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CricViz Analysis: The Problem with Sunrisers Hyderabad

Ben Jones and Freddie Wilde analyse the issues with SRH this season.

Introduction

Sunrisers Hyderabad are having an odd season. Last season’s losing finalists started the competition briskly with three wins from their first four matches, but since then have fallen away. They now lie in sixth position, above only the dismal Rajasthan Royals and Royal Challengers Bangalore, after a run of three consecutive defeats. Despite relatively few changes to their squad, and no change in the leadership structure, they have struggled comparatively with last year. So what’s gone wrong?

Winners and Losers

The new opening partnership has been an overwhelming success. Sunrisers traded their opener Shikhar Dhawan to Delhi Capitals, and so needed a new man at the top of the order to pair with the returning David Warner. Jonny Bairstow has been that man, him and Warner giving SRH consistently excellent starts, particularly with regard to wicket conservation – their dismissal rate in the first six overs the best ever recorded by an IPL team in a single season. On top of this, leg-spinner Rashid Khan has been as fantastic as one would expect, whilst Mohammed Nabi has been a gem with bat and ball.

However, as the chart below illustrates, there has been a chunk of players appearing in almost every game who have been weighing the team down: Manish Pandey, Vijay Shankar, Yusuf Pathan, Siddarth Kaul, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. All five are Indian, and all five would have expected to have done better.

Domestic Batting

The three batsman in that quintet are a real issue, because Sunrisers’ domestic batting has been woeful. Vijay Shankar (brought into the SRH squad as part of the Dhawan swap deal) is an international in ODI cricket, and will go to the World Cup – both Pandey and Pathan have been in contention for Indian honours at various points of their career.

They are solid performers, who have simply not turned up. The three of them have a combined average of 20.36 this season, the lowest they have ever recorded in an IPL. They have been significantly worse than expected.

This has had significant implications for the balance of the side. In and of itself, middle and late order batting has been a problem for SRH for a number of seasons now. In fact since their inception in 2013 only two teams’ numbers three to seven have averaged fewer runs per wicket than SRH’s 23.11.

However, since 2016 when SRH have enjoyed a period of success, reaching the Play Offs for three consecutive seasons and winning the title in 2016, they have generally covered for their weak middle and lower order by building an exceptional bowling attack – meaning even if they only posted a par total batting first they were capable of defending it. In 2018 this attack reached an apex – defending four scores of less than 155 including a historic defence of 118 against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede Stadium.

In this period of dominance their bowling attack has typically comprised one and sometimes two overseas players, with Rashid Khan a regular feature since 2017 – sometimes joined by Chris Jordan or Billy Stanlake, with Shakib Al Hasan and Mohammad Nabi providing all round options.

Yet this season, Sunrisers have been backed into a corner. Because none of Shankar, Pandey or Pathan are contributing, the need to include all three of Warner, Bairstow and Williamson increases. Rashid Khan is an absolute lock – and suddenly, there’s no room for maneuver. That overseas bowling strength that has underpinned their recent dominance has been weakened.

Fundamentally, the underperformance of the Indian batting insists that, if Sunrisers are to succeed, the Indian bowling needs to perform well.

Indian bowling is failing to make up for batting shortcomings

Crucially, the foundation of Sunrisers’ attack in the last few years has been Indian, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Siddarth Kaul and Sandeep Sharma playing in the large majority of matches. The strength of this Indian attack has allowed SRH to bolster their batting with overseas batsmen and also cover for the shortage of runs from the middle and lower order.

This season though two of those bowlers have struggled massively. While Sandeep – adopting a new role in the middle overs – has returned decent figures, Bhuvneshwar and Kaul have suffered terribly in the death overs, undoing some fairly consistent work in the first 15 overs.

Historically the death over phase of the game has been the Sunrisers greatest strength but this year it has let them down massively,  leaving them fighting losing battles in both departments, not scoring enough with the bat and finding themselves unable to make up for it with the ball. For the first time since 2016 their overall Economy Rate is greater than we would expect in that phase of the innings, as illustrated by the True Economy Rate graph below.

Bhuvneshwar’s particular struggles in the death overs in fact extend back beyond this season to the start of last season where he conceded runs at 10.15 RPO in the last five overs and this season that has risen even higher to an eye-watering 12.63 RPO.

