Sunrisers Hyderabad's under-performing middle-order batsmen have found support in head coach Tom Moody and opening batsman Jonny Bairstow, who both feel that the unflattering numbers must not be taken at face value given how little exposure the batsmen have got this season as a result of the rollicking opening stands.
The opening pair of David Warner and Bairstow have put up six 50-plus stands this season in eight innings, and on four of those occasions, they have batted either close to the halfway mark or well beyond it. Of the 907 balls Sunrisers have faced this season, 60.41% have been faced by Warner (310) and Bairstow (238). Vijay Shankar, who began the tournament at No. 3 and has gone at No. 4 whenever Kane Williamson has played, is the nearest to either of the openers in terms of time in the middle: 113 balls, less than half Bairstow's tally.
And while Sunrisers have traditionally been top-heavy, these numbers have meant that 72.87% of the deliveries have been faced by just three of their batsmen. And while the upside is that these batsmen have done well, making nearly 80% of their runs, those next in line, like Manish Pandey and Deepak Hooda at 58 balls each, have had below-average returns.
When Jonny goes, we may have a slightly different look to our side, which doesn't mean that we are a weaker sideTOM MOODY
"The middle-order question does confuse me," Moody said on Saturday. "Because, on one hand, there's enormous compliments being passed about the Warner-Bairstow combination. And quite rightly so. They've been terrific up front. [But] when you have that dominance up front, your middle order gets left in the dark. They get very little opportunities.
"When you're 2 for 30, 3 for 40, your middle order are getting exposed and they're getting plenty of balls to have an influence on the game. Our middle order hasn't had as much exposure purely because of the number of balls our top order has consumed. So, yes there's been a couple of moments in the games we've played to date, where the middle order had their chance to shine and they failed. But it's not a consistent thing. I think you need to look what influence our top order is having and the number of balls they're facing, compared to a lot of other teams. It's slightly different, the way we've gone about it, purely because of the dominance of Warner and Bairstow."
Bairstow, who batted with much of that middle order in their win against Chennai Super Kings on Wednesday, sympathised on similar lines.
"I think a lot of people have been a bit harsh on the middle order. We've got some fantastic players in that middle order. Davey and I have done a fairly good job, so when they've been coming in, they've been coming in [practically] down the order, so they don't have too much time in the middle to gain any momentum with it," he said. "You look at that middle order and you've got some fantastic players in it. You've got one of the guys that's been selected in the Indian World Cup team [Vijay Shankar], you've got Kane Williamson, who is one of the best players in the world, Yusuf Pathan whose record speaks for itself. So there's not too many more people you'd want in that middle order to be honest. There's a reason why they've done so well over the last couple of years and (the team has) got to finals and playoffs."
Regardless of this context, Sunrisers will be wary as they begin the second half of the season trying to punch their way up on the table. Bairstow leaves the side for World Cup duties on April 24, which could likely mean Williamson jumps back up as first-choice opener. Williamson himself has not had an exciting season so far, and while he's had most of his success for the franchise as an opener, they'll be far from putting all their bets on his taking over exactly where Bairstow leaves off in an outlandishly perfect opening partnership.
Martin Guptill also waits on the sidelines, but a move up for Williamson will likely open up spots for experienced middle-order players in Mohammad Nabi and Shakib Al Hasan.
"Obviously we've been aware for a long time that certain players are going to be leaving at certain points," Moody said. "But we've got confidence in the depth of our squad, that we can fill those vacancies. The balance of our side might look slightly different but we're comfortable with that as well. At the moment, we're batting with three world-class batters at the top of the order. When Jonny goes, we may have a slightly different look to our side, which doesn't mean that we are a weaker side, it just means that we're a slightly differently balanced side and that we're approaching the game differently."
Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo