Two things grabbed attention in the last match of the league stage in IPL2020 between Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad. One was even before a ball had been bowled in the match, the other had entirely to do with the cricket played thereafter.
Rohit Sharma walking out for the toss had everyone scratching their heads in disbelief. A hamstring problem had not only kept the MI skipper out of action in the franchise’s three preceding games, but also out of all three squads (T20, ODIs and Tests) picked by the Indian selectors for the tour of Australia.
If Sharma was fit to play in the remaining part of the IPL, why was he omitted from the India squads is the obvious questions that arises. Sharma was vice-captain of in white-ball cricket, which position has not gone to K L Rahul who had a prolific IPL season. But that’s not really the issue.
Sharma is a star player and matchwinning batsman, arguably the best in the world in T20s and ODIs. In the last year-odd, he has also made a huge impact in Test cricket as an openers, so his absence will be a big loss to the team in every format.
On the eve of this match, Board President Sourav Ganguly publicly advised Sharma against taking any risk till he was completely fit. To see the MI captain then play the match caught the BCCI president on the wrong foot.
Earlier, chief coach Ravi Shastri too, during an interview to a TV channel, cautioned Sharma against being hasty. Shastri cited his own example of how he had jumped back into cricket prematurely in 1991-92 after a knee injury, to play in the World Cup.
Discrepancy between the MI medical team and that of the BCCI in assessing the extent of Sharma’s injury is at the core of this imbroglio which has become the talking point in Indian cricket currently.
India’s players fly to Australia on November 10, though the injured Sharmas, Rohit and Ishant, could be sent later once fitness their fitness is cleared. However, the national selectors have been thrown into a quandary.
Meanwhile, the IPL enters its final week featuring four teams in the play-offs. That the fourth side to make the cut was not known the till the last match of the league stage shows how competitive the tournament has been.
This was given an even more thrilling dimension by Sunrissers Hyderabad’s late surge which not only saw them win their last three matches handsomely, but leapfrog over helpless Kolkata Knight Riders into the play-offs by beating table toppers Mumbai Indians.
So dramatic has been the turnaround in SRH’s form – after performing tepidly through most of the league phase, that they thumped Mumbai Indians by 10 wickets, no less.
Of course Mumbai were resting Jasprit Bumrah and Trent Boult, their most successful fast bowlers, but even so this Hyderabad’s emphatic cannot be undermined. Mumbai’s batting was at full strength, and the failure to score even 150 was the reason why the team flopped.
Bowling first, SRH bowled superbly, fielded with great commitment and restricted Mumbai to a score that they woul conceivably have overhauled even if Bumrah and Boult were playing.
What’s turned around for Sunrisers?
David Warner has touched peak batting form, and his zeal to win the title is coming across palpably in his captaincy and body language on the field.
In Rashid Khan, SRH have perhaps the craftiest spinner in the league as also the most economical. Jason Holder’s inclusion has given the bowling attack much experience as well as edge.
The serenity and calmness of the fourth overseas player, Kane Williamson, is an asset in tough situations. But it’s not these stars only who have done well by the side. The Indian players have been as effective, if not more.
Wriddhiman Saha, brought into the side late in the tournament, has been a revelation. His exploits in IPL2020, unorthodox batsmanship to go with classical wicketkeeping, are worthy of a book.
Sandeep Sharma has unfailingly got wickets in the powerplay, T Natarajan with his pinpoint Yorkers has been brilliant in the death overs, and Shahbaz Nadeem, another late entrant, has exploited the wearing pitches to his team’s great advantage.
Suddenly, heading into the last week, SRH have become the most dangerous side in the tournament.
* The writer is a senior sports writer, journalist, columnist, author and lawyer.