Closer analysis of Bhuvneshwar’s bowling in the death overs shows that his struggles are largely the consequence of his fuller lengths being punished when he has missed his yorker – and his yorker more generally proving less effective. His record with non-yorker attempts has also got worse but only marginally.

Analysis of Bhuvneshwar’s attempted yorkers suggests the possible source of the problem. Between 2010 and 2017 Bhuvneshwar maintained an excellent line with his yorkers – delivering more than half of them in the channel or in line with the stumps. In the past two seasons the proportion of his yorker attempts on this line has fallen from 61% to just 34% and he has bowled a very high proportion of yorker attempts down leg.

Yorker attempts down leg were a relatively effective option for Bhuvneshwar in the previous seven seasons but it might be that this line has become too predictable with his economy rate for those deliveries nearly doubling from 7.74 to 14.28. Yorker attempts in the channel and on the stumps have remained comparatively economical despite their rarer usage.

As a result of his struggles with the yorker Bhuvneshwar has adjusted his lengths in the death overs, bowling significantly shorter – this despite landing his yorker more often when he has attempted it.

What is noticeable about Bhuvneshwar’s death overs method in the past two seasons is that his lines and lengths are now significantly more predictable. Whereas between 2010 and 2017 a yorker attempt was about as likely as a non-yorker attempt and when he was attempting a yorker the line was uncertain; Bhuvneshwar now bowls good and short lengths more than twice as often as his yorker and when he does attempt his yorker it is most likely to be pushed in towards the batsman’s pads and down leg.

Although Bhuvneshwar has been punished when he has missed his yorker there is a strong argument that he should attempt it more often but on a slightly wider line – largely simply so he can remain less predictable.

The struggles of Kaul in the phase are harder to analyse – largely because he has only bowled 36 balls in the death overs this season. Across such a small sample size it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions. Analysis of Kaul’s lines and lengths in the phase suggests he has largely adopted a similar method to last season. However, one potential shortcoming is his speed which has been marginally down on last year. Kaul’s pace was never his main weapon but his ability to rush the batsman with his short ball or beat him for pace with his fuller effort ball was a valuable skill that elevated his slower speeds as well.

SRH dropped Kaul for Khaleel Ahmed in their match against Delhi on Sunday – a decision that was justified by Khaleel’s strong performance. However, SRH should remain wary of writing off Kaul based on such a small sample size and when the evidence suggests he is adopting a similar method to last season. Khaleel’s career record at the death is not great either.

Conclusion

Sunrisers are fighting fires on both fronts – their middle order batting and their death bowling. If they extinguish neither they are going to find it exceptionally hard to qualify for the Play Offs, but getting one right could be enough. They have proven in the past that they can get by with one mis-firing area if the rest of the system works together. It’ll need to happen quickly though – with CSK home and away, followed by KKR as their next three fixtures, SRH will need to remedy these problems in the heat of battle.

CricViz’s Match Impact offers one potential way through the Sunrisers’ selection maze. According to the model’s projections Nabi’s projected batting impact of +0.95 is the second highest in the SRH squad after Warner. While it may seem as if Williamson – who won the Orange Cap last season with 735 runs at a strike rate of 142.44 – is the superior batsman to Nabi, our system projects Williamson as a very slightly negative impact batsman of -0.11. Admittedly Williamson has improved his T20 batting in recent years, most notably in last season’s IPL – and he is widely considered to be an excellent tactician. However, this season Nabi has been SRH’s standout player and contributes with both bat and ball. Opting for the Afghan all rounder and entrusting him with the responsibility to bat at number four, while also providing an off spin option, is a decision which has multiple benefits. It would be a big call but as we enter the second half of the season time is running out.

Ben Jones and Freddie Wilde are analysts at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: IPL Roundup – Week Three

Patrick Noone, Freddie Wilde and Ben Jones take a look at the week that was in the IPL.

Chennai Super Kings

This Week – Played 3, Won 3 (v KKR, v RR & v KKR)

A return to form for the defending champions who bounced back from their defeat to Mumbai Indians with three wins on the bounce to cement their place at the top of the league table. The most memorable of their three victories was undoubtedly the dramatic win over Rajasthan Royals, but arguably their twin triumphs over Kolkata Knight Riders will prove to be more crucial when they look back at their campaign. Chennai have pulled away from the chasing pack this week and, with six games still to play, their place in the top four is almost assured.

CSK have been helped by winning three tosses from three, allowing them to play each match to their preferred gameplan of squeezing the opposition with their spin attack, before chasing the target down, usually with ease. Imran Tahir has been their most consistent performer this week, picking up six wickets at an economy rate of just 6.33, while Mitchell Santner has performed a quietly impressive job as the support spinner. The pair have been the spinners to induce the lowest Timing ratings from batsmen this week, illustrating how much control they have exerted, despite two of their three matches being away from their spin-friendly Chepauk home.

The concern for Chennai, if there is one, has been their top order batting. Shane Watson’s scores this week of 17, 0 and 6 are indicative of a poor season for a player who was considered one of CSK’s bankers at the start of the season. Their slightly scratchy starts to batting innings have been reflected in the fact that they have lost more Powerplay wickets and scored a slower rate than any other team in that phase.

While this is in part down to the slow nature of the Chepauk pitch, there is no doubt that CSK’s batsmen are under performing. Up to now, someone in the middle order has always stepped up and Chennai deserve credit for finding ways to win despite players like Watson having a barren run, especially given how key that aspect of their game was last year. Whether it can be sustained remains to be seen.

Next Week – v SRH (A), v RCB (A)

Delhi Capitals

This Week – Played 2, Won 2 (v KXIP & v SRH)

This was a superb week for Delhi who followed up their comfortable victory against RCB last Sunday with more impressive wins over KXIP and SRH to move up to second in the league table. After a tumultuous start to the season marked by dramatic finishes and batting collapses, Delhi’s season is heading in the right direction and after eight matches they have already equalled their points total from last season.

It was particularly encouraging that Delhi’s victories this week were contrasting in nature – with the batsmen tracking down a stiff target of 178 against KKR before their bowlers brilliantly defended 150 against SRH.

One of the major areas of concern for Delhi before this season was their Indian seam bowling. However, so far this season they have been able to rely on Ishant Sharma to fulfill the role by deploying him as a new ball specialist – not once bowling him in the death overs. Across six matches he has taken five wickets at an economy rate of 7.26. Ishant’s excellence with the new ball has allowed Delhi to hold more overs of Kagiso Rabada and Chris Morris back and together the South African pair have been sensational, taking 28 wickets between them at an economy rate of 7.95. The performances of Delhi’s spinners – Amit Mishra, Sandeep Lamichhane, Rahul Tewatia and Axar Patel – have been inconsistent but the brilliance of the pace attack has protected against that. Keemo Paul was an excellent addition against SRH, returning figures of 3 for 17. This season Delhi comfortably have the lowest pace bowling average of all teams. Delhi are likely to lose Rabada and possibly Morris to the World Cup but they are making the most of them at the moment.

Delhi’s victory over KKR was powered by Shikhar Dhawan’s 97 not out. Earlier in the season head coach Ricky Ponting expressed concern of Dhawan’s scoring rate, so his strike rate of 153.96 against KKR will have been encouraging. Against SRH, Delhi recovered from a stodgy start with cameos from Rishabh Pant and Colin Munro (in for Colin Ingram who is visiting his newly born baby) elevating them to what proved to be a defendable total. Delhi’s batting remains a little fragile but it appears as if they are beginning to become more familiar with their roles and responsibilities. This is a team heading in the right direction.

Next Week – v MI (H), v KXIP (H)

Kolkata Knight Riders

This Week – Played 3, Lost 3 (v CSK, v DC & v CSK)

It was a horror week for Kolkata Knight Riders who finished last weekend at the top of the table but, after three defeats from three, find themselves in third and looking over their shoulder at the chasing pack. To compound things, star allrounder Andre Russell picked up an injury while bowling during Sunday’s defeat to Chennai Super Kings after failing with the bat for the first time this season.

Taking wickets has been a problem for KKR in this campaign. Russell and Piyush Chawla both have six each, but the lack of penetration shown by their much-vaunted spin attack of Chawla, Sunil Narine and Kuldeep Yadav is becoming a real issue for the Knight Riders. Far from the trio being a strength, batsmen are targeting each of them and having plenty of success when doing so. Of spinners to have bowled 100 balls or more, only Krunal Pandya has seen batsmen register a higher Attack rating than the KKR three, while Moeen Ali and Shreyas Gopal are the only spinners to have induced a higher Timing rating.

With the bat, Chris Lynn has carried on his good form with an eye-catching 82 against Chennai in their last outing, but the middle order are consistently finding it difficult to kick on. Robin Uthappa, Nitish Rana, Shubman Gill and Dinesh Karthik did not manage a 30+ score between them this week and, with Russell for once failing to explode at the death and possibly facing a spell on the sidelines with injury, KKR need their engine room to start firing fast. To emphasise the extent of the middle order’s struggles this week, KKR had four of the slowest scorers from positions 3-7 in week 3.

The over-reliance on Russell was always a high-risk tactic and it’s starting to come back to bite them. KKR still have the talent in their ranks, but they need to start performing again quickly, or risk getting sucked into the scramble for top four places.

Next Week – v RCB (H), v SRH (A)

Mumbai Indians

This Week – Played 2, Won 1 (v KXIP), Lost 1 (v RR)

One of the all-time great comeback wins from MI against KXIP on Wednesday took Mumbai’s winning streak to three matches, but that was snapped at the weekend when they slipped up against RR.

Mumbai find themselves relatively well-placed in fourth with a game in hand over the teams above them and they are in this position despite not yet playing anywhere near their best cricket.

Through the season the opening partnership between Quinton de Kock and Rohit Sharma has generally been fairly solid and Mumbai’s death over hitting has been exceptional, but they have the lowest balls per wicket of any team in the middle overs and bowling has been plagued by inconsistency. Both these issues have cost them matches they should otherwise have won.

With the ball the only two bowlers for Mumbai who have negative True Economy Rates are Jasprit Bumrah and Rahul Chahar. After Alzarri Joseph’s superb debut when he took 6 for 12 he has since bowled five overs for 75 runs without taking a wicket and has now been ruled out of the season. The selection of Jason Behrendorff in Australia’s ODI squad will rob them of another fast bowler from early May as well.

These exact problems were clearly apparent in the defeat against Rajasthan were Mumbai only posted 187 after being 96 for 0 after 10.4 overs and then in the defence Bumrah, Krunal Pandya and Chahar took 4 for 91 from 12 overs (ER 7.58) but the rest of the attack took 0 for 95 in 7.3 overs (ER 14.58).

Next Week – v RCB (H), v DC (A), v RR (A)

Kings XI Punjab

This Week – Played 2, Lost 2 (v MI & v RCB)

The major landmark of the week for a Kings XI Punjab player was KL Rahul’s third T20 century, his first in IPL cricket. Since Rahul debuted in T20, 12 men have made more centuries than him; all of those 12 have played more matches than him. He’s a serious T20 batsman. However, more specifically for KXIP, what he’s done is make a change in his approach, allowing them to play a rather different strategy with the bat. He is attacking less (43% of deliveries, compared to 63% and 53% in 2018 and 2016, respectively), and he’s playing with more control. Just 13% of his shots have brought a miss or an edge, lower than last year and staggeringly lower than the year before, when he played 22% false strokes. The version of Rahul we saw in 2018 was a rapid, dicey opening batsman, that for all his skill was inherently quite unreliable – this year, he’s taken on an extra layer of responsibility that has defined KXIP’s batting approach.

They are cautious in the Powerplay, the second slowest at just 7.68rpo, but with the second largest dismissal rate at 36. As a result, they can use this platform to attack in the middle overs, where they score at 8.7rpo, the fastest of any team. Usefully they also manage to maintain a dismissal rate of 36 in this period, again the second best of any side. This allows them to score at just under 10rpo at the death, the third fastest, accelerating through to the end of the innings with aplomb. Rahul’s consistency and caution at the top, paired with Chris Gayle’s natural inclination to start slow and get quicker, has defined KXIP’s batting this year.

Slow starts have also defined the bowling, and not in a good way unfortunately. KXIP have the worst economy in the first six overs, and the second worst strike rate; Ashwin has been unable to find the right combination of opening bowlers to maintain incisiveness and control. Despite being signed as a Powerplay specialist, Sam Curran has gone wicketless in the first six overs, with an economy of just under 10rpo – for a swing bowler, that is a problem. When you throw into the mix that KXIP also have the worst death overs economy (8.84rpo), it’s not clear where

Next Week – v RR (H), v DC (A)

Sunrisers Hyderabad

This Week – Played 1, Lost 1 (v DC)

Sunrisers have now lost three matches on the bounce, a relatively unknown state of frustration descending on a team used to consistency and control. Kane Williamson’s side have struggled to get a foothold in the competition after a strong start, and now look as if they may have to win five of their last seven matches to ensure qualification for the play-offs.

