David Warner's side have been slightly unfortunate to have lost Mitchell Marsh and Bhuvneshwar Kumar due to injury, but it's clear that their squad is a far cry from the outfit that brushed aside oppositions on their way to the title in 2016.
One of their most important players over the past few years has been Manish Pandey, who was acquired for a whopping 11 crores in the IPL 2018 auction after a few splendid seasons with the Kolkata Knight Riders.
Pandey, who was batted lower down the order as a finisher for India in T20 cricket, has almost always been used in the top 4 in IPL cricket. The Karnataka batsman has played 113 of his 138 innings in the top 4, with 55 of these appearances coming at No. 3.
And this season, with SRH, Pandey has been used at one-drop as a facilitator to the world-class openers who call the team home - David Warner and Jonny Bairstow.
While his tally of 206 runs in 8 games at an average of 25.75 and a strike rate of 124.84 isn't worrisome by any means, it's all too evident that SRH need another man to bat at No. 3 - New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson.
Kane Williamson is one of the best all-format batsmen in the world
Renowned for his wrist-work and impeccable placement, Kane Williamson is a touch player who is undoubtedly one of the best all-format batsmen in the world. More an artist than a batsman, the Kiwi captain has the ability to excel in a variety of conditions and match situations.
45 of Williamson's 58 T20I innings have come in the top 3, and he has scored 10 fifties with almost 1400 runs to his name. His tally in all other positions combined? Less than 300 runs with 1 fifty.
The same trend can be seen on ODIs and Tests as well. In the longest format of the game, Williamson has played 121 of his 140 innings at No. 3, with an average of 53.96 and 48 fifty-plus scores.
In 50-over cricket, the 30-year-old has walked in at the fall of the first wicket in 117 of his 144 innings, with an average of over 50 and 47 fifty-plus scores. And at No. 4, the average falls down to a disappointing 22.10, while the strike rate plummets down to a modern-day Test standard of 64.43.
These international stats - across formats, venues and oppositions - show that Williamson is a world-class player of the ilk of Steve Smith and Virat Kohli. The No. 3 position, which is widely regarded as the most important position in the line-up due to the versatility required by players who bat there, must belong to Williamson.
Manish Pandey and the finisher's role
It's no secret that SRH's middle order is the most threadbare part of their roster, and they still find themselves heavily reliant on the top 4. That said, the answer to SRH's middle-order batting woes can be Manish Pandey.
Pandey has played 14 innings for India at No. 5, and he averages 59.17 with a strike rate of 125. One position lower - No. 6 - he averages an eye-popping 115 with a strike rate of 149.35, and has been dismissed only once in 7 innings.
And earlier this year, he went on an insane run of unbeaten innings in the absence of legendary finisher MS Dhoni, churning out as many as 6 not-outs on the trot in international cricket and another 6 in domestic T20 cricket. Pandey is definitely a quality player, and the stats show without a shadow of doubt that he is better suited to a role lower down the order.
The right-hander has a number of technical issues due to which he isn't the ideal No. 3 - he is uncomfortable against express pace, and his tendency to clear his front leg has found him wanting when there's appreciable swing on offer. Pandey also finds it hard to rotate strike early on in his innings, and isn't one who can clear the infield immediately after his arrival at the crease with regularity.
With these issues and the numbers in mind, there are no two ways about the fact that Williamson should bat at No. 3 for SRH, with Pandey dropping down at least two positions.
Trevor Bayliss' reasoning for Williamson batting at 4 defies logic
SRH head coach Trevor Bayliss said recently that the franchise has chosen to play Williamson at No. 4 so that he can guide the youngsters who make up the lower-middle order.
This principle is flawed in a number of ways.
One - the only youngster who took to the field for SRH yesterday against the Chennai Super Kings was former India U-19 captain Priyam Garg, who has shown admirable game-awareness and cricket IQ in the few innings that he has played in the IPL. 29-year-old Vijay Shankar walked in at No. 6, with only bowlers to follow.
Two - there's no reason why Manish Pandey - a veteran of 138 IPL games - can't do the same role for SRH. Granted, Williamson has far more international experience and is arguably a far better reader of the game, but surely 'mentoring youngsters' is not reason enough to rip the heart out of the SRH batting line-up and transplant it elsewhere.
Three - with respect to helping the youngsters out, there isn't going to be much of a difference between the No. 3 and No. 4 positions. Irrespective of where he bats for SRH, Williamson is going to play the anchor role, and he's expected to hold down one end while the other (read, more explosive) batsmen play their shots around him.
SRH need to play Williamson at No. 3 to turn their IPL 2020 campaign around
It is imperative that SRH play Williamson at No. 3 to turn their IPL 2020 campaign around, and it is equally important that Pandey is pushed lower by at least two positions to No. 5.
Priyam Garg, who is more of a stroke-player than a power-hitter, could be perfectly suited to the No. 4 position. Even Vijay Shankar, who made the much-acclaimed and controversial role his own for the national team ahead of the 2019 World Cup, can be given another run by SRH.
Pandey, on the other hand, could come in at No. 5 for SRH and play the finisher's role to perfection like he's done so often in the recent past for the Indian team.
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Time is fast running out for SRH in IPL 2020, which is turning out to be one of the most tightly contested editions in history, and the Orange Army need the genius of Kane Williamson at No. 3.
Published 14 Oct 2020, 18:37 IST