The middle overs have become more important in Twenty20 cricket on the slower pitches in India, which has left Kings XI Punjab with a quandary on how to approach them. Their two best batsmen - David Miller and Glenn Maxwell - bat in the middle overs.
They got a good start in their opening match - 52 for 0 after six overs - but perhaps went too hard in the middle and lost wicket. Their opponents Gujarat Lions saved the best bowlers - Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja - precisely for those middle overs. Miller and Maxwell fell in one Bravo over, looking for forceful shots, and Kings XI eventually ended up with a total they could not defend.
On the eve of their second match, against Delhi Daredevils in Delhi where the pitches at the nets had little life in them, Miller spoke of the need to be flexible, but not at the cost of playing freely. It is a balance every T20 middle-overs batsman seeks to find. Since the start of the World T20, that has been a little difficult to manage.
"That's something we have spoken about," Miller said. "As I said, Maxwell and I got out in one over so it's a big momentum swing right there. There were two new batters, and they had to rebuild so that was a big negative. But that's the nature of the game so we need to be flexible. We need to learn to adapt.
"Mohali has big boundaries. They were bowling a lot of good cutters. We should be focussing on hitting it in the gaps and running twos instead of taking on the bowlers early on. I think it's about being clever in the middle period. It's a fine line because you don't want to lose wickets and you want to keep the runs coming. It's about finding that balance."
Coach Sanjay Bangar was asked after the last defeat if this could lead to a new trend in T20 where if fielding sides keep their best bowlers for the middle overs, perhaps the batsmen would look to not go hard against them and target the others. Bangar said teams could not afford to play one bowler with a defensive mindset in T20. Miller, too, echoed the view that it was not all about delaying the big hits. That it was more about clever batting.
"I think it just boils down to being smart," Miller said. "Who's thinking smarter than the opposition. They bowled really well the other night. They bowled in the right zone and used the cutters really well. We just have to play smarter in the middle period. I'm a big believer in: 'If you sense, if you get a sniff, that you can take down a bowler then you should take him down.' It's only 20 overs so you have to see how the night is going and go with the flow."
Delhi is expected to be a similar test of the batsmen's wits in the middle overs. Miller said the pitches in the nets were turning and staying low. The home team's strength is spin; Daredevils have Amit Mishra, Imran Tahir and Pawan Negi. They could test Kings XI, who like the pace on, with their spinners. Miller and Maxwell in the middle will have to take the responsibility of assessing the situation in little time.