsmen carried the self-destruct button along. All the defending champions could eventually manage was 128 for seven, which was marred further by rain and led them to their exit.
Shikhar Dhawan and Warner, in particular, had laid the foundations for Hyderabad’s victories over the Royal Challengers Bangalore and Gujarat Lions in their opening couple of games.
SRH then travelled to the batting paradise called the Wankhede. After Warner and Dhawan had taken them to 81 for one and 105 for two, all the remaining batsmen could muster was another 53 runs.
A target of 159 on a belter was not going to be enough even for the magnificence of Bhuvneshwar, who scalped three wickets. Next match too when the middle order was called upon in pursuit of Kolkata’s 172, they found ways of returning to the pavilion as the team fell short by 17 runs.
The defeat that would have hurt the most would be the one they succumbed to against the Rising Pune Supergiant at home. 149 should be a stroll in the park, but SRH made it appear like a marathon and fell short by 12 runs.
In hindsight, Warner and Bhuvneshwar were the protagonists who stood out for SRH. Warner had Dhawan to keep him company with a decent show of 479 runs. Like last season, the duo had been rock-solid at the top for the men from Hyderabad.
Bhuvneshwar had the sublimely effective left-arm cutters of Mustafizur Rahman last season. This year, he found a new ally in the leg-spin of Rashid Khan. So good were the variations of the Afghanistan spinner that not only did it validate the SRH’s policy to back little-known players, it resigned Mustafizur — the star from last year — to the bench for all but one game.
Mohammad Nabi’s tight off-spinners whenever called upon in the few games that he played further strengthened Hyderabad’s decision to go for the less illustrious but mighty effective players that not a lot of other franchises would opt for.
At the same time, Moises Henriques’ bowling stood out as a major disappointment as the Portugal-born Australian all-rounder could strike only once. He was consistent with the bat, but leaked runs with the ball.
While Siddharth Kaul and Mohammad Siraj tried to fill in for the void left by Henriques’ poor form and Ashish Nehra’s absence because of fitness issues for most of the IPL, they could not consistently win games on their own for SRH.
Kaul with his knuckle-ball slower delivery and Siraj with his aggression showcased flashes of brilliance but could not take the team to victory in games that were left half-baked by their middle and lower-order’s indifferent batting.
Similarly, Yuvraj Singh could have made up for their weakness in the lower half of their batting unit, but was a silent figure in the middle part of the tournament. His strong start and finish, though, rolled back the clock for supporters of Indian cricket.
Kane Williamson capitalised on the few opportunities he had to emerge as one of the best batsmen in the world currently. While Williamson, along with Warner and Dhawan, comprised of a cracking top-order, it was one that played with utmost caution.
Throughout the season, SRH had one of the worse run-rates in the powerplay. Maybe, more power down the order would have allowed Warner & Co to play with greater freedom at the top. And, with it, Warner’s 126 against the Knight Riders may not have been the only instance when a Hyderabad batsmen blazed away to a century.
Yet, when the curtains fell on the Sunrisers’ season on Thursday morning, the Bangalore rain had played its part in it. Not once, but twice.
In the Eliminator, the rain had made a mockery of an already mediocre total. But, more importantly, it had robbed SRH of a possible victory against a demoralised Royal Challengers Bangalore outfit earlier in the season.
The rain had forced a no-result, which meant Bangalore and Hyderabad shared a point each. A victory then would have handed Warner’s men an additional point, which would have placed them above Pune after the league stage.
A second-place finish would have handed SRH two shots at making the final. But, it was not to be. Maybe, their lacklustre lower-order batting itself did not warrant them a shot to defend their title. Next year, when the teams undergo an overhaul, SRH will hope to beef up their all-round batting prowess.