After the first four games in this edition of the Indian Premier League, Sunrisers Hyderabad were in cruise control, firmly living up to their billing as one of the favourites to enter playoffs.

David Warner, their favourite son, had redeemed himself from the ball-tampering saga of last year triumphantly, and it was just like old times. In Jonny Bairstow they had found an able opening partner and the Englishman eased into his debut season like an animal unleashed.

Their bowling was always the go-to weapon in their arsenal and they were arguably the most efficient team in restricting opponents a season ago. It didn’t even matter that skipper Kane Williamson was missing in action; Hyderabad had registered three wins in some style.

The 2016 winners’ middle-order was hardly tested during this phase; they didn’t have to spring into action as Warner and Bairstow kept chipping away and were happy to do much of the heavy-lifting.

But looking back at what now seems an age ago, that encouraging initial phase appears to be more of a false start that papered over an enormous crack. Bad days were just around the corner.

On Saturday, after another toothless defeat, they find themselves in danger of missing out on the top-four spot. The 2016 champions have just two wins from the last seven games and Warner is scheduled to depart soon to join the Australian camp for the first time in 13 months.

With Royal Challengers Bangalore or Kolkata Knight Riders, one can point out a lack of balance or hare-brained decisions from the top leading to their downfall. But with Sunrisers Hyderabad, it is safe to say that the chink in their armour is a glaring one.

Collapses galore

Not for the first time this season Hyderabad couldn’t build on on what looked like a solid foundation to work on. Manish Pandey had found his touch that had deserted him in the first half of the season, and an unusually subdued Warner steadily kept the scoreboard ticking.

But what ensued was a hara-kiri of sorts.

From being well-placed at 103/1 at the end of the 12th over, the Orange Army had slumped to 137/6 by the 18th. All it took was Warner’s dismissal to trigger yet another meek capitulation.

This was not the first time in the season teams have managed to expose their brittle core. The rot had settled in when they played Mumbai Indians at home and West Indies pacer Alzarri Joseph’s picked up a record 6/12. Hyderabad had to face ignominy at home once again as Delhi Capitals made easy work of them during another chase. On this occasion, they crashed to 116 all out after being in control at 101/2.

The script was similar too. The bowling they faced was good, nothing unplayable. But the shot-making and manner in which the batsmen dealt with pressure failed to exude even a semblance of confidence.

The personnel have changed following games but there has been little or no indication of Hyderabad’s fortunes improving. The Warner-Bairstow axis continued to be on on the forefront of the few good moments they have had this season.

More changes, less effect

Against Rajasthan, Williamson and Co went with four changes after their loss to Chennai Super Kings. That itself is an indicator that the team management has still not zeroed in on a core whom they can trust on to build partnerships in the back end of the innings. Pandey finding his feet at one-down will come as a welcome relief at a time when runs are coming at a premium for Hyderabad.

But their wobbles start when they lose a couple and part of the problem has been the lack of a middle-order anchor who would bat through the quota of overs. In all-rounder Vijay Shankar, Hyderabad have player tailor-made for that role. But the 28-year-old, for all of his “three-dimensional” credentials and encouraging recent form in national colours, has found the going tough. Shankar can now breathe a sigh of relief that his IPL form was not taken into account when the selectors picked India’s World Cup squad.

Vijay Shankar has failed to light up this IPL | Prashant Bhoot/SPORTZPICS
Vijay Shankar has failed to light up this IPL | Prashant Bhoot/SPORTZPICS

The Indian One-day team have similar worries as the clock ticks down to the quadrennial event. With a lot riding on the consistent top-order trio of Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma and captain Virat Kohli to score big, will a rare failure from them as a unit would go on to expose India’s unpredictable middle-order? With the rest of batting order being shielded from shouldering run-scoring duties, is rustiness a factor when it is their turn to accumulate? Those questions can wait for another month at least.

As for Hyderabad, theirs has done precious little to plug those holes in the middle. The likes of Yusuf Pathan, Deepak Hooda, Shakib Al Hasan are yet to fire and the poor form was a malaise that came with a trickle-down effect. Experiments with Ricky Bhui and young all-rounder Abhishek Sharma also didn’t yield the desired results.

With Bhuvneshwar Kumar not being anywhere close to his 2017 and 2018 form, Hyderabad can no longer depend on their bowling to paper over cracks. With Warner’s impending departure at a crucial stage, Hyderabad will have bigger worries, and that will not be restricted to their under-fire middle-order alone.