David Warner and Steve Smith
David Warner and Steve Smith Image Credit: BCCI

Steve Smith and David Warner. Captains in IPL 2020, the Australians are integral to the success of their teams. How have they fared over the last three weeks in the UAE?

The Sunrisers Hyderabad’s third position in the points table is a tribute to Warner’s inspirational leadership. Smith’s Rajasthan Royals are one slot from the basement, and that reflects poorly on him.

Rajasthan have had a blistering start to IPL 13, winning the first two games impressively. Smith has been in fine fettle, reeling off runs with ease on a belter of a pitch in Sharjah. His knocks as opener formed the cornerstone on which the victories over the Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals were built. But the heady wins masked the shortcomings of the side.

How Smith has fared

Those chinks were brutally exposed when their matches moved out of Sharjah. Rajasthan’s performance went into a tailspin. And Smith struggled for runs. On a couple of occasions, he contrived to get out. Strange for a player of such high calibre. He’s had plenty of international exposure in all forms of cricket, and the dismissals were totally out of sync with his stature as one of the modern greats.

His batting failures mirrored the inability of Rajasthan to rack up enough runs on the board. Without good totals, Smith struggled to rally the team around. The meagre bowling resources, where Jofra Archer’s the lone world-class bowler, didn’t help.

A return to Sharjah seemed to have revived them on Friday. Archer’s fine performance inspired leggie Rahul Tewatia and young pacer Kartik Tyagi and Rajasthan had Delhi Capitals on the mat. Smith put on an improved display, but the batting rot ran deep. Will Ben Stokes provide the cure? We will wait and watch.

Winners of the inaugural edition of the IPL, Rajasthan have a patchy record. Smith joined the side in 2014, and Rajasthan had two fourth-place finishes before being suspended for two years. Midway through last year, the captaincy was handed to Smith who had hoped to infuse more energy among the players.

Captaincy skills are severely tested when the chips are down. Leadership shines through when results are produced with thin resources. Here’s where Warner wins. Hyderabad is a side packed with young talents, but acutely short on experience. Warner has made the players believe in themselves, and the results are there to see.

The Warner impact

Hyderabad boasts of three wins from six matches. Not bad for a team which lost the first two games. They have rallied superbly to keep themselves in the race for the playoffs. Much of the credit for that should go to Warner.

Hyderabad and Warner go back a few years. Made captain in 2015, Warner topped the scoring charts although the team finished sixth. The following year, Warner steered Hyderabad to their maiden title. Since then they had finished among the top four, with a second place in 2018, when Kane Williamson led in the absence of Warner. (He was suspended for a ball-tampering incident in South Africa).

Warner was back last year and led the run charts. He and Jonny Bairstow formed a formidable opening pair, but a fragile middle order and a poor attack undermined Hyderabad. The familiar failings have come back to haunt them as evident in the first two games.

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Here’s where you see the Warner impact. Not only did he get the runs, but he also inspired Abdul Samad (18) Priyam Garg (19) and Abhishek Sharma (20) to play their natural game fearlessly. And these youngsters delivered when it mattered.

Hyderabad is a team that lacks a bit of balance, in term of quality. Three of the four overseas players are batsmen, and the fourth is the best leg-spinner in the world: Rashid Khan of Afghanistan. They don’t have a good overseas pace bowler, but India seamer Bhuvaneshwar Kumar gave the early breakthroughs. His injury has been an enormous setback. Warner’s encouragement has helped Ahmed Khaleel and T. Natarajan to produce effective spells in the matches so far.

If they make it to the playoffs, Hyderabad owe a huge debt of gratitude to Warner. So priceless has been his captaincy.