With all teams having played at least five games in this season of IPL so far, the ‘early days’ in the tournament are well and truly over. The middle-phase of any competition is a dangerous territory to be given the step-motherly treatment as it dilutes the clustering in the points table separating the good from the bad. Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kings XI Punjab fall in the latter category - the contestants in match 22 of the 2020 IPL - with the risk of falling behind in the race for the playoffs.
Both sides are in a pretty similar position right now. They are yet to work out their best combination. KXIP have struggled to field their best XI out of the squad they built in the auction. SRH, on the other hand, have been hit with injuries to Mitchell Marsh and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. In a similar vein, the two sides have issues in both batting and bowling departments.
A scarcity of bowling options
The bowling deficiencies, especially, are more glaring in both camps. KL Rahul appeared clueless in managing his bowlers against Mumbai Indians and then they were further obliterated in a 10-wicket defeat by the Chennai Super Kings. They have the worst economy-rate in the death leaking runs at 14.8 runs per over. What is more troubling is that currently, they have no options up their sleeve either to rectify the weakness and will have to stick with Chris Jordan.
SRH, which has always been a good bowling side, have lost the most vital cog of their pace battery now in Bhuvneshwar. After a couple of moderate seasons, Bhuvi was looking in his elements once again with the best economy-rate by a pacer in the tournament as yet (albeit without playing in Sharjah).
His withdrawal has compromised SRH’s bowling after the team showed signs of settling into a combination with two consecutive victories (against Delhi and Chennai).
Contrasting opening partnerships
A top-heavy batting line-up, SRH have been let down by their opening duo - Jonny Bairstow and David Warner. While expecting a whirlwind start from them every game was always going to be too much to ask, they have been underpar with the bat this year.
They have the lowest strike-rate amongst the 14 batsmen who have faced over 50 balls in the Powerplay this season. It is uncharacteristic of them who were striking at 164.1 last season to amass 791 runs.
Warner, especially, has been scratchy this year. Taking the anchor’s role, he has not been able to find the flow which has acquired him loads of success in previous seasons. He currently averages 35 this season alongside a strike-rate of 123.2, both his lowest in a year since joining SRH in 2014.
Contrastingly, KXIP have been brilliant at the top. KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal have been the heart of their batting. However, KXIP are still languishing at the last spot by virtue of their mediocre middle-order which has not backed up the solid foundation laid ahead of them.
Time to get Mujeeb in?
Having lost four out of their first five games, KXIP effectively have the leeway of losing only two more games in their remaining nine if they have to qualify for the Playoffs. With time running out, maybe it is a chance to give a game to a quality bowler like Mujeeb Ur Rahman.
Considering their numbers five and six have batted only 65 balls to date in IPL 2020 - the least amongst all teams - they can consider dropping Glenn Maxwell to bring Mujeeb in. Bought with the idea to furnish the middle-order with firepower, Maxwell has averaged 13.7 at a strike-rate of 93.2. He has faced 44 balls in the season without hitting a six. His balls-per-boundary ratio of 14.7 is also the worst in the season (amongst batsmen who have faced over 40 balls in the season).
Moreover, Rahul has gone in with an approach to bat through the innings which further provides the case to embolden their bowling line-up with Mujeeb instead of exhausting an overseas spot on another middle-order batsman.
Kings XI Punjab:
Chris Jordan has been expensive but KXIP need to persist with him to give themselves options at the death. In case Mujeeb does replace Maxwell, one amongst Karun Nair and Krishnappa Gowtham could be back in the XI.
KL Rahul (c & wk), Mayank Agarwal, Mandeep Singh, Nicholas Pooran, Sarfaraz Khan, Karun Nair/Krishnappa Gowtham, Chris Jordan, Ravi Bishnoi, Mohammed Shami, Sheldon Cottrell, Mujeeb Ur Rahman
SRH suffered a 34-run defeat in their last game but a change in the XI looks unlikely.
David Warner ( c ), Jonny Bairtsow (wk), Manish Pandey, Kane Williamson, Priyam Garg, Abhishek Sharma, Abdul Samad, Rashid Khan, Sandeep Sharma, Siddarth Kaul, T Natarajan