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Question time: CSK's batting woes, Williamson vs Nabi, Buttler's partner

One issue for each team to sort in the second half of IPL 2020

MS Dhoni has a lot to ponder after his team's indifferent start to the season

MS Dhoni has a lot to ponder after his team's indifferent start to the season  •  BCCI

At the halfway stage of the IPL 2020 league phase, the Mumbai Indians, the Delhi Capitals and the Royal Challengers Bangalore are placed in the upper half of the table, each inching closer to a playoffs spot. These three teams have identified a core group that gives their respective XI the best balance. Many of the other franchises, though, are struggling to find solutions to issues facing their bowling or batting departments. ESPNcricinfo highlights one key concern that each franchise needs to address, and what they could potentially do to fix it.
Kings XI Punjab: Who are their four best overseas players?
The Kings XI have used 18 players in the first half of the IPL - the joint-highest in the competition; only two overseas players in their squad haven't got a match yet. By contrast, table -toppers Mumbai Indians and the Delhi Capitals have used just four and five overseas players respectively.
The Kings XI did not play Mujeeb Ur Rahman until their sixth match and ended up bowling him after the powerplay against the Kolkata Knight Riders. Chris Jordan and James Neesham have not got consistent opportunities; Glenn Maxwell is yet to hit a six and Chris Gayle has not yet been tried. The Kings XI have swapped and changed a lot, and the clarity of roles for most players seem to be missing. With pitches slowing down, the Kings XI need to show more faith in their Indian spinners and decide which four overseas players they want to play in the next few matches which could allow them a consistent run.
Potential solution: Look to play Maxwell, Nicholas Pooran, Mujeeb and one player between Jordan and Neesham. Also, ensure these players perform roles earmarked for them in specific phases of a match.
Chennai Super Kings: How can they end their batting woes?
The Super Kings' biggest challenge has been their frail and inconsistent batting. Barring Faf du Plessis, no other batsman has been consistent. The absence of conspicuous run-scoring intent at varying stages of an innings has hurt the franchise and that has played a part in the Super Kings' failure to overhaul targets of 170 or less on three occasions. That they are the worst-performing batting line-up in the tournament this season can be gauged from their run rate in the powerplay and the middle overs: 7.14 and 7.61 respectively, worst and second-worst at the halfway mark among all teams.
Potential solution : Provide more batting time and opportunities to the likes of Sam Curran and Ravindra Jadeja and use newcomer N Jagadeesan as a floater.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Williamson or Nabi?
Kane Williamson has not done anything seemingly wrong to be dropped but the other three overseas players that the Sunrisers have in their mix are close to indispensable. So the only player who could be dropped among the cream is the New Zealand captain. With David Warner and Johnny Bairstow showing solidity at the top, playing Williamson at No. 4 seems like a surplus. Importantly, it is the weakness of their bowling attack that has contributed majorly to the Sunrisers' defeats. Specifically, the bigger concern has been the fifth bowler, a role performed by the inexperienced spin twins Abhishek Sharma and Abdul Samad, who have conceded a combined 187 runs in 17 overs at 11 runs per over.
Potential solution: With Bhuvneshwar Kumar injured, the Sunrisers could considering deploying the experienced allrounder Mohammad Nabi - he can float in the middle order and strengthen the bowling unit with his offspin which can be influential on pitches that are steadily slowing down.
Rajasthan Royals: Who can be the stable opening partner for Jos Buttler?
The Royals have used four different opening pairs in seven matches and have added a highest of 27 for the first wicket. They average just 13.42. The Royals have lost the most number of wickets in the powerplay. This despite the presence of their captain Steven Smith and Buttler in the top order. Smith has looked awkward at the top and now the franchise has promoted Ben Stokes to open with Buttler. Will that lead to a stable partnership?
Potential solution: The Royals need to keep their faith in their decision-making and the batsmen they choose as Buttler's partner.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Have they identified their most effective batting order?
Four wins from seven matches is not a bad start, yet the Knight Riders continue to shuffle their batting order. The primary factor behind the Knight Riders second-guessing themselves could be the weak batting form of Sunil Narine before his bowling action was reported. The extended dry run Andre Russell is going through and the lack of certainty around their captain Dinesh Karthik's batting position are additional concerns.
The Knight Riders, who are being coached for the first time by Brendon McCulllum, have played five batsmen at No. 4 in seven matches. Karthik has batted in four different positions during this period. Russell, too, has walked out at different positions while Rahul Tripathi has been juggling opening duties with batting at No. 7 every few games.
Potential solution: The Knight Riders have to figure out a combination comprising six bowlers and ensure the best players of spin bat up the order. The potential order could be: Tripathi, Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Eoin Morgan, Russell, and Karthik, along with five bowlers.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Should they continue to back Aaron Finch?
Remarkably for a franchise that has finished in the lower rungs of the IPL for several years now, the Royal Challengers have identified their core group - made up of nine players - this season. Usually when teams are winning, they refrain from tweaking their combination. However, assuming that conditions are likely to favour spin in the second half of the tournament, there are two spots in the Royal Challengers' XI that could be experimented with. One the domestic Indian player's slot; the other, one of the two overseas recruits' spots. With Chris Morris and Ab de Villiers expected to play all matches, either Isuru Udana or Finch could have to make way when required.
Finch has not had a great run with the bat so far, averaging just 24.42 and striking at 114, although he has supported the up-and-coming Devdutt Padikkal in providing good starts. As the pitches get slower and bounce wanes, Finch might find it hard to score quick runs. In comparison, Udana's variations might be more useful in the death, making him a more reliable pick ahead of Finch.
Potential Solution: Replace Finch with Moeen Ali, who can offer four overs with the ball as well, at the top. Alternatively, play Adam Zampa instead of Finch and select an extra Indian batsmen, with Virat Kohli opening.
Delhi Capitals: Would they need a wristspinner in the second half?
The Delhi Capitals' bowling unit has been a treat to watch this season. The spinners and the pacers have been bowling exceptionally well in conditions that aren't immensely bowling-friendly. The spinners conceded just 6.34 runs per over, striking once every 18 deliveries, in conditions that were initially perceived to be conducive to pace. With the pitches gradually starting to become sluggish and a slew of injuries plaguing their contingent, the franchise could look to play three spinners. However, their veteran wristspinner Amit Mishra has been ruled out of the tournament, meaning the Capitals' bench strength will be put to test. They have just one spin-bowling replacement in their squad: Sandeep Lamichhane.
Potential Solution: Replace Shimron Hetmyer or Anrich Nortje with Lamichhane based on the pitch, also with a view to adding variety to the spin department.
Mumbai Indians: How to give Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard more batting time?
The Mumbai Indians are easily the most balanced and arguably the strongest unit in the competition. The only possible challenge that the defending champions will want to address is figure out a way to give more batting time to Pandya and Pollard. Together they have played an average of 25 balls per match, which is just about 20% of the team's innings, seemingly very low for the massive returns the pair can fetch.
Potential Solution: With Pandya not bowling, he could be used to whack the opposition spinners in the middle overs while keeping Pollard for the death overs.

Gaurav Sundararaman is a senior stats analyst at ESPNcricinfo