How do you solve a problem like Sunrisers' batting?
With Sunrisers' bowling, it turns out. For three games now, it has been as simple as that: bat first, put up a less-than-adequate total, and look to your gun bowling attack to bail you out. Against Royals on Sunday, they looked to address their batting woes by handing an IPL debut to Alex Hales, but after an oddly slow-scoring Hales (strike rate 115) and the in-form Williamson took them to 107 for 1 in 13 overs, they lost the plot and ended up with a meagre 44 runs in their final seven. As things stand, both their scoring rate with the bat (7.63) and economy rate with the ball (7.10) are well below the tournament average (8.62). They are clearly playing a different game from the rest of the sides in this tournament. And then, if it felt like their bowling attack could do no wrong even in the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Billy Stanlake, they even had a new contributor in Yusuf Pathan, whose two overs went for just 14 runs while accounting for Ben Stokes.
Let's talk about Ben Stokes
And Jos Buttler, and Jaydev Unadkat, who together cost Rajasthan Royals over a third of their auction budget. Buttler took an outstanding low catch to get rid of Williamson on Sunday, but otherwise, the trio's failure to pull their weight is starting to cost Royals on the points table. Neither of them have crossed fifty yet this season, Buttler not even thirty. Together, they have faced just 17 balls per dismissal, which tells the story of Royals' middle-order struggles.
If Stokes went from strength to strength during his MVP debut season, contributing with the bat one night, ball the next, his bowling has failed to make up for his middling run with the bat this time around. So far, he has picked up a solitary wicket from 17.1 overs with the ball, having come into the tournament short on overs, nursing a back strain. His three wicketless overs on Sunday cost just 20 runs, but such is Stokes' reputation and past history that a lot more is expected out of him, especially if Royals are to get out of the league phase.
Unadkat's incredible rise as an effective left-arm bowler, particularly at the death, reflected in his astronomical auction price earlier this year. However, his bowling has cost his side an astounding 25.4 runs so far, the worst among bowlers who have bowled over 50 balls, according to ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats, our new metrics to make sense of T20 cricket.
With three of their big guns struggling for form simultaneously, Royals' task has become that much harder.
Rahane fails to kick on, not for the first time
Here's all you need to know about Rahane's knock: in a chase where Royals needed 7.6 runs an over, his strike rate was above the asking rate for exactly one ball of the innings. He had a slow start in the Powerplay, caught up with reasonably productive middle overs, but when they needed to kick on at the death, could not hit top gear. When your opener carries on to the finish in chase like this, it is expected that he finds the mojo as the innings goes on, but Rahane's innings contributed only 2.6 runs above par, according to Smart Stats.
There has been some discussion about whether the next evolution in T20 cricket could see bowling sides proactively trying to keep slow-scoring batsmen on, instead of dismissing them. On a day when Rahane became the first IPL opener with two unbeaten 50-plus scores in losing chases, it sure seems a tempting notion, especially if it leaves the likes of K Gowtham and Jofra Archer in the hut till it's too late. Royals, for their part, did not help themselves by sending in debutant Mahipal Lomror in the 15th over, ahead of Gowtham, whose cameo had sealed the chase in their previous game against Mumbai Indians.