Two teams that, on paper, are heavily reliant on their top order face off in Dubai – it’s Kings XI Punjab against Sunrisers Hyderabad, both teams in the bottom three of the IPL 2020 points table at this stage.
The Kings XI have lost their last three games and are last among the eight sides despite KL Rahul (302) and Mayank Agarwal(272) being among the top three run-scorers this season. The pair’s success – they have scored over 63% of the team’s runs so far – has meant that the middle order has been left a bit undercooked. And with no bowler apart from Mohammed Shami and Ravi Bishnoi quite hitting their groove, many team combinations (15 players in five games) have been tried – and discarded – leaving them with an unsettled-looking XI. They need to break their run of defeats urgently, or risk going another season without a final-four finish, having last reached there in 2014.
Rahul, despite all the runs, is a concern too. With strike rates of 122 in balls 1-10, 119 in 11-20, 103 in 21-30 and 123 in 31-40, the downside of putting a price on his wicket and being an anchor is that the team is being forced to underutilise their big-hitting resources – Nicholas Pooran, Glenn Maxwell, Sarfaraz Khan and sometimes James Neesham – down the order.
As for their bowling, Shami and Sheldon Cottrell have found the early breakthroughs to make them the best powerplay bowling side going around. But despite that, the Kings XI has taken two or more wickets only once between overs seven and 15 so far, and the lack of breakthroughs have meant conceding plenty in the death overs. Will Chris Jordan keep his place, or can they finally find space for Mujeeb Ur Rahman?
The Sunrisers, currently sixth, are better off – but only just – having learnt that Bhuvneshwar Kumar is out for the season following a thigh injury he picked up against the Chennai Super Kings.
David Warner, Jonny Bairstow, Kane Williamson and Manish Pandey have contributed in a few games, but none of them has been consistent. And on days when two or more of them fail, the pressure shifts on their very young middle and lower order. While that has meant the likes of Priyam Garg, Abhishek Sharma and Abdul Samad have had the chances to impress, the Sunrisers could consider allrounders Mohammad Nabi or Fabian Allen to add a bit of experience. That, though, would most likely mean leaving out Williamson. In Kumar’s absence, their pace unit is inexperienced too.
Overall, there’s no clear favourite entering the contest. Both sides need to get going before the early movers break away from the pack, and Thursday’s contest could be the start of that – for one of the two teams.
Prithvi Raj Yarra has been named Kumar’s replacement, but it may be a while before he gets a game, especially if the more experienced fellow left-arm seamer Khaleel Ahmed – who missed the Sunrisers’ game over the weekend – is fit.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: 1 David Warner (capt), 2 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 3 Kane Williamson, 4 Manish Pandey, 5 Priyam Garg, 6 Abhishek Sharma, 7 Abdul Samad, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Sandeep Sharma, 10 Siddarth Kaul, 11 T Natarajan
Kings XI Punjab: 1 KL Rahul (capt), 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Mandeep Singh, 4 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 5 Glenn Maxwell, 6 Sarfaraz Khan, 7 Chris Jordan/James Neesham, 8 Harpreet Brar/M Ashwin, 9 Sheldon Cottrell, 10 Mohammad Shami, 11 Ravi Bishnoi
With three overseas players in the Sunrisers’ top four, the Kings XI could field Mujeeb ur Rahman, who is a stalwart with the new ball. The spinner can drift into the right-hand batsmen or across the left-handers.
The Kings XI have the pacers to trouble Bairstow early on, as long as they bowl on a good length. He has a strike rate of 79 and average of 13.50 against those deliveries this season, with two dismissals; and in Shami and Cottrell, the Kings XI have the resources to exploit that.
While Nabi or Allen could be spin options for the Sunrisers, they could also consider bringing in the other allrounder in their ranks – Jason Holder, who replaced Mitchell Marsh earlier on. At the CPL, he had a batting strike rate of 140 on very difficult surfaces and has the experience of bowling in the middle and death overs.
Win the toss and bat first seems to be the smart choice here. In the first nine matches in Dubai, teams have chosen to field seven times but lost each of the matches. In fact, the Sunrisers are the only team to opt to bat and win a game here.
Last season, the Sunrisers’ opening pair of Warner and Bairstow got over 60% of the team’s runs, scoring at a strike rate of 164 while getting three half-century and four century stands. This season, they have just a solitary fifty-plus stand so far. Among batsmen with at least four innings, Bairstow (105) and Warner (111) are ahead of only Sunil Narine (87) on the list of poorest powerplay strike rates.
Agarwal has faced only four googlies this season, but has been dismissed twice by them; 57% of Rashid Khan’s deliveries this season have been googlies.
Warner has scored a half-century in each of his last eight matches against the Kings XI.
The Kings XI concede 14.8 runs per over in the death overs, the poorest among all teams.
Sunrisers Hyderabad, Indian Premier League, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Cricket, Kings XI Punjab, Chennai Super Kings, India national cricket team, Kolkata Knight Riders
Actu monde – US – Top-heavy Kings XI Punjab and Sunrisers Hyderabad look for right XIs, rise in points table