Shikhar Dhawan and Kane Williamson have forged a formidable alliance at the top of the order, but the middle-order haven't received as many opportunities. © BCCI

Shikhar Dhawan and Kane Williamson have forged a formidable alliance at the top of the order, but the middle-order haven’t received as many opportunities. © BCCI

All IPL 2018 long, Sunrisers Hyderabad have played their matches on tricky surfaces that have prevented free-flowing batsmanship. Their versatile and high-quality bowling attack found ways to defend low to middling totals with remarkable consistency, making up for a batting line-up that, bar Shikhar Dhawan and Kane Williamson, struggled to conquer the conditions.

It’s only in their last two matches, against Delhi Daredevils at the Feroz Shah Kotla and Chennai Super Kings in Pune, that Hyderabad have encountered good batting tracks. Their bowlers haven’t been as effective, but as Tom Moody agreed, that was a good experience to have going into the playoffs.

With 18 points from 12 matches, Hyderabad are guaranteed a top-two finish no matter what happens from here. On Thursday (May 17), weather permitting, the bowling group will test itself against a Royal Challengers Bangalore side that boasts Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers, on a pretty decent track for batting at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.

“It’s absolutely critical that we have games where our bowling is put under pressure — where you are slightly off, you can disappear from the ground and we have had a couple of occasions where that happened,” Moody, the Hyderabad head coach, said on Wednesday. “In that situation, you are always going to have one or two bowlers who will be casualties. We had that experience throughout our journey up to this point.

“We have seen early in the tournament with Rashid Khan being put under pressure two games in a row and his response to that was outstanding,” the former Australian allrounder said, referencing the Afghanistan legspinner. “He has bounced back. We had a couple of other bowlers being put under pressure in those situations and we expect the same response from them – bounce back. I think it’s important to have that kind of reality check where you know every single ball you bowl isn’t going to considered an absolute challenge to the batsman.”

Hyderabad's bowling attack has been among the best of all teams this season, but they'll face a stern challenge when they take on AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli. © BCCI

Hyderabad’s bowling attack has been among the best of all teams this season, but they’ll face a stern challenge when they take on AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli. © BCCI

Kohli and de Villiers came in for great praise from Moody, who made no secret of his admiration for the rampaging duo. “We are going to face that tomorrow night,” Moody observed, with a wry smile. “Obviously, RCB have got an outstanding batting line-up, we all know that. They have got a couple of players in particular that can pick and choose when they want to hit boundaries. So that’s the exciting challenge we have as a bowling group. It’s up to the bowlers to back their caliber, respond to their (batsmen’s) assault when it comes.”

Hyderabad’s bowlers have walked away with most of the credit, but Moody was at pains to point out that it wasn’t just the bowling that had stood up. “The defence of 120 balls is pretty crucial when it comes to showing some sort of consistency in this format of the game,” he noted. “We intentionally have tried to build a strong bowling attack that’s got depth. We feel there’s a number of bowlers that have hardly played and haven’t played that we feel could easily walk into our side, it’s a comforting for the captain and the management to have. But again, we got a very powerful batting line-up. We got a couple of world class top-order batsmen in Shikhar Dhawan, who has been in incredible form for India past 12 months or so and established himself as a world-class player. Kane Williamson is a world-class player in all formats of the game.

“We managed to secure some new blood to the Sunrisers in the last auction, with Manish Pandey and Yusuf Pathan, to give us some greater depth to our middle order. We retained Deepak Hooda, who is an exciting middle-order batsman. I don’t think it’s a case of only focusing on our bowling. Yes, that was definitely a focus; yes, the combination of bowlers we secured was important to us as well. We just didn’t grab a pack of bowlers and stick them in our squad, we deliberately (picked) who we wanted. But we also felt that we were deliberately making sure we strengthen our batting from where it was in previous years.”

Given that Dhawan (369) and Williamson (544) have not just done the bulk of the scoring (51.55% of all runs scored by the franchise) but also the bulk of the batting – between them, they have faced 47.32% of all balls bowled at the Hyderabad batsmen – the middle order hasn’t had too many chances to show its wares, something Moody emphasised. “You also need to consider the opportunities the middle-order get and the conditions that they play in. We’ve had the last couple of games where we have had brilliant partnerships between Shikhar and Kane, which has given the middle order limited opportunities to express themselves and have a major contribution to the total. The second part to that is, we’ve played in conditions that have been challenging and hard to play free-flowing game, when you walk into bat at No. 4 or 5 and suddenly you are smashing the ball the around. We haven’t had wickets and conditions to do that. At the end of the day, I don’t really look at it too critically. I sort of look at the circumstances our players have faced — the time they have come in, the conditions they have faced. I make an assessment there. I don’t think it is too much of a concern with the middle order at all. At the end of the day, we are winning, aren’t we?”

At the same time, Moody couldn’t help but wax eloquent on his bowlers. “If you look at our campaign and the conditions we have played in, our bowlers have adapted better than the teams we have played against in those conditions. The credit goes to their ability to access those conditions and exploit those conditions the best. You know, if you are playing on wickets on which you are scoring only in between 140-150 range, your boundaries (conceded) are going to be limited. They have adapted pretty well throughout this tournament. We have really played well, we’ve had to manage both our batting and bowling in whichever conditions we have played in.”

The coach as good as ruled out changes for the sake of it despite qualification, insisting that it was important not to lose sight of the larger picture. “We have had a number of people sit out throughout the season. If you look at any T20 tournament, teams which have a high percentage of wins against losses have very few turnover with regards to the playing XI,” Moody pointed out. “That’s pretty much been the case with us. Apart from a couple of injuries, we have been pretty consistent with our selections and I think it is an important thing to have. We will continue to be consistent in these last few games. Because yes, we want to continue to win and secondly, it is important you have the continuity within the playing XI — people understanding what their roles are within the team and they get an opportunity to continue their form.”