The Sunrisers and the suck

The Sunrisers are the first team to be eliminated from the finals of the IPL, but sometimes that is a good thing.

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The Sunrisers just won their second game in the IPL this season. It came when any hope of a finals place was well gone. And there was a dead cat bounce to it as they made a bunch of changes looking ahead to the future.

I'm very interested in where the Sunrisers go from here, as I've just done a video that illustrates how good they once were and how bad they currently are.

It’s a really interesting to look at how a team this consistent has finally fallen over, thanks to a freak occurrence of bad form across most of their team, and also the lack of ever overcoming their obvious problems.

But it also made me think of my times with teams. When you work with a side, there are very few times you hope your team loses, but sometimes you know it's for the best.

You see teams in some leagues tank on purpose for draft picks, or for shedding salary for big signings in the offseason. There is no real advantage to the Sunrisers doing that, as the mega auction is coming soon, and there are no extra incentives for losing games.

And even when teams tank on purpose, players keep trying to win. On top of being highly skilled athletes, most professionals are very competitive. That's what they do. Coaches are usually a little more tactical. They want to win every game, but they also have to understand longer-term planning.

For off-field staff like the jobs I have done, you also want to win. Professional sport is so competitive that it's impossible not to be caught up in it, and that's ultimately your job, to win. But there's a point in any season - for the Sunrisers since resumption - where you almost want your chances of the finals to be completely gone. The hanging on within touching distance is very annoying in cricket. Because it means you have to keep playing for victories, even if you're only a one percent of making the finals. There's no bonus to tanking, and so while you have a mathematical chance, you keep fighting.

I remember working for a team that was clearly not going to win the title, and the coach kept asking me for updates of when we could no longer qualify for the finals. We hung in there until the last two games, and there was almost a sense of release at that point. Sure it was annoying to be out of contention, but we'd felt like losers for weeks. Now there was a ray of hope, we could rejig our team to see what might work for the future.

What younger players in our lineup could open the batting or bowling. Which players could replace an overseas so we could see them in the eleven. Could we rest some of the senior players to allow a lesser-known player an expanded role? Even in only two games, we got to see how these players handled the pressure, whether their attitudes changed, if their skills were of this level.

The Sunrisers have this for their last four games. We've already seen them change their team. And the changes weren't just about throwing kids in.

Siddarth Kaul was a good local bowler for them in their heyday. He's 31 now, had a bad year in 2019, and really hasn't been trusted since. To know where they are with a player like him is really important. They know what he can do, but they're really checking to see if he can still do it at this level. Today he went for runs, but took wickets. So they'll probably need him to play again to see where they are.

Abhishek Sharma got a game too, a young left-handed all-round talent is someone they will want to see more of. They've had him in the team before. But he rarely gets much of a go, and now they need him to bat a little higher perhaps and bowl more often. He batted at five today, bowled one over, and had a decent game.

And right before him in the order was Priyam Garg. They had a good look at him last year, and he had a horror season. But he was 19. Today he came in and got a golden duck. But he's only just turned 20, and to have a full season at 19 means someone must believe in you. And this is again the sort of player they should look at.

Whether or not they want David Warner into the future, there is nothing to learn about him. The same with Manish Pandey. Wriddhiman Saha and Sandeep Sharma are in the same bracket. Depending on their personalities over the next couple of games, I'd be looking at resting most of these players. I'd leave in Kane Williamson and Rashid Khan, as chances are they're part of the future, plus that is the DNA of this team. And Bhuveshnar Kumar has found some form. The Jasons (Holder and Roy) are worth looking at to see if they are part of their future.

But there are plenty of other chances for Sunrisers to work out what they might need going forward.

Can Abdul Samad open the batting, or bowling? Is Shreevats Goswami a potential middle-order help? Maybe it's worth kicking the tyres on Sherfane Rutherford? Shouldn't Basil Thampi get a few games?

It's hard to test these things when the season is hot, but the Sunrisers are now a spoiler team for this competition. That will suck for everyone involved, but it gives them a head start on all the other teams still fighting it out for a fourth spot that most of them won't get anyway.

Sometimes it pays to suck harder than other bad teams.