After making the playoffs five seasons in a row, Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) have probably had the worst possible start to the 2021 season of the Indian Premier League (IPL). They have lost four out of their first five matches and are currently languishing at the bottom of the points table.
Although SRH have always been a team with a strong bowling side and a top-heavy batting unit, the middle-order has made contributions whenever the SRH has done well in the IPL.
However, the current season hasn’t panned out that way so far. The SRH middle-order has just not been able to come up with a strong performance so far and this has directly impacted their fortunes.
So, what exactly is going wrong for SRH? Here, let us take a look at how the batsmen constituting the middle-order (numbers 4, 5, 6 and 7) have fared so far. We are trying to compare the numbers from this season with how the SRH middle-order went about in the 2016 season when they won the championship as a benchmark. We will also compare this with the performance of the Royal Challengers Bangalore middle-order, who are currently at the top of the table.
SRH middle-order hasn’t been making enough runs
To put it plainly, the SRH middle-order hasn’t just been making enough runs this season. They have contributed a little under 25% of the total runs made by the team so far. And if we remove the knock of 55 runs made by Jonny Bairstow - who has moved to the opening slot - in their opening match against the Kolkata Knight Riders, the contribution will come down to 17.5%.
If we take the case of RCB, the middle-order has contributed 48% of the runs made by them. A direct comparison of the total runs made by the middle-order with a side like RCB may not give the exact picture since SRH is a top-heavy side. However, even in the 2016 season, the middle-order had contributed around 30% or almost one-third of the total.
But more than the runs and average, the strike rate helps us gauge how the batsmen have fared in the latter part of the innings. And when we compare the strike rates of the SRH middle-order this season with that of RCB or the SRH middle-order of 2016, we will see a stark contrast.
While the middle-order batsmen scored their runs at a strike rate of almost 120 in the 2016 season, it has come down to less than 110 this year. If we remove that knock of Bairstow, the other batsmen have scored at the rate of just one run per ball. The RCB middle-order, on the other hand, has been in a league of its own, destroying opposition attacks in the death overs and scoring at a strike rate of almost 150.
The middle-order hasn’t been able to provide the impetus in the latter half of the innings
The importance of a strong finish to an innings can never be underrated in a limited-overs game. For the batters coming in to bat during the latter part of the innings, it is important to stay ahead of the existing run rate and ensure that the momentum is maintained. But the middle-order of SRH has been able to score at better than the innings run-rate on only one occasion so far. When we compare this with the 2016 season, we will find that they were able to score at a better run rate than the innings average in 7 out of 16 matches. In 2 other outings, the middle-order at least matched the innings run rate.
This is where RCB have been excellent this season. The middle-order led by AB de Villiers and the in-form Glenn Maxwell has propelled the innings more often than not and has played a crucial part in helping the side being at the top of the table at this point. They have been able to score at a pace better than the innings run-rate on all occasions except in the match against SRH where they were almost par.
Constantly changing the personnel hasn’t helped
SRH have been guilty of constantly changing their batsmen in the middle-order in all five matches they have played so far. Jonny Bairstow batted in the middle in the first couple of games and then got promoted up the order. The injury to Abdul Samad after the first two matches hasn't helped either. Virat Singh has played the last three matches but has looked completely out of place.
The presence of foreign all-rounders like Mohammad Nabi and Jason Holder seemed to strengthen that batting unit at the outset. But once Kane Williamson came into the side, they were unable to consider either Nabi or Holder for that spot.
This constant chopping and changing in the middle has disrupted whatever momentum the side had. The players don’t seem to have a sense of security about their spot either in the batting order or even in the side, which is important for them to play freely.
Alternatives available for SRH
SRH, without a doubt, need the presence of a stroke-maker in the middle-order. They could consider bringing back Jonny Bairstow to bat at 4. He is certainly one of the best white-ball openers going around, but the team might benefit from him batting in the middle.
David Warner could also consider playing Manish Pandey at 5 and give him the freedom to have a go right from the outset. He hasn’t played freely whenever he has batted in the top-order so far and a stint in the middle-order might help.