Sunrisers Hyderabad - Season Review
Played 14, Won 7, Lost 7.
L W L L W L W W L W W W L L.
If SRH had won their final league-stage match against MI, they would’ve finished second and played in Qualifier 1; as it was, they lost and finished sixth. Such fine margins between success and failure illustrate how competitive and tight the league was this season. However, their defeat against MI was utterly convincing and proved that SRH would’ve been flattered by a second-place finish, and yet you could say they were done a slight injustice by a sixth place finish. But even then it is hard to shake the feeling that looking at SRH’s performances and looking at their squad, over a longer season they would’ve failed to keep pace with the leading pack.
This season SRH were more than the sum of their parts. Any success that they had was generally dependent on overseas players, not Indian players, and such imbalance will always leave teams over-reliant on a smaller number of players. Essentially too many of SRH’s Indian players were either not good enough, played badly, or both.
While KXIP were arguably too rigid with their strategy, SRH were not helped by being too flexible. Given the importance of SRH’s overseas players to their team with such a poor choice of Indians, the balance of their selection of the overseas players defined their strategy and success, but at no point throughout the season did they settle on a combination for more than a couple of matches.
David Warner was the only certain overseas selection for SRH, leaving them to choose three from Kane Williamson, Eoin Morgan, Moises Henriques, Ravi Bopara, Trent Boult and Dale Steyn.
At this point it is worth bearing in mind the unwritten law of overseas players in the IPL: barring an overseas player being captain or a case of exceptional talent or form, overseas players should be picked as additions to the Indian core of a team, or, in absence of an Indian core, plugs for Indian gaps. The second half of that law certainly refers to SRH who, desperately short of an Indian core, ask a lot of their overseas players.
The Indian players who SRH were able to pick regularly, barring a case of poor form or injury, were Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Praveen Kumar and Karn Sharma as bowlers and, due to their lack of another option, Naman Ojha as wicket-keeper. This pitifully small number of Indian players demanding or ensured selection was essentially SRH’s fundamental problem. However, the overseas players at least gave them the ability to try and formulate a more rounded team.
This season however, SRH tried a number of combinations that lurched from no overseas bowlers at one extreme, which was them compensating for their lack of batsmen, to two overseas bowlers, which was them playing to their strengths. Neither strategy was necessarily awful, but in their urgency to find a successful combination they regularly alternated and changed the structure. Another unwritten rule of T20 is that stability breeds familiarity of roles and familiarity of roles breeds success. SRH didn’t adhere to that. In fact they did the opposite.
They weren’t helped by the fact that aside from Warner, and later Henriques, their overseas players weren’t nearly consistent enough to bail out the ineptitude of their Indian players. Morgan was desperately out of form and Kevin Pietersen opted out of the first three quarters and was then ruled out of the final quarter of the season with injury. Henriques and Bopara actually played well, but they aren’t all-rounders of the highest international quality, and expectations on them were probably lower as a result. Although it would’ve masked their true lack of depth, slightly better performances from some of their overseas players, specifically Morgan and Steyn, could’ve made the difference between a top four finish or not.
But more fundamental to SRH’s problems than their overseas players instability was simply their lack of quality Indian players, or the poor form of their Indian players.
The trio of Ojha, Lokesh Rahul and Hanuma Vihari scored just 318 runs between them in 23 innings. Ojha has only crossed 30 once in his last 27 IPL innings, while Rahul has a similar recent performance. Vihari has now played 22 IPL matches and averages just 15.55. All three players have been prolific in other formats of cricket but this season they were exposed as being horribly out of form, or perhaps, just not good enough at the IPL level.
Elsewhere in the team, bit-part all-rounders Ashish Reddy, Bipul Sharma and Parveez Rasool were all given a handful of matches and all of them did okay. Most IPL teams have their utility players and these are SRH’s. There’s an argument that all three of them should’ve played more often than they did, especially given that Karn Sharma, although effective, is pushed as a leading spinner.
