Explained: Why did Sunrisers axe David Warner in the middle of the season?

For a team that’s historically top-heavy, David Warner made them punch above their weight with a lion’s share of runs. That’s why Warner demotion from captaincy and removal from the team has prompted raised eyebrows.

David Warner has arguably been the most prolific overseas batsman in the history of the Indian Premier League. As captain of Sunrisers Hyderabad, Warner has led from the front and even guided them to their sole IPL trophy to date.

For a team that’s historically top-heavy, he made them punch above their weight with a lion’s share of runs. That’s why Warner demotion from captaincy and removal from the team has prompted raised eyebrows.

What happened?

Warner was stood down from the Sunrisers Hyderabad captaincy on Saturday, a day before their match against Rajasthan Royals, with Kane Williamson stepping into the position. Warner was then omitted from the team. Tom Moody, director of cricket, said Warner was “shocked and disappointed”.

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What could have prompted the decision?

Going into the match against RR, SRH were rock bottom on the points table having won just one of their six outings. Warner himself had scores of 3, 54, 36, 37, 6 and 57 – and was the second-highest contributor for his team. But Warner’s 193 runs came at a disappointing strike rate of 110.28. In his last match against Chennai Super Kings, Warner was visibly frustrated with his knock of 57.

Could there have been some other underlying reasons for the change?

Sunrisers have a high-profile think tank including Moody, current head coach Trevor Bayliss and mentors VVS Laxman and Muttiah Muralitharan. They may have taken some calls which Warner, as captain, may not have agreed with. In fact, when Manish Pandey was dropped in the middle of the tournament, the skipper said it was a “harsh call” and “it’s on the selectors”. That may have rubbed the franchise think tank the wrong way.

Did the change of guard and overseas combination immediately improve SRH’s fortunes?

No. They played Mohammed Nabi as the fourth overseas player (alongside Williamson, Jonny Bairstow and Rashid Khan) against RR. Nabi bowled just one over that went for 21 runs and scored 17 off five balls as SRH lost by 55 runs, a thrashing in T20 cricket.

What do the goings-on in the SRH camp say about the team dynamics in the IPL set-up?

Something similar is happening now at Kolkata Knight Riders. Skipper Eoin Morgan is not among the runs as they find themselves seventh in the points table. Is it a coincidence that the two teams with overseas captains are at the bottom at the moment?

Teams like Rajasthan Royals, Delhi Capitals and Punjab Kings have seen merit in having an Indian captain, even when foreign players with proven captaincy record are at their disposal. RR let go Steve Smith and appointed Sanju Samson. When Shreyas Iyer was ruled out of the tournament, Delhi Capitals chose Rishabh Pant even when they had Steve Smith in their ranks. The franchise could have gone for Ajinkya Rahane but didn’t as he doesn’t command an automatic slot in a T20 XI.

Punjab Kings are led by KL Rahul, and after he was indisposed, Mayank Agarwal. Chris Gayle, who had a decent stint as West Indies captain wasn’t considered.

Three of the IPL teams are led by Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma and MS Dhoni, icons of the game. It may not be a total coincidence that the other three Indian captains are not specialist batsmen but also keep wickets.

What next for Warner and SRH?

The tone of the statement announcing the change in captaincy has a ring of finality to it. “The management respects the enormous impact David Warner has had for the franchise over a number of years. As we face the remainder of the season, we are sure David will continue to help us strive for success both on and off the field,” reads a lot like a farewell. Has one seen Warner playing for SRH for the last time?

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