Defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad couldn’t have asked for a better start to their campaign. The defending champions go up against IPL’s perpetual under-achievers Royal Challengers Bangalore in a repeat of last year’s final in the IPL 2017 opener. However, RCB aren’t RCB without their top two batsmen – Virat Kohli, who is still nursing a shoulder injury and AB de Villiers, who will miss the season opener because of injury as well, will considerably hamper the batting strength of RCB.
That leaves Shane Watson with the tough task of being the commander of a severely beleaguered side. Watson’s troubles are further exacerbated by the absence of two first choice Indian players – KL Rahul, out due to an injury he nursed during the Test series and young Sarfaraz Khan, who injured himself during a practice game.
With the bat
For RCB to win, Chris Gayle has to go bonkers, but he hasn’t done well in the past at Hyderabad, which is where the IPL 2017 opening game is going to be played. Watson showed excellent form in the recently concluded Pakistan Super League, which means he is still quite capable of leading from the front. Kedar Jadhav, who was sensational for India in the ODIs against England, is another batsman RCB will rely heavily on to get the runs in the middle order.
Sunrisers Hyderabad were successful last year because of David Warner’s unbelievable consistency. Warner’s 324 runs last season at home came at a stupendous average of 54 while the strike-rate is still astronomical at 160. If Warner thrives, RCB haven’t got a chance.
In terms of batting, the Sunrisers need one of the three to fire big time – Yuvraj Singh, Shikhar Dhawan or David Warner. Dhawan scored a century in the Deodhar Trophy, a fluent one at that and one hopes he is on a roll in the IPL, given he would like to keep his ODI spot for the Champions Trophy, having lost his Test opener’s slot to KL Rahul.
With the ball
With the ball, the SRH are miles ahead of RCB. SRH will miss the services of Bangladesh’s Mustafizur, who is still on national duty. Nevertheless, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ashish Nehra are literally war veterans as far as T20 cricket is concerned. SRH will most probably go for Chris Jordan instead of last year’s IPL Final hero, Ben Cutting until Mustafizur comes back because of Jordan’s ability at the death.
RCB will be heavily reliant on a couple of bowlers – Yuzvendra Chahal, who registered the third best figures by a bowler in T20 against England, and Tymal Mills, RCB’s big ticket purchase this season. They will sorely miss Mitchell Starc though.
SRH play the anaconda game, stifling the opponent, squeezing them without giving away runs and winning low-scoring thrillers. RCB, on the other hand, are flamboyant, given their home ground allows them freedom with the bat.
The Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad, however, doesn’t give RCB the same freedom. The Reds need Chris Gayle to settle down before unleashing his shots, given Kohli, who is brilliant even on slow pitches, and AB de Villiers, who can play ridiculous shots all around the park, are both absent. Watson, meanwhile, has the task to hold the middle order together.
As far as SRH’s strategy is concerned, it will be to get Gayle and Watson cheaply and that would probably be game, set and match. Gayle has in the past smashed both the new ball bowlers of SRH but not in Hyderabad. Both Nehra and Bhuvneshwar have the ability to swing the ball and that could be Gayle’s undoing.
For RCB it is definitely the left-arm fast bowler from England, Tymal Mills, who had impressed in the T20Is between India and England. The 24-year old is an out and out wicket-taker in T20s, with a strike-rate of 17.7. He has plenty of variety up his sleeve and had bamboozled Indian batsmen in the series against India with his slower deliveries which mark a big difference from his usual speed – comfortably above 90mph.
On the other hand, Rashid Khan, Afghanistan’s young leg-spinner is SRH’s trump card. His economy in T20s is an unbelievable 5.99 with an average of 13.41. However, this is his first time on the big stage, where all the focus will be on him. Bowling against batsmen of the quality of Gayle and Watson would also be a huge learning curve for him. If he hits his straps, SRH, which will later have the services of Mustafizur, and already have Nehra and Bhuvneshwar, will become a deadly bowling unit.
#5 Possible pitfalls
RCB have always been slow starters, generally losing their first few matches and then coming from behind to race to the finish line. It seems like that pattern will be followed. The biggest pitfall they’ve to guard against is Gayle’s loss of form. RCB cannot afford it. They have Travis Head to buttress their batting but Head is definitely not the man to shoulder the responsibility for RCB – Watson or Gayle is. RCB have to score big considering they are a little on the weaker side with their bowling. Teams win more chasing at Hyderabad, and RCB need that little bit of luck too.
For SRH, David Warner’s recent Test form in India could be a concern. Warner’s fluency is crucial for RCB. While Yuvraj was vintage against England, it has been a while since those matches were played. Yuvraj was rested even for the Deodhar Trophy for some strange reason. He could be a little rusty. Warner and Yuvraj are huge players for SRH and their failure could be hard for the team to deal with.