For Sunrisers Hyderabad, the middle order is perhaps their biggest weakness. For a team that has two explosive overseas openers and one of the most versatile bowling attacks, the lack of depth in the batting department is unmissable.
Which is why the game-changing knocks by young Priyam Garg and Abhishek Sharma in the victory against Chennai Super Kings on Friday will be immensely satisfying for the men in orange.
Hyderabad were troubled by the middle order during last year’s Indian Premier League as well. David Warner and Jonny Bairstow set the stage alight with their strokeplay at the top of the order but once they left for national duty, the Sunrisers couldn’t cope and got knocked-out in the eliminator.
And the same weakness proved costly for them in the first two games of IPL 2020 too. Australian all-rounder Mitchell Marsh got ruled out of the tournament after an injury in the opener, which once again exposed the lack of options for SRH at the death.
In the first game, chasing 164 against Royal Challengers Bangalore, SRH were 121/3 in the 16th over. From there, they suffered a dramatic collapse and were all-out for 153.
In the next game, Manish Pandey scored a 38-ball 51 at No 3 but Wriddiman Saha’s 31-ball 30 stifled the innings and the team could post just 142/4 in 20 overs. The fact that they had six wickets remaining at the end of the innings without a decent total reflected how poorly the innings was paced. Kolkata Knight Riders lost just three wickets as they chased down the total in 18 overs.
Because of these results, when the Sunrisers were reduced to 69/4 at the end of 11 overs against CSK on Friday, it seemed the match could go just one way.
A brilliant partnership
SRH, the 2016 IPL champions, never really got going after winning the toss and opting to bat first. Bairstow fell for a duck, Warner trudged his way to 28 off 29, Pandey flattered to deceive with a 21-ball 29 and finally, Kane Williamson was run-out for 9 after a horrible mix-up. The team was in deep trouble with Warner and Williamson having departed off successive deliveries.
Chennai were applying the choke. Their skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni was more animated than usual while marshalling his troops, having lost the previous two games, and it seemed Hyderabad would finish with a well below-par total.
But that’s when 19-year-old Priyam Garg and 20-year-old Abhishek Sharma got together at the crease. Kevin Pietersen pointed out in commentary that the stage was set for the two young guns to make a name for themselves. And that’s exactly what they did.
The 12th and 13th overs were played out carefully, before Sharma decided, as he would reveal after the match, that it was time to go after Ravindra Jadeja. The left-hander hit a four and a six in that over before picking up another boundary in the next over by Dwayne Bravo.
Garg, captain of the Indian team that participated in the Under-19 World Cup earlier this year, then upped the ante and took Sam Curran to the cleaners two overs later. SRH got 22 runs in that over and in a span of about 20 minutes, the complexion of the game had changed.
Sharma fell for 31 off 24 after a couple of dropped chances but the 77-run partnership he shared with Garg brought SRH back in the contest. Garg then got to his first IPL half-century off 23 balls and, after being dismissed off a no ball in the last over, went to on remain not-out on 51 off 26.
Hyderabad finished with 164/5 and with Chennai eventually falling short by seven runs, the difference was well and truly the Garg-Sharma stand. The joy on the faces of in the SRH dugout when Garg got to his half century was telling. The youngster did not let the runout of Williamson affect his game, and lived up to the expectations the team has on him.
“Initially we were looking to play our game and whatever came in our zone, we tried to hit into the gaps,” said Sharma after the game. “It’s all about our team game and the coaches and captain gave us clear roles and there’s no pressure. I knew I had to get going quickly since Priyam was batting well at the other end and I didn’t want to bog him down. I told him that I’ll take my chance against Jadeja bhai. Felt nice that it came off.
Garg added: “I was just trying to play my natural game and credit to the team management for supporting me and giving confidence. I wanted to back my strengths as I’m aware of the range of my shots. I have been playing with Abhishek since childhood and we both know each other’s game very well which really helped today. It feels great to get my first IPL half-century.”
It is, of course, too early to say if Garg and Sharma will prove to be consistent performers in the middle order for Hyderabad. But what inspires confidence is the manner in which they got their runs against CSK. They showed remarkable match awareness, picked their moments, and didn’t slog. They were in complete control while collecting boundaries and that’s a promising sign for the Sunrisers.