Sunrisers’ Poor Handling of Umran Symptom of Bigger Issues

Source: BCCI/IPL

The Indian Premier League (IPL) has always provided a platform for young cricketers to showcase their talent and earn their international stripes. And this season has been no different. However, there is one player who has been warming the bench despite being the fastest bowler in the country – Umran Malik.

Malik, hailing from Jammu, has been a revelation in Indian cricket, clocking impressive speeds of 150km/h or more since he first caught the eye a couple of seasons ago. This was a welcome development for Indian cricket, which has been yearning for a tearaway fast bowler like Malik for decades. This season, however, Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), his IPL franchise, have used him sparingly, in just seven out of eleven games.

After thrilling the league and taking 22 wickets from 14 IPL matches last season, Malik was fast-tracked into the Indian team in both T20Is and ODIs. IPL 2023 has seen a very different ‘Jammu Express’, with only five wickets in seven outings. In most of those games, Malik didn’t complete his quota of four overs.

His economy rate of 10.35 has been an issue for a Sunrisers team that has seen far too many high-profile signings flop. But that has always been the inherent risk with express pace. The quicker the ball comes on to the bat, the more chances of it racing away to the fence. But there is an equally high chance that a batter will miss his stroke or mistime it. Malik is young and needs to improve his control, but not at the cost of losing pace. Even last season, when Malik terrorised opposition teams with his pace, his economy rate was 9.03.  

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Why has he been relegated to the bench now? Also, why appoint Dale Steyn, legendary South African pacer, as the bowling coach if the aim isn’t to help someone like Malik improve and emerge stronger from tough outings like the one he had against Delhi Capitals? Raw pace is natural, God-gifted and can’t be taught, but you can learn how to harness it.

Steyn was also pretty wayward in his early years. The English media that covered his first matches against England in 2004-05 thought him ‘wild and woolly’. He went on to become someone who could move the ball at high pace, with immaculate control, though that still didn’t prevent heartbreaking moments like the Grant Elliott six that cost South Africa a place in the World Cup final in 2015.  

In theory, Steyn is the perfect mentor for Malik. But first, Sunrisers need to show faith in his ability and play him in every match. Irfan Pathan, the former India all-rounder, is one of many who have been left baffled by the decision to bench Malik. Hyderabad’s coaching staff, especially Brian Lara, the head coach, and Steyn, know better than most that no batter, no matter how good, likes to face express pace.

After five consecutive playoff appearances, Hyderabad are set to miss out on the post-season for a third straight year. The benching of Malik is hardly the only controversial call that the franchise has made in recent seasons. Not one of them can be said to have had a positive impact.

Remember how they humiliated David Warner by dropping him from the match-day squad in 2021? What about the decision to not retain Rashid Khan, arguably the greatest T20 spinner ever? Or how they left Kane Williamson go after splurging Rs 14 crores on him before the 2022 season? Nicholas Pooran is another who has thrived after being let go by the franchise.

The Sunrisers’ management need to ask themselves some tough questions. Poor decisions, at the auction table and beyond, and flawed strategies have been the major reasons for their below-par display this season. Malik’s struggles encapsulate that. The IPL is not just a tournament. From Virat Kohli to Jasprit Bumrah, and now, Yashasvi Jaiswal, it has been a stage where young cricketers can showcase their quality. If Sunrisers can’t give Malik that opportunity, they should release him so that someone else can make best use of a rare skill-set.  

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