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Feature

IPL 2022 big questions - Part II: Will Wade open for Titans? Where do Sunrisers slot in Pooran?

Also, do Lucknow Super Giants have enough back-up for their first XI?

Nagraj Gollapudi and Gaurav Sundararaman
18-Mar-2022
Jos Buttler was on fire at the top for Rajasthan Royals early last season  •  BCCI/IPL

Jos Buttler was on fire at the top for Rajasthan Royals early last season  •  BCCI/IPL

In the second part of ESPNcricinfo's runthrough of the key selection questions teams face at IPL 2022, we look at Rajasthan Royals, Punjab Kings, Sunrisers Hyderabad and the two new teams - Gujarat Titans and Lucknow Super Giants.
Rajasthan Royals: Where does Buttler bat, and who's at No. 7?
Last IPL, Jos Buttler played only the first half but was his team's leading scorer (254 runs at a strike rate of 153) before the Covid-19-enfored break. He signed off with 124 against Sunrisers. In six of seven Royals matches in the first half, Buttler opened. But given the addition of Devdutt Padikkal, will Buttler continue at the top?
If he opens, Padikkal will possibly play at No. 3 followed by Sanju Samson, Royals' captain, at No. 4. That will also mean a left-right opening combination instead two left-hand openers in Yashasvi Jaiswal and Padikkal. That said, if Buttler bats at No. 3 or 4, Royals would have a power-packed middle-order that also features Shimron Hetmyer at No. 5.
You would expect R Ashwin, Trent Boult, Yuzvendra Chahal and Prasidh Krishna to be Nos. 8-11. That leaves No. 7. For that, Royals would ideally want an allrounder, who is likely to also be the fourth overseas player. Rassie van der Dussen could perhaps swap batting positions with Hetmyer to create batting depth, but then Royals would end up light on bowling. So it is essentially a toss-up between James Neesham and Nathan Coulter-Nile. Coulter-Nile might just be the front-runner considering he is a bowling allrounder who scores at a strike rate of 132 in T20s and can bowl at 140-plus kph.
Punjab Kings: Should Bairstow bat at No. 4?
Punjab Kings have an enviable top five in Shikhar Dhawan, Mayank Agarwal, Jonny Bairstow, Liam Livingstone and Shahrukh Khan. The only question for them is whether Livingstone should bat at one-down and Bairstow at four, a role he performs for England in T20Is when Buttler and Jason Roy open.
Livingstone has played at No. 3 18 times in T20s, scoring 496 runs at an average of 33.06, with a strike rate of 144.18 and five fifties. Both Bairstow and Livingstone have good records against spin in the last two years, scoring off the slow stuff at close to 140. Livingstone has similar a strike rate at Nos. 4 and 5 too, but his average drops to the mid-20s.
If Bairstow bats at No. 4, not only will he allow more freedom to the top order, but with his extensive experience, he could also guide the lower-middle order, which is likely to have Shahrukh and Odean Smith.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: Where should Pooran bat?
Sunrisers have a lot of depth and flexibility in their squad: many of their batters can bat at different positions and bowl too, while a lot of their bowlers can bat. Their main decision will be where to fit Nicholas Pooran and Aiden Markram in the line-up.
Markram performed well at Nos. 4 and 5 for South Africa in the T20 World Cup. Pooran, who had a disappointing IPL last year as well as a lean World Cup, can slide between Nos. 3 and 5. With Kane Williamson and Abhishek Sharma likely to open, Pooran can follow Rahul Tripathi (No. 3) - that would provide a good balance, and also create the left-right combination that teams crave. Markram will then be No. 5.
Another option could be to have Markram and Abhishek open the innings followed by Williamson and Tripathi, with Pooran playing the finisher. Sunrisers have a happy headache on their hands.
Gujarat Titans: Who opens with Gill?
Jason Roy's withdrawal left Gujarat Titans with the immediate hurdle of finding Shubman Gill's opening partner. Afghanistan batter Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Roy's replacement, could end up being the reserve opener. Titans' best option might be Matthew Wade, who provides a left-right combination with Gill, and doubles up as the wicketkeeper. Wade also has an impressive strike rate of 156.14 in all T20s as an opener since 2019 IPL, the fourth best in the world (min. 30 innings).
Wade might have played only three matches in the IPL, for Delhi Daredevils in 2011, but he has a lot of experience, can be the aggressor at the top or even at the finish as he has proved, emerging as the hero of Australia's semi-final win against Pakistan in last year's T20 World Cup. Playing Wade at the top also gives Titans the additional option of considering Wriddhiman Saha at No. 3, a position which does not have a designated name to it yet. Vijay Shankar is the other option at one-down and don't be surprised if Hardik Pandya fancies himself in the top order in some matches.
Lucknow Super Giants: Do they have enough back-up for each role?
Lucknow Super Giants had a good auction, getting many in-demand Indian IPL players like Krunal Pandya, Avesh Khan and Ravi Bishnoi. However, they picked just seven overseas players and do not seem to have enough depth in case of injuries or unavailability. For at least their first three matches, Super Giants are likely to be without key overseas players Marcus Stoinis and Jason Holder, who are busy with bilateral series. And then there's the loss of Mark Wood, out with an elbow injury picked up during England's Tests against West Indies.*
There are three main overseas players available from the start in Quinton de Kock, Dushmantha Chameera and Evin Lewis. With the opening slots likely to be taken by KL Rahul and de Kock, Super Giants will find it hard to play Lewis at the top. While their first XI is strong, the lack of like-for-like replacements and squad depth could prove costly.
*6.30am GMT, March 18: The article was updated after news came in of Mark Wood's unavailability

Nagraj Gollapudi is news editor at ESPNcricinfo. Gaurav Sundararaman is a senior stats analyst at ESPNcricinfo