Without question, Sunrisers Hyderabad has had the best spinner in the Indian Premier League in recent years. Rashid Khan has an incredible record after picking up 80 wickets in 66 games at an incredible economy rate of 6.17. But there has always been lingering doubt over their second spinner.
The vital role that spinners play in T20 cricket is well documented and usually encourages most teams to choose at least two trusted tweeters. Currently, Royal Challengers Bangalore has Washington Sundar and Yuzvendra Chahal, Mumbai Indians have Krunal Pandya and Rahul Chahar, Delhi Capitals bank on Ravichandran Ashwin and Axar Patel. Despite releasing Piyush Chawla and Harbhajan Singh ahead of the auctions, Chennai Super Kings still saw duo Moeen Ali and Ravindra Jadeja bowling them to victory recently.
Unfortunately for SRH, they haven’t been able to zero down on one spinner to pair with the wizard from Afghanistan. Rashid’s success may have masked that slight slump in their armor over the years. But the lack of consistency clearly showed this season when it was most important in a setting with a reputation for assisting spin.
Since 2017, when SRH added Rashid to their squad, at least six spinners have played the supporting act. His compatriot Mohammad Nabi and Bipul Sharma split the duties in 2017 and Shakib Al Hasan withdrew it in 2018. In 2019, Shakib featured only three times, Nabi eight times and Shahbaz Nadeem tried it in three games as well. In the last IPL, youngsters Abhishek Sharma and Abdul Samad managed to send down 17 overs before Nadeem appeared to have sealed his place at the end of the tournament fag.
Five months down the line, in problems with the team combination along with early losses in the tournament, SRH used three options in their first three games. Nabi and Nadeem proved to be expensive and new recruit Mujeeb Ur Rahman had to be given a new boost despite bowling well in the solo outing he received as a result of his ongoing overseas conundrum. Desperately looking for victory in their fourth game, SRH handed over the new ball to Abhishek which skipper David Warner claimed was an instinctive move.
Abhishek made an immediate impression at the opening, even managed to find some time to keep Mayank Agarwal on guard. He would have easily picked up a wicket off the last ball of the match if Rashid had managed to seize the opportunity But when he eventually returned to the attack in the middle tiers, he looked mighty impressive making the most of the conditions on offer. On one occasion, he even managed to send a carrot ball down to the batter’s bamboo and eventually to pick up a wicket.
Bowling alongside Rashid, Abhishek struck again, this time deporting Moises Henriques. The Australian has a reputation of being a good spin player and was drafted into the XI only because Punjab Kings had to move its base from Mumbai to Chennai. Finishing with figures of 2 for 24, Abhishek played a pivotal role in his side’s first victory of the season and earned rich praise from his skipper following the win. For someone who finished with an economy rating of over 9 last season, Abhishek seems to have worked on his bowling over the past few months, and that’s exactly the message he was given by management.
“We’ve asked him to work hard on his bowling throughout the domestic season from when he played in the IPL last year and he has done that,” Warner said. “He has done a good job and can be our second spinner. Obviously, he gives a great option with the bat as well so that’s what’s useful about having Abhishek in the team. And if he is bowling well, then it adds great strength to our lineup. It plays a big role in our team. “
As Warner mentioned, Abhishek’s presence can be extremely valuable to SRH going forward this season. The boy is not a smoke with the bat. In fact, he is opening for his Punjab state side in white-ball cricket. In his latest appearance before the IPL, he even smashed a 49-ball 104.
This performance has come at a crucial point for the 20-year-old player, who always has bags of potential. He has been in and out of the side consistently but SRH’s current formula will now allow him to nail his place. The guys in orange are eager to play Jonny Bairstow and Kane Williamson to strengthen that batting lineup that has steadily collapsed. With the last foreign slot reserved for Rashid, SRH cannot afford to use Mujeeb or Nabi in their XI.
Jason Holder is now stepping aside forcing them to use India’s third ruler as well so bringing Nadeem back will force Rashid to bat one spot above at 7. Getting someone like Abhishek instead of Nadeem gives the ideal balance for them because of his batting ability. With one more game left in Chepauk and four more to follow in Delhi – a venue well known for assisting the slow bowlers – SRH may have finally found the perfect ally for Rashid.