Juxtaposing anchors Mayank Agarwal and Sai Sudharsan

Mayank Agarwal is batting on a run-a-ball 7, eyeing a move-on. After bunting the previous delivery back to the bowler, he ventured out of his crease for some gardening and gesticulated to his opening partner Travis Head that the ball he just faced seemed to have stopped on him before skidding off the pitch.

He creams two boundaries in his next three balls by doing what he does best – having an assertive body language, maintaining a still head and adhering to his not-so-funky game. The sudden explosion of runs is a telltale sign for Mayank, that even if the usually benevolent Ahmedabad surface is showing its tackier side there are runs for the taking if he sticks to his guns. Guess what, he refuses to believe in the evidence he produced himself a moment ago.

Over the next six balls, Mayank resembles a cat on a hot tin roof. He backs away to upper cut only to meet thin air, misses straightforward flicks looking to apply power, and tries to engineer the pick-up shot by crouching and scything the ball from the off-stump. All the momentum and confidence he gained from those characteristic jewels vanished with each passing hurly-burly shenanigan.

Mayank is back to square one, batting on a run-a-ball 16. He has been dismissed twice playing the pull in IPL 2024, and this time around a short-arm jab to a ball that wasn’t short enough brought an end to his scratchy little knock. In an attempt to play at the tempo and the manner in which Head bats, Mayank veered away from his strengths as well as the anchoring role that Sunrisers Hyderabad have designated him for.

Not surprisingly given his wealth of experience, Mayank was spot on in his assessment of the pitch. SRH managed 162/8, the lowest first-innings score this season. Still, taking into account the two-paced nature of the track, Abdul Samad felt they were in with a shout at the halfway mark. ‘’I think it’s a decent total on this kind of wicket, ball was gripping a bit, the spinners were also getting a bit of help.’’ he reckoned after giving his team the finishing kick with an emphatic 14-ball 29.

Educatedly guessing the scope for taking the pace off based on the first half of the contest, the commentator posed a follow-up question to Samad about SRH’s own bowling plans. It was above his pay grade. ‘’That’s captain’s decision, I don’t know about it but we will probably start with Bhuvi’’, he offered.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar did take the new ball but he shared it with Shahbaz Ahmed, whereas Pat Cummins backloaded himself, coming on in the 11th over, in order to have a cutter-unfurling resource available when the pitch was at its slowest after facing thirty overs worth of deterioration. Which conversely means that the phase when Mayank was out in the middle was the best time to bat throughout the entire match. Unfortunately, from a SRH standpoint, he wasn’t able to strike while the iron was hot.

Mayank’s evening stood in stark contrast to Sai Sudharsan’s. He batted one drop as an impact player and even though the term has a ballistic connotation to it, he actually made an impact by doing the unsensational work. A good rule of thumb for chasing a competitive target on a tricky surface is that one of your batters should play through the innings and seal the deal, or atleast bat for a chunk of the innings to usher the team to the doorstep of victory.

Sai Sudharsan loft-drives Jaydev Unadkat straight down the ground.

Shubman Gill was occupying the middle with the mindset of that marshal before he couldn’t get the desired elevation on his hoick against Mayank Markande. Sai took over the chaperoning job from his captain and added 64 off 42 balls with David Miller in his typical grind-over-glamour mode.

‘’I’m happy that my contribution helped the team win. It was a difficult wicket to play the fast bowlers, bowling into the pitch was hard to score off, so we decided to target that one over of spin,’’ Sai said, referring to the takedown of Markande. Cummins summoned the wrist spinner to bowl the 16th over with the equation reading 49 off 30 balls. Despite having as many as eight bowling options exposing a leg-spinner to two left-handers was the cricketing equivalent of chess’ Queen Sacrifice, and the positive match-up was duly benefitted from as the requirement shrank to 25 off 24 at the end of the over.

‘’It wasn’t the kind of wicket where you just go after every bowler in every over, so it’s a matter of choosing the right bowler and getting the maximum out of it. Obviously, taking the game deep and having wickets in hand helps,’’ Sudharsan outlined the Titans’ approach.

The southpaw hasn’t taken the conventional ladder to the top. T20 leagues mushrooming around the country have democratized opportunity, and Sai has taken flight from one such launchpad. 358 runs in 8 innings in Tamil Nadu Premier League and 494 runs in 7 matches of the TNCA Division 1 50-over tournament led to trial invitations from six IPL franchises. He averages 47 after 15 IPL games for Titans, the cool head on his shoulders having navigated quite a few pressure situations, most notably in the 2023 final where he crafted 96 in 47 balls against powerhouse Chennai Super Kings.

Sai kickstarted his ODI career with two back-to-back half-centuries in South Africa. His reward for grabbing chances left, right and center includes the fastracking to India A on the virtue of a decent 2022-23 Ranji campaign. He recently made 97 versus England Lions after a successful County stint with Surrey. ‘’I feel playing more games, playing for the country and India A has given me maturity on how to go about things. I feel more responsible as compared to last year. Side by side, the skill is also getting better because we are being exposed to different conditions,’’ Sai remarked.

The beauty of sport is that there is no one-size-fits-all way of winning. Consistency in selection is CSK’s mantra in the perform-or-perish landscape of T20 cricket. Virat Kohli is not a biffer by any stretch of the imagination, but he dominates the IPL run chart. Sai Sudharsan operates within his means, conjoining skill and smarts to fit the bill in the shortest format. Likewise, Mayank Agarwal needs to embrace his individuality too, for Anmolpreet Singh and Rahul Tripathi are breathing down his neck.

Broadcast Schedule

England v West Indies 2024
ENG v WI 2nd Test, Trent Bridge
18th July to 22nd July
Start time: 11:00 am BST
ENG v WI 3rd Test, Edgbaston
26th July to 30th July
Start time: 11:00 am BST