Have Sunrisers Hyderabad arrested their slide just at the right time? After going winless in their first two matches, they hit back with successive eight-wicket wins: against Chennai Super Kings
and then against Gujarat Titans
, who were consigned to their first defeat following three consecutive victories to begin the season.
For Sunrisers, there was the encouragement of their top four contributing in both victories: Abhishek Sharma hit 75 and 42, Kane Williamson scored 32 and 57, Rahul Tripathi played a commanding cameo against Super Kings and Nicholas Pooran made a rapid 34 not out against Titans. But amidst those positives emerged concerns, too: Washington Sundar was ruled out
of their upcoming two matches through a split webbing, and their misfiring middle order went untested in back-to-back games.
Their bowling has been quietly effective, with T Natarajan leading the way with eight wickets, and Sundar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar being economical alongside their occasional strikes. But how do Sunrisers find a way to balance their side without Sundar?
on the table, their opponents Kolkata Knight Riders will want more from their batters. The most runs that anyone from their line-up has scored in five matches is Andre Russell with 130, 70 of which came in a single innings. Venkatesh Iyer has only one score above 20, Shreyas Iyer has crossed 30 only once, Sam Billings has failed to fire, Ajinkya Rahane has scored only 80 runs at a strike rate of exactly 100 despite opening each time, and Nitish Rana, too, is yet to get going.
Although Knight Riders have won three matches - all of them while chasing - they once had to be bailed out by Pat Cummins' remarkable 56 not out from 15 balls in pursuit of 162 against Mumbai Indians
On the contrary - and much like Sunrisers - they have answered the call with the ball. Umesh Yadav has ten wickets in five matches and has twice delivered Player-of-the-Match performances, while Sunrisers' line-up will be wary of a miserly bowling combination which boasts economy rates of 4.85 for Sunil Narine, 6.60 for Umesh, 7 for Tim Southee and 7.30 for Varun Chakravarthy, who is banking on a new variation
to turn around a lukewarm start to his IPL season.
In the news
Billings, who was down with an illness over the past few days, is available for selection, but it remains to be seen if he makes the XI with Aaron Finch also now present and good to go.
Tripathi retired out in the run chase against Titans, with coach Tom Moody confirming that it was only cramps rather than a serious injury. His last two scores read 39 not out from 15 balls and an unbeaten 17 from 11. With Sundar unavailable, Sunrisers will be hoping Tripathi, their No. 3, isn't forced to miss out just when he seems to be peaking.
Sunrisers have allrounder Shreyas Gopal, left-arm spinner J Suchith and part-time legspinner Abdul Samad as options in place of Sundar. Gopal's all-round skills make him the favourite, a potential like-for-like replacement.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: 1 Abhishek Sharma, 2 Kane Williamson (capt), 3 Rahul Tripathi, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 6 Shashank Singh, 7 Shreyas Gopal, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Marco Jansen, 10 Umran Malik, 11 T Natarajan
Aaron Finch for Rahane is one way Knight Riders can look to resolve their top-order problem, while Sheldon Jackson, who was benched after the first two games, is an option to replace an unconvincing Billings.
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Ajinkya Rahane/Aaron Finch, 2 Venkatesh Iyer, 3 Shreyas Iyer (capt), 4 Sam Billings/Sheldon Jackson (wk), 5 Nitish Rana, 6 Andre Russell, 7 Pat Cummins, 8 Sunil Narine, 9 Rasikh Salam, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Varun Chakravarthy
Strategy punt Williamson is yet to be dismissed by Cummins and Narine in all T20 cricket, and has fallen just once to Umesh, against whom he has a strike rate of 197. But then, Williamson has a strike rate of only 81 against Narine, while his opening partner, Abhishek Sharma, has faced only six balls from the mystery spinner. These trends make for a case for Knight Riders to give Narine the new ball despite him having bowled only one over in the powerplay this season. Sunrisers' experienced new-ball bowler Bhuvneshwar has kept a tight lid on Finch and Shreyas, both of whom could feature in Knight Riders' top three. Having bowled 53 balls in 12 T20s to Finch, Bhuvneshwar has restricted his strike rate to 85; Shreyas also has the same strike rate against him, in 48 deliveries. Venkatesh, too, has managed just three runs off the seven balls he has faced off Bhuvneshwar, although without being dismissed. Considering Knight Riders' opening stand hasn't crossed 21 over the last four matches, Bhuvneshwar can exploit that weakness.
Stats that matter
The last time Sunrisers beat Knight Riders in the IPL was in 2019, hunting down 160 with five overs and nine wickets in hand. If picked, Knight Riders will be the ninth IPL team Finch will have represented. The most sides that any other player has played for is six. Sunrisers have bowled only 18 overs of spin thus far in the season, the lowest for any team. Mumbai Indians have also used spinners sparingly - just 18.3 overs. With a strike rate of 99, Rahane and Venkatesh have been the slowest opening pair this IPL (min. three innings opening together).
Himanshu Agrawal is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo