Personnel troubles in SRH’s way as they look to escape the rut
September 20, 2020. Mayank Agarwal hits Marcus Stoinis wide of long-off for four, leaving Kings XI Punjab needing one run off three balls to win their opening match of the season. They fail to get that run, and lose the game in the Super Over.
October 10, 2020. Kings XI need 22 to win off 18 balls, with nine wickets in hand and with KL Rahul at the crease on 70. They fail to make it.
They eventually fail to make the playoffs, finishing with a better net run rate than the fourth-placed team but with two points fewer.
September 21, 2021. Kings XI are now the Punjab Kings, but they’re the same team in many ways. They have eight wickets in hand, they have Nicholas Pooran and Aiden Markram set and firing, and they somehow fail to score eight runs off two overs.
There’s an argument that the Kings bungle these moments because of a lack of tactical nous. There’s an equally strong argument that it’s just randomness, that these things happen in T20, where luck influences results to a bigger degree than many would care to admit, and that bad luck has simply happened to follow the Kings wherever they’ve gone over the last two seasons.
Whatever it is, the Kings can’t keep letting this sort of thing happen to them if they are to have a chance of making the playoffs this season. With five games left in their league campaign, they still have a more than decent chance of getting there, despite sitting second from bottom.
And that’s because the bottom team, Sunrisers Hyderabad, have had an utterly miserable season, winning just one of their eight games so far. There’s no mystery to why they’ve struggled this much – as has been the case in every recent season, their middle order has been poor, and the management has failed to remedy this issue, retaining 22 players from last season and only signing three players – of which only one was a middle-order batter – at the auction.
Their batting woes have only taken a turn for the woes in the UAE leg of the season, with Jonny Bairstow pulling out, and his replacement Sherfane Rutherford now leaving the tournament bubble following the death of his father.
Given all this, it’s highly unlikely that the Sunrisers will make the playoffs, but their mathematical chances will improve if they can beat the Kings on Saturday. The Sunrisers have beaten the Kings 12 times in 17 meetings, including three of the last four, and their only win this season.
In the news
The Sunrisers have added the Jammu & Kashmir fast bowler Umran Malik – who was part of their contingent as a net bowler – to their squad as a short-term replacement for Natarajan. He will only be part of the squad until Natarajan rejoins it upon completion of his quarantine.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: 1 David Warner, 2 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Manish Pandey, 5 Kedar Jadhav, 6 Abdul Samad, 7 Jason Holder, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Sandeep Sharma, 11 Khaleel Ahmed.
Kings XI Punjab: 1 KL Rahul (capt & wk), 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Aiden Markram, 4 Nicholas Pooran, 5 Deepak Hooda, 6 Fabian Allen, 7 Adil Rashid, 8 Harpreet Brar, 9 Arshdeep Singh, 10 Mohammed Shami, 11 Ishan Porel.
In their last game against the Royals, the Kings picked seven bowling options, which meant Adil Rashid – who last batted above No. 8 in a T20 game in September 2017 – was slotted to come in at No. 7. A century opening stand hid the risks of that selection, but if they go with the same sort of balance again, the Sunrisers could look to go hard at their top order. This might mean stationing two slips for their swing bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Sandeep Sharma – who oddly didn’t take the new ball in the match against the Delhi Capitals – and perhaps even introducing Rashid Khan within the powerplay. Rashid has a terrific IPL record against KL Rahul, having dismissed him three times in 30 balls for the cost of just 18 runs.
With Chris Gayle available, and one of those seven bowling options – Fabian Allen – going unused against the Royals, the Kings might ask themselves whether they really need so many bowlers. Adil Rashid went for 35 in three overs in that game, and even if the Kings feel they have to play a legspinner, they have two good Indian ones in their squad, in Ravi Bishnoi and M Ashwin. Bishnoi is a fine bowler to left-handers, with his over-the-wicket angle accentuated by his use of the wrong’un as his stock ball, and he’s dismissed David Warner twice in four balls over two meetings.
Another option for the Kings in case they want to lengthen their batting would be to include Shahrukh Khan in place of one of their Indian bowlers.
Among all batters who have faced at least 50 balls in the powerplay since the 2019 season, Manish Pandey (148.62) and Wriddhiman Saha (147.10) have the best strike rates in the IPL. Saha is likely to open again for the Sunrisers, but the team might be wasting Pandey at No. 4, given that his middle-overs strike rate in the same time period is a modest 111.01. Is there, therefore, a case for the Sunrisers to open with Pandey and Saha, and move Warner into the middle order? Warner has struggled in the powerplay this season, only managing a strike rate of 106.89 in this phase. His left-handedness could also come in handy in the middle overs, given that the Kings’ likely spinners (unless they play the wrong’un specialist Bishnoi) all turn the ball into him.
Stats that matter
With its short boundaries and flat pitch, Sharjah is the highest-scoring of the three grounds hosting the UAE leg. IPL matches hosted by Sharjah have seen an average of 8.22 sixes hit per innings, which is well ahead of Dubai (5.44) and Abu Dhabi (4.33).
KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal have put on five century opening stands in the IPL. The Kings have lost on four of those occasions.
David Warner enjoys playing against the Kings. He’s scored 943 runs against them at an average of 52.38 and a strike rate of 140.11.
This will be the Kings’ 200th IPL match, and Warner’s 150th.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo