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Analysis

Mid-season report: Titans' Hardik conundrum, Sunrisers' absent spinners, RCB's powerplay woes, and more

A quick run-through of the problem areas that each team has had to manage so far

Every team wants to cover every base with quality options: top-order and middle-order batters, allrounders, keeper-batters, spinners, and fast bowlers who can bowl in the powerplay and the death. But with the total talent pool of IPL 2022 distributed among ten teams rather than eight, it hasn't been possible for every team to cover every base. In fact, most have had to compromise on at least one area to strengthen another. Nearly every team, in short, has at least one identifiable hole. Some have been left gaping over the first half of the season, while others have been patched up to good effect. Here's a quick run-through of the problem areas that each team has had to manage.
Gujarat Titans
Balance a worry if Hardik cannot bowl
Titans have three top-drawer bowlers, one of the world's best young batters, and a world-class all-round force in Hardik Pandya - when he's fully fit. But they also have major problem areas. One of their notional sixth bowlers, Rahul Tewatia, has barely bowled, and with good reason (he's conceded 65 runs in five wicketless overs) and the other, Vijay Shankar, has been in abject form with the bat. The rest of the top-order options, other than Shubman Gill, haven't entirely convinced either.
Thanks to all this, Hardik has had to bat up the order and curb his natural instincts, and carry a bowling workload that his body may or may not be ready for. He has already missed one match with injury, and when he returned, Titans were forced to play an extra bowler and lengthen their tail. And yet, they sit on top of the table with six wins in seven games. Their big-name players have all made significant contributions, while others have chipped in at vital moments, and luck has gone their way in every close game.
Two questions could decide how the second half of their season goes: will their luck hold out, and can they find a feasible solution to maintain their balance if Hardik cannot bowl?
Sunrisers Hyderabad
Where are the spinners?
Sunrisers have the best-performing pace attack of IPL 2022, both in terms of collective average and economy rate. They have fast bowlers for every phase of an innings. But their spinners have only bowled 21% of their overs so far - the smallest share for any team this season and it's no surprise. Sunrisers' drive to acquire pace options at the auction was accompanied by a lack of urgency in signing spinners - this after they had let go of Rashid Khan and their first-choice spinner, Washington Sundar, has missed their last three games with a hand injury.
His replacement, J Suchith, is like-for-like - an allrounder who provides flexibility to the batting line-up but isn't necessarily a wicket-taking option with the ball - but offers a lower performance ceiling. So far, this unbalanced attack has worked extremely well, with the pitches in Mumbai and Pune offering enough help for the fast bowlers to make a paucity of spin options a manageable shortcoming. And Sunrisers' batting line-up - which is deeper and significantly less top-heavy than in previous seasons - has also clicked into gear after a slow start, having been lent a helping hand by their captain winning all seven tosses. But as the same four venues host more games, and as the pitches bake in the unforgivable heat of late April and May, will Sunrisers begin to feel the pinch of not having enough spin options?
Rajasthan Royals
Can Jos Buttler keep his form going?
Rajasthan Royals have had a great start to the season so far. Their openers average 47.92 and strike at 151.5. Jos Buttler has been instrumental for this success by scoring three centuries and hitting 32 sixes. His approach has ensured Royals have not had to depend on the toss or expose their lack of batting depth. They have lost five tosses but have won all those games by putting up big scores to get their strong bowling attack into play. The stronger suit for Royals is their bowling. What happens if Buttler fails? Can their untested middle order stand up? The one game that Buttler failed, Shimron Hetmyer did step up to ensure they got a good total. They have gone in with six batters and five bowlers for the majority of the tournament and that seems to be working fine. As we move to the business end it will be interesting to see if Buttler can maintain his form and whether this approach will be sustainable.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Powerplay woes needs to be addressed soon
Royal Challengers Bangalore have done really well to get to five wins despite not starting well with the bat or the ball through the tournament. They have the worst batting (21) and bowling average in the powerplay( 47.12) so far in the tournament. They have taken just eight wickets in this phase which could be a problem in the back end. Their top three batters have been very inconsistent with the middle and lower order bailing them out on multiple occasions. The one occasion they could not bail them out saw Royal Challengers being bowled out for 68 against Sunrisers. As long as they are winning, they can afford to continue to carry players not in form. A couple of losses could mean they may have to reconsider certain roles. The last two seasons have seen Royal Challengers do very well in the first half and not finish in the top two. They would want to address all holes as as possible to ensure they go one step better this time around.
Lucknow Super Giants
Allrounder abundance a potential double-edged sword
Before the season began, ESPNcricinfo rated Lucknow Super Giants as having a first XI that ticked nearly every box, with their abundance of allrounders offering them enviable depth and flexibility. Their bench options, however, seemed to be a concern, and Super Giants had to deal with this issue as soon as the season began, with a number of first-choice players away on national duty. Having got through that early phase without suffering too much damage, however, Super Giants have lived up to their pre-season billing, with all their four wins having been more or less convincing and all their three defeats coming in close-run contests.
This is a team designed to compete against all oppositions and in all conditions. If there's a weakness in this unit, it might simply be the flip side of one of its strengths. Super Giants have plenty of all-round options, but Krunal Pandya is a sixth bowler who's done a fifth bowler's job this season - admirably, so far - and Marcus Stoinis and Deepak Hooda are sixth bowlers who may not necessarily make up for a frontline option having a bad day. And as much as flexibility is a good thing, there could be such a thing as too much flexibility - the temptation to mix things up and promote your No. 8 to No. 3 could potentially lead to a lack of role clarity.
Delhi Capitals
Too much reliance on Warner-Shaw
Delhi Capitals have had a mixed bag this season. They have won three and lost four games. In two out four games, the opening pair of Shaw and Warner were instrumental in the win. No team scores faster ( SR 159.29) than Capitals for the opening stand and only Royals average ( 38.23) more than Capitals. With Mitchell Marsh back soon, Capitals would be hoping that the top four fire consistently if they would want to go all the way. They would not want to leave it to the inexperienced middle order. Although the likes of Axar Patel and Lalit Yadav won the first game against Mumbai Indians , they have not been able to replicate the same effort in three games post that. The lower middle order could do with some stability and role clarity if they want to go all the way.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Misfiring big names create structural issues
While Kings have been held up as the model for a futuristic, everyone-goes-hard approach to T20 hitting, they aren't even the clearest representatives of that strategy within the IPL. Knight Riders exemplify the philosophy of their coach Brendon McCullum, but that philosophy has brought them just three wins in eight games this season. If everything goes well, their first XI should make this approach work, but various individual components have misfired. Pat Cummins has gone for two runs a ball, Varun Chakravarthy has conceded two extra runs per over while compared to his last two seasons, and Venkatesh Iyer has had a horrific season with the bat. And while Andre Russell remains talismanic with the bat, his iffy bowling fitness has made him a complicated figure from a team-building perspective.
At his best, he balances their XI and covers up Knight Riders' death-bowling issues, but their team management can never be sure how many overs they can get out of him. All this has made for a team whose batters haven't been able to settle into their roles, and whose better-performing bowlers have had to bowl across multiple phases and cover up for their colleagues' poor form. That they have a positive net run rate despite losing five out of eight matches suggests they could go on a winning streak if two or three of their underperforming big names can find some mid-season form.
Punjab Kings
Weak bowling leaves batters with little room for Plan B
Kings' all-out-attacking approach with the bat has been a constant talking point through their season, drawing both praise and censure. Both advocates and critics, however, have largely missed the point of why they've batted the way they have: they don't necessarily have the bowling to defend par totals. And defend is what Kings have had to do in five out of six matches, having won just one toss. Even in that match, they had to chase 206. In shooting for well above par when they've batted first, they've risked falling well below par, which has happened on three occasions, when they were bowled out for 115, 137 and 151.There's one other issue that's prevented them from maximising their hitting talent. Odean Smith, their designated end-overs hitter and fifth bowler, has the potential to be world-class at both roles but is far from the finished article, particularly with the ball. His economy rate of 11.86 - the second-worst in the IPL among all bowlers to have delivered at least 10 overs prompted Kings to leave him out in their seventh match, against Capitals, but that left them with an absurdly long tail, with Kagiso Rabada slotted at No. 7.
Kings' run of mixed results had caused them to shore up a weakness by compromising their strength; not a recipe for success, but you could see why they did it. If Kings enjoy a bit more luck with the toss through the second half of the season, however, their Plan A has the potential to win them matches more consistently. On the other hand, Plan A could come unstuck if the pitches slow down.
Chennai Super Kings
Who is the fourth overseas player for Chennai Super Kings?
We are midway into the season and it is rather unusual that Chennai Super Kings have not nailed their overseas roles and spots. Every available overseas player has got an opportunity at least once. However with seven games to go it is likely that three overseas players have nailed their slots. Mahesh Theekshana has been impressive in the powerplay with his variations while Dwayne Bravo has been outstanding at the death going at just 8.7 runs per over. Dwaine Pretorius has shown his capability in tough situations with both the ball and bat in the games against Lucknow Super Giants and Mumbai Indians. The fourth overseas slot is a decision that Super Kings need to make soon. They are generally known for backing their out of form players and hence dropping Moeen Ali for Mitchell Santner against Mumbai Indians came as a surprise. While Santner is a bowling allrounder, Moeen plays the role of a batting allrounder. With the pitches slowly aiding spin and getting a bit dryer it would be interesting to see which way Super Kings move forward. Pick a better batter or strengthen the bowling which is the weaker of the two suits.
Mumbai Indians
Team balance gone wrong
Halfway into the season, the openers Rohit Sharma and Ishan Kishan are still struggling to provide a platform. Mumbai batters from five to eleven just average 17.93 and strike at 123.96. Only Kings are lower. They purchased Tim David for INR 8.25 crores to play the role Hardik did for them all these years. Along with Kieron Pollard, David was expected to control the middle and end overs. However, David has not been able to find a spot in the XI and they are left with Jaydev Unadkat to play the role of a No.7. One of the main reasons for this is the lack of all-round options in the squad that prevents them from having a good balance. Barring Pollard, none of the top six batters can bowl. As a result they are forced to go with five proper bowlers and six batters. With Brevis hitting form and the spinners of Mumbai struggling to make an impact, they have gone about strengthening their bowling rather than batting. Will Mumbai want to try out David for the next few games to prepare for next season or would they continue to go with their current strategy?

Gaurav Sundararaman is a senior stats analyst at ESPNcricinfo