Amongst the strategic confusion there were bright spots for SRH. Warner led by example superbly at the top of the order, while, after being persisted with, Henriques too found some good form with both bat and ball; Bopara also bowled some useful spells. But these are bright spots from overseas players. Rare is the team that can build genuine long-term success solely on performances from their international contingent.
Perhaps therefore the most encouraging aspect of a discouraging season was the performances of their bowling attack, which, although not exactly a hunting pack, remains one of the most potent in the league. Bhuveneshwar, who picked up 18 wickets, was one of the most effective death bowlers this season. However, other than him, the rest of the attack, Praveen, Boult, Steyn, Karn, and the all-rounders, were solid, or in some cases poor, rather than spectacular. No one bowler took more than three wickets in an innings and only three of them managed that haul. Steyn was notably disappointing, taking just three wickets from 19 overs. It was a shame that Chama Milind, who successfully took 17 wickets in the preceding Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, didn’t play a single match even though SRH made at least one personnel change in each of their 14 fixtures.
Despite ending the season a win away from second place, SRH need to be more busy in the transfer and auction market than any other team. They may have been close to a top four finish on paper but in reality, with this squad, with only two standout Indian players in Dhawan and Bhuvneshwar, they are a long way away from being a consistently strong team. Perhaps only half the squad should consider themselves safe from being released. Indeed, more than 50% of their Indian players could well find themselves back in the Auction pool early next year.
However, SRH must be careful as they can ill-afford to be fussy at the Auction as the IPL contract cycle enters its third and final year when free agents and non-contracted players are at their fewest.
Although overseas players should be used as additions to Indians, and SRH’s overseas players conspicuously underperformed this season, they are in no position to begin releasing them en masse at a time when there will be very few quality alternatives. Warner and Henriques should definitely be retained on the evidence of this season, while Williamson offers enough class to be retained and was criminally underused. Boult is one of the best swing bowlers in the world and SRH would be perhaps be foolish to release a player of Steyn’s experience on the back of one poor season. They need to keep the true quality and raw talent that they do have because they don't have much of it.
SRH’s priority should be targeting quality Indian players, with perhaps the exception of a couple of overseas signings, pursued with pragmatism at the auction itself. In essence, SRH are building their squad backwards, or upside down if you like, with overseas first, and Indians second.
Given that the supply of Indian players will be low in this third year of the contract cycle, SRH would be best served seeking to build their squad with a prevailing Moneyball, RR-KKR style approach, seeking to purchase undervalued and misunderstood players, else they’ll either be forced out of key signings by price, or rely on fortune and caprice at a traditionally irregular auction market. They are arguably looking for players for almost every position barring at the top of the order. They certainly need a new wicket-keeper, at least two middle-order batsmen, perhaps one all-rounder, definitely a second or leading spin bowler and possibly two seam bowlers, and that’s only really to bolster the starting eleven.
The only other option SRH have, other than a large-scale overhaul, is to place trust in many players who arguably don’t deserve it and use next season as a building season; one to test and try players with a stable consistent strategy before embarking on a larger-scale revamp. Given that this is the final year of the contract cycle there would be some sense in that, but at the same time if players have been proven to be not good enough or don’t fit, there seems little sense in sticking them. Improvement should be constant.
Many people felt the SRH had been the most successful team at the auction this year, purchasing star players such as Williamson, Boult and Pietersen, but the management hadn’t foreseen the weaknesses of the majority of their Indian players, and for that they are largely responsible for the struggles this season. Although Tom Moody is a coach with considerable international pedigree and a wise and astute judge of the modern game, questions should be asked of his future; certainly if he was heavily involved in the auction process and especially following a season in which SRH, however good of bad their squad, continually chopped and changed their strategy.
It may seem harsh to be so critical of a team who were within one victory of second place, but SRH are being naive if they think this season’s squad is sustainable. The biggest worry is that the future is as uncertain and confused as the past.
With inputs from Mohit Shah. Follow @mohit_shah17 on Twitter for live-stat-commentary on the IPL.