At the start of Indian Premier League 2020, no one in their right mind would have suggested that Sunrisers should slot Wriddhiman Saha into their squad ahead of the dangerous, super-aggressive Jonny Bairstow.
But in what can only be described as a series of fortunate events, Saha was drafted into the squad in place of the Englishman because SRH wanted to fit Kane Williamson into the playing XI.
Now because Williamson was injured, SRH needed to find another foreign player to replace him. They settled on the allround skills of Jason Holder at that point. But then when Williamson was fit again, they felt the need to bring him back in the playing XI to lend some solidity to the middle-order.
The only change they could make was bringing in Saha – a like-for-like replacement for Bairstow. Warner and Rashid Khan were untouchable. Holder was bringing a good balance with his allround abilities so they couldn’t put him on the bench either.
And as it turned out, this switch was the key to SRH’s revival.
In five matches, Holder has taken 10 wickets and showed that he can use the long handle too. Perhaps, more importantly, he has given them a proper wicket-taking option which also by way of co-relation helps make the other bowlers more effective.
Similarly, in four matches (three effectively), Saha has fearlessly hammered an impressive 214 runs at a strike-rate of 139.86 at the top of the order. A majority of these numbers have not come against the bottom-hugging teams. Rather, he has scored against Delhi Capitals (87), Royal Challengers Bangalore (39) and in the final group stage match against Mumbai Indians (58*): all three must-win encounters.
Saha’s numbers aren’t very different from Bairstow, who has 345 runs at an SR of 126.83. In fact, they are a little bit better from the SR viewpoint. And his keeping to the spinners is way better.
The success at the top of the order in the Powerplay overs has emboldened Warner too. The relatively better strength of the middle-order may be playing a role but the SRH skipper is clearly looking to be more aggressive now and Saha’s presence has helped.
The opening stands in the last three games that Saha has played are 107 (9.4 overs), 10 (1.2 overs), 151 (17.1 overs). Saha’s belligerent attitude seems to have rubbed off on Warner, who in his own words has gone back to 2009 – when he had a reputation for being one of the most aggressive openers around.
“I’ve decided to go back to 2009 and open the front leg a little bit and clear these grounds,” said Warner after the win against Delhi Capitals.
The change in attitude has also had an effect on the team. They had nothing to lose and in a way that helped them shed the hesitancy that was holding them back. It seemed to simply clear all the clutter. They now go into the playoffs with three wins on the trot and all three have come against the teams they could be facing in the playoffs.
Perhaps the slow wickets are helping the bowling-focussed SRH squad as well but beating the top three teams in their last three matches to reach the playoffs will give them a huge confidence boost. And if momentum matters at this point, then SRH have it all going for them.
They will still have to win three matches more to win the title but they have certainly given themselves the best chance of doing that. And if they can continue to play in the same vein, who knows what might happen just as who knew that introducing Saha to the mix would have such a huge impact on SRH’s season.
Either which way, Saha and SRH have everything to play for at this point. And that’s something.