The Sunrisers Hyderabad registered their first victory in three attempts this season when they beat the Delhi Capitals by 15 runs in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday. Questions about their middle order - an issue that's dogged the Sunrisers for the last few seasons as well as the start of this one - still persist, and their mentor VVS Laxman inevitably had to field them at a media interaction organised by the franchise on Thursday.
Laxman said it was simply an issue of the younger players in the middle order not getting too many opportunities yet to showcase their skills.
"I know there's too much talk about the middle order. But to be fair, none of the middle-order batsmen got an opportunity in the last two games [against the Capitals and the Kolkata Knight Riders]," Laxman said. "That's a talking point as far as the Sunrisers' franchise is concerned, but deep down, we all have a lot of confidence in the youngsters we have taken."
There's certainly some truth to Laxman's observation when it comes to the lower middle order. The allrounder Abhishek Sharma, for instance, has only faced eight balls in three innings, and finished not out twice, while the lower-order batsman Priyam Garg has only batted once in the Sunrisers' three games. Abdul Samad, who made his debut against the Capitals, only got to face seven balls towards the end of the innings.
Laxman said the team was happy to let the youngsters "settle down".
"Every franchise will have youngsters in their batting line up; it is just about allowing the youngsters to settle down in the side," he said. "As I said, at the moment we've got three youngsters who are playing in the middle order: Priyam Garg, Abhishek Sharma and Abdul Samad - and they are quality players."
The upper middle order, though, hasn't really fired. Manish Pandey has a strike rate of 115.78 after three innings, Wriddhiman Saha made a run-a-ball 30 in his only outing, and Vijay Shankar - who has been out injured for the Sunrisers' last two matches - made a first-ball duck in his only game so far. The Sunrisers bolstered their middle order against the Capitals, bringing in Kane Williamson, who fired immediately, scoring a crucial 41 off 26 balls.
Laxman felt Williamson's inclusion has strengthened the batting significantly.
"With the addition of Kane Williamson, who's recovered from his injury [and is] batting at No. 4 - we saw what he did in the previous game - I believe that we've got a strong batting line up and we know their potential and that they can win matches."
Bringing Williamson in, however, meant the Sunrisers had to sacrifice the allrounder Mohammad Nabi, with only four overseas players allowed in a playing XI. While the move worked against the Capitals, going without Nabi was a gamble. The Sunrisers were left with the inexperienced Abhishek as their fifth bowling option.
Laxman, though felt, the value of David Warner, Jonny Bairstow and Williamson with the bat offset the loss of another bowling option.
"There's no doubt that we've got three overseas batsmen in the top four," Laxman said. "But what we've got to realise is that based on the squad that we've got, we must have the best players playing in the eleven. And all three of Kane, Warner and Bairstow are top-class batsmen who can win matches on their own."
Laxman hoped the uncapped Indian middle-order batsmen would be able to fulfill the role of the finisher. "Overall, we're quite excited that we've got youngsters who'll probably play a finishing role. But if we play to our potential - like what we did the other night, when Abdul Samad and Abhishek Sharma hardly got any deliveries to face - then our batting is sorted out."
He also said it was a "luxury" that the Sunrisers could try out different combinations despite having lost the allrounder Mitchell Marsh to injury. "We have an opportunity to use Kane at the moment, but based on the circumstances and the opposition, we've got a luxury of playing different combinations. That's the beauty of our squad - we can play different elevens and we also have Jason Holder, who's joined the squad as a replacement for Mitchell Marsh."