Shahbaz Ahmed
Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Shahbaz Ahmed (left) celebrates with captain Pat Cummins after taking a wicket during the Indian Premier League second qualifier cricket match in Chennai on May 24, 2024. Ahmed’s left-arm spin fetched three wickets, which broke the back of Rajasthan. Image Credit: AFP

It was an implosion of the Rajasthan Royals kind. More like the ones in the second half of the IPL 2024 league phase. A replay of that was enacted at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, which allowed Sunrisers Hyderabad to wriggle out of a tight spot and storm into the final with a 36-run win.

Sanju Samson did everything right in the first half of the second qualifier on Friday. The Rajasthan skipper won the toss and put Hyderabad into bat, hoping that dew would arrive later in Chepauk. He rotated the bowlers well and pegged back Hyderabad after Rahul Tripathi’s fiery knock of 37 off 15 balls.

Faced with a target of 176, Yashwasvi Jaiswal (42 off 21) had provided Rajasthan with a scintillating start in the powerplay. Samson made the fatal mistake after Jaiswal fell, needlessly launching into the attack when caution was required. That was weird. 

Hyderabad batsmen struggle

The Rajasthan captain had a ringside view of Hyderabad batsmen’s struggles. From behind the stumps, he had watched Rajasthan spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravichandran Ashwin run circles around the Hyderabad batsmen, who tried to keep up the aggression only to hole out in the deep. It was clear that batting wasn’t easy on this track.

Samson should have taken a leaf out of the book of Hyderabad’s Heinrich Klassen, who curbed his hyper-attacking instincts to accumulate runs with hard-run twos and an occasional six in almost every over. That was a masterclass in batting on a difficult pitch. If not for Klassen’s judicious strokeplay, Hyderabad would have finished with less than 150 runs.

Klassen’s knock (50 off 34) was the template to play on a turning pitch — hard running combined with sixes when loose deliveries arrive. The lessons of Klassen’s innings were lost on Samson and Riyan Parag, who gifted their wickets. Samson has the skills to bump up the scoring later in the innings, so the early aggression was needless.

Samson and Rajasthan’s fragile batting

As captain, he should have been aware of the fragility of his team’s batting. Beyond No. 4, the Rajasthan batting has been unreliable, and the late middle order delivered only when around 25 runs were required in quick time. So, Samson should have been around until the score was around 140, and Shimron Hetmyer and Rovman Powell would have managed the rest.

When Samson left at 67-3, there was too much to do for a dodgy set of batsmen. The best Riyan Parag could come up with was an ungainly swipe, and Rajasthan capitulated to a bunch of part-time spinners. Dhruv Jurel showed his more famous teammates how to bat on a tricky pitch, but it was too late to slam the stable door. The horse had bolted.

Was it pressure? But Rajasthan had chased down bigger totals in the league. Playoffs are different, and this was a knockout game. Pressure can bring down stronger teams, and Rajasthan tend to come off at the seams. They very nearly did, against the Royal Challengers Bengaluru in the eliminator. If RCB had a quality spinner, the result may have been different.

There are no quality spinners in Hyderabad too; that’s common knowledge in IPL. Left-handed Shahbaz Ahmed is primarily a batter, and Abhishek Sharma has hardly bowled this season. Ahmed (3-23) and Sharma (2-24) broke the Rajasthan batting spine as the wicket offered turn, and the feared dew never showed up. Barring Jurel, no Rajasthan batsman was inclined to bide their time to attack. It was senseless batting.

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What’s heartening was Hyderabad’s will to win. When the pressure was on Rajasthan, all the fielders turned up the heat with splendid stops in the ring and the outfield, reducing runs to a trickle. That pressure created more wickets.

Hyderabad’s superb deployment of their sparse spin resources has to be applauded, but the feeling persists that it was Rajasthan’s match to lose. And they did. Quite in keeping with their batsmen’s propensity to implode.

Jos Buttler must be sitting in England with his head buried in his hands. The Facetime call with the cup won’t come from Samson.

Pat Cummins will lead the Sunrisers Hyderabad for a rematch with the Kolkata Knight Riders in Sunday’s final in Chepauk. A grudge match!