That Sunrisers Hyderabad’s strength lies in their bowling is no secret. It has been a narrative that has been stark since they turned into a unit to reckon with. While their batsmen shone through, it was their bowlers, who quietly went about their jobs, dictating outcomes in their favour successfully, and consistently.

It was no different a tale against the Rajasthan Royals in their tournament opener at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium on Monday (April 9). What differed, however, was the protagonist, who in fact, was their fifth bowler in the pecking order on the day, coming away with the best figures. Siddharth Kaul, who returned 2 for 17 in his four overs against Rajasthan, burst onto the scene last year for SRH with some very consistent outings that prompted the management to rope him back into the franchise in the January auction.

In the span of 12 minutes, Sunrisers picked up Kaul, T Natarajan, Basil Thampi and Khaleel Ahmed in a slew of pacemen on the first day of the auction, in a bid to beef up their Indian pace stocks. They went a step further on the second day by picking Sandeep Sharma, with him expected to be an automatic selection in the XI as a new-ball bowler alongside Bhuvneshwar Kumar. It wasn’t the case with Kaul getting the nod ahead of him in the tournament opener.

Ashish Nehra’s missing out on a large chunk of the season last year due to a hamstring strain gave Kaul the opportunity to prove his worth, being used as one of SRH’s three fast bowlers alongside Bhuvneshwar and Mohammed Siraj. With Siraj’s inexperience on the big stage, Kaul assumed the bigger role and stepped up to have a breakthrough season with 16 wickets in 10 games, averaging 18.75. However, this year, with the SRH set-up loaded with fast-bowling stocks, Kaul couldn’t have made a better case for himself, repaying the faith of the management, after having being picked ahead of Sandeep for the opening game, who finished with 17 wickets last season for Kings XI Punjab.

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“Last year he certainly burst on to the scene,” said SRH skipper Kane Williamson of Kaul. “He was really looking to get the opportunity and it was a long time coming. And he was an outstanding performer for Sunrisers last year, very consistent and a very good death bowler. He’s nice and clear with how he operates. Today was an extension of that and he bowled very very nicely,” he added.

Kaul consistently hit the length hard on a surface where bounce was available, and along with his pace variations, made life difficult for RR’s batsmen. Bhuvneshwar and Billy Stanlake, on a wicket that was assisting the seamers, got some movement early on, but they were unable to breach Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson’s resilience. It took Kaul all of five deliveries to give SRH the breakthrough by sticking to his plan and inciting Rahane to whip one to deep-midwicket with a full delivery that was pitched outside off.

“He bowled well; I think he and Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the first six, and then Stanlake, three of them bowled very well,” said Rahane after the game. “Siddharth Kaul changes the pace really well. He was hitting the length hard, and that was key on this wicket – because if you pitch the ball up, it was easy to hit, but because he was hitting the length hard and bowling slower in between, he did really well,” he added.

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Kaul followed Stanlake’s ploy of not relenting with the short balls, and it was a move that paid off for the Sunrisers’ pacemen. After Kaul’s strike in his first over, the seventh, he only was brought back in the 13th, conceding just five singles with the bowler asking nagging questions, extracting bounce that troubled the batsmen. He was rewarded with the wicket of Krishnappa Gowtham, who copped a duck on IPL debut after being clueless as to how to fend off a short one. Williamson then went back to the 27-year-old to bowl the final over of the innings where he once again he dealt only in singles, conceding three of them, and giving away just the one boundary in his four overs.

Stanlake, meanwhile, made life hard for Rajasthan’s batsmen up front with his pace and bounce, bowling consistently in the 140s and his intent, aggressive. He was picked ahead of Alex Hales in the playing XI after it was widely touted that SRH would opt for the Englishman at the top to beef up their batting, given their stock of Indian pacers. In what was an aggressive move from SRH, they opted for Stanlake, and it worked in unsettling the opposition’s top order.

While it was an all-round effort from SRH’s bowlers, Shakib Al Hasan included, who was introduced even before Kaul, Sunrisers’ bowling unit has revolved around the pivot formed by the duo of Bhuvneshwar and Rashid Khan. And continues to do so. This season, factoring in the absence of Warner at the top and the starts he provided the team with, how the bowlers rally around the pair becomes vital for SRH’s campaign if they have to make it far in the tournament.

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Kaul’s role, therefore, is outlined all the more, given that change in conditions will spur the need for different combinations as the tournament progresses. Against Rajasthan, the gamble of playing five mainstream bowlers – with the part-time options of Deepak Hooda and Yusuf Pathan – worked, with just the five being used. It may not be the case when slower wickets, or good batting surfaces, come into the equation where SRH will have to chop and change and opt for a horses-for-courses approach, bringing in maybe a Mohammad Nabi or Hales.

That said, if Kaul has to be picked as the second seamer alongside Bhuvneshwar, he’ll have to clasp and validate every opportunity presented to him. After all, Sandeep’s IPL credentials – with returns of 18, 13, 15 and 17 wickets in the last four seasons respectively (starting from 2014) – infuse enough confidence in the management to know he can form an effective two-man pace attack with Bhuvneshwar. The road ahead for the 27-year-old lad from Punjab this season may be tough given the slew of pacers vying that one spot, but given that he made a statement in his first opportunity, would have counted for something. #KhabarLive