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What's wrong with Sanju Samson, and when did Steven Smith become a slogger?

Dissecting the key moments in the Mumbai Indians vs Rajasthan Royals game

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Sanju Samson pulls for six, Rajasthan Royals v Chennai Super Kings, IPL 2020, Sharjah, September 22, 2020

Sanju Samson pulls for six  •  BCCI

Why did Jasprit Bumrah open the bowling for Mumbai?
Simple: Jos Buttler and Steven Smith. With the Rajasthan Royals' batting line-up particularly top-heavy, and the recalled Yashasvi Jaiswal out second ball to Trent Boult, the Mumbai Indians knew that they could kill the game with early wickets.
What's more, Bumrah's career numbers are particularly good against Buttler and Smith. Coming into this game, he had dismissed Buttler three times in 23 balls in T20s, with only 27 runs conceded, while he had kept Smith quiet, conceding only 54 runs in 45 balls and dismissing him twice.
That meant Bumrah, whose first over had been the fourth, fifth or sixth in Mumbai's previous matches in this tournament, shared the new ball with Trent Boult, and made an immediate impact: his first over went for two runs, accounted for Smith, and saw the Royals' win probability dip to 10.7% according to ESPNcricinfo's forecaster, having started the run chase at 24.2%.
When did Smith turn into a slogger?
After a year of batting with impressive tempo in T20Is to put questions about whether he was an automatic pick for Australia to bed, Smith has been frenetic in the powerplay this IPL. Three games in a row, he has been out playing ungainly slogs: first, he inside-edged Pat Cummins behind in the match against the Kolkata Knight Riders; next, he chopped on while throwing his hands at a ball wide of his off stump from the Royal Challengers Bangalore's Isuru Udana; tonight, he lined up a huge swipe with no foot movement against Bumrah, with Quinton de Kock taking a simple catch behind the stumps.
The Royals appear to have asked Buttler to bat through the innings while getting Smith to make the most of the fielding restrictions inside the first six overs, and if that's indeed their plan, it doesn't seem to be working after three defeats on the bounce. They return to Sharjah for their next game against the Delhi Capitals on Friday, where ultra-aggression is the order of the day, but after that they will need Smith to find his rhythm rather than swing wildly.
How did Mumbai's top order manage to play with so much intent?
With the Pandya brothers and Kieron Pollard due to come in at No. 5-7, and Ishan Kishan finding his feet in the middle order, Mumbai's top three had the freedom to attack tonight - particularly with Jofra Archer held back to bowl at the death and their middle order in supreme hitting form.
Coming into this match, Rohit Sharma's strike rate in his first 20 balls over the last three years was a relatively cautious 127.2, but he raced to 35 at that stage of his innings tonight, tucking into Ankit Rajpoot, Shreyas Gopal and debutant Kartik Tyagi.
Suryakumar Yadav, at No. 3, managed to do what only the best 'anchor' batsmen can: combine a high level of control - ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data suggested that he was in control of 85% of the balls he faced - with a quick strike rate of 168.08.
Towards the end of his innings, he played deftly by sweeping, ramping and reverse-flicking the seamers into the 'V' between fine leg and third man, scoring 37 of his 79 runs (46.8%) in that region. Only Rishabh Pant, in his 128* against Sunrisers in 2018, has scored more runs in that region in a single IPL innings.
Why did Shreyas Gopal bowl before Archer?
For the second game in a row, Smith used Shreyas inside the powerplay, this time to bowl the second over of the innings. It was a decision influenced by match-ups: Sharma has struggled against legspin early on, being dismissed four times in 20 balls against legspin in the powerplay, while Quinton de Kock also struggles against spin.
But it was a surprise not to see Archer used until the fourth over, by which time the Mumbai Indians openers had found their groove. With the ball no longer swinging, de Kock carved him for four and six, after Rajpoot - in for Jaydev Unadkat - had been wayward in his first two overs. While Shreyas was a good match-up early on, Smith could have given Archer the first over, as he did in the Knight Riders and the Royal Challengers fixtures; after Bumrah and Boult's new-ball breakthroughs, it seemed as though he had missed an opportunity to land the first punch.
Why was Krunal Pandya promoted to No. 5?
After hitting 20 off four balls against the Sunrisers Hyderabad, Krunal Pandya came in at No. 5 after Shreyas had taken two wickets in two balls, the second of them being the left-handed Kishan. It was a decision made in order to maintain a left-right combination at the crease, batting coach Robin Singh said, with the Royals' two legspinners operating in the middle overs.
But Krunal's record against legspin is not great - between the start of the 2018 IPL and the start of this game, he averaged 13.80 and scored at a 130.18 strike rate against it - and as a bowler with plenty of variations, Shreyas is comfortable bowling to left-handers. The result was that Krunal was tied down, chewing up balls that Hardik and Kieron Pollard could have faced, and was then dismissed looking to force the pace against Archer.
What has happened to Sanju Samson?
After hitting 74 and 85 in his first two innings of the tournament, Sanju Samson has made 8, 4 and 0 in his last three. It is a familiar tale for him: in both 2018 and 2019, over 40% of his tournament runs came in his first three innings of the season.
The explanation this season is simple: he struggles when the ball is short. That is not so much of a problem in Sharjah - where he made big scores in the first two matches this season - where mishit pulls can fly away for six and he feels able to take bouncers on, but his weakness against short balls has been his downfall in two of those three failures.
Were the Royals one batsman short?
Tom Curran had only once batted above No. 8 in the IPL, so it was a surprise to see him come in as high as No. 6. It was a necessary move, since the Royals had dropped two middle-order batsmen (Robin Uthappa and Riyan Parag) and a seamer and brought in an opener and two quicks, but their balance looked off with Buttler having to do things single-handedly in the chase following three early wickets for the fourth game running.
That will change soon, with Ben Stokes due to return next week and likely to bat in the top four, but perhaps Parag should be given one more chance in Friday's game in Sharjah.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98