Despite this, they have had a clear area of strength this season – the Powerplay batting. Traditionally over the last few years, Sunrisers have been cautious at the start of the innings, opting for wicket retention at the expense of the scoring rate. In 2019 however, they have scored significantly faster (8.33rpo their fastest PP scoring rate since 2015), and that increase in power hasn’t come at the expense of dismissal rate. In fact, Sunrisers’ 2019 dismissal rate in the Powerplay – a wicket every 84 balls – is the best ever by an IPL team. Jonny Bairstow and David Warner have taken them to a new level at the start of the innings. That part of the team is working perfectly.

So why are they struggling? Well, the main issue has been the performance of everyone after Warner and Bairstow. Sunrisers batsmen coming in at No.3-7 have scored more slowly than every other side, and have the second lowest dismissal rate. What has long been the weakest element of Sunriser’s approach and recruitment – late-order hitting – has now become a terminal weakness, dragging the whole side down. They are starting innings better than most teams have ever done in IPL history, but they’re unable to capitalise on that platform.

Then, with the ball, it’s been another tale of two halves. In Overs 1-10, Sunrisers have had an economy rate of just 6.47rpo, the second best only behind table-toppers Chennai Super Kings. But they aren’t able to make that pressure pay, conceding over 10rpo at the death. Whereas previous SRH attacks have been able to keep that intensity up across a whole 20 overs, pouncing on any opposition mistakes, too many big players going missing at the death. Both Sid Kaul and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have death economies of over 12rpo this season – that’s unsustainable, and if they don’t improve, will cost SRH their place in the finals.

Next Week – v CSK (H), v KKR (H)

Rajasthan Royals

This Week – Played 2, Won 1 (v MI), Lost 1 (v CSK)

Trying to determine Rajasthan Royals’ strategy has been a difficult task throughout this competition so far. On the face of it they are a bowling heavy side, who select a batting order with plenty of anchoring ballast, hoping that the individual fireworks of Jos Buttler or Sanju Samson can spark an above par score. The latter has been unable to really cut loose, but has still scored briskly alongside Buttler. The issue for RR has been that whilst Buttler has played well this season (288 runs, scoring rate 9.19rpo, dismissal rate 26.8), he’s not had quite the impact he was able to last year, and reasonably so. 2018 Buttler was one of the best streaks of form any T20 player has ever been in – to build a strategy, a batting line-up and squad, around the idea that he could get anywhere close to those levels again, was a folly.

However whilst they are, on the face of it, a bowling-side, they are one who on the whole has bowled poorly. The Rajasthan seamers have continued to struggle significantly this season, recording an economy rate of 9.48rpo, the second worst of any side. Ben Stokes and Jaydev Unadkat have disappointed, particularly the former given the expense that Rajasthan went to in order to secure his services. Jofra Archer has been a soaring success, and an outlier within a struggling attack; getting through 82% of his work at either the start or the death of the innings, he has still maintained an economy rate of just 7.22rpo (True RR -1.26). On a side who look from their batting line-up as if they are meant to be restricting sides with bowling, Archer is one of the few  – arguably the only one – who has delivered on that strategy.

There have also been tactical choices from Rahane which confuse, a little. Shreyas Gopal has the best economy rate of any RR bowler this season, and the second best strike rate behind Stokes. The Englishman benefits from bowling a lot at the death, in this matter – Gopal’s record is nothing to be sniffed at, and he has been right up among the elites in this year’s IPL. In the first three matches of the season, when Rajasthan were getting battered, Gopal bowled out on just one occasion; since then, he has finished his four-over allocation in ever match, with an economy of less than 8rpo in three of those matches. The failure to understand quite what an asset Gopal would be this season, and maximise his effectiveness in those opening matches, is immensely frustrating.

Next Week – v KXIP (A), v MI (H)

Royal Challengers Bangalore

This Week – Played 1, Won 1 (v KXIP), Lost 0

RCB played just one match this week and finally recorded their first win of the season – a relatively comfortable win away at KXIP – powered by a brilliant fifty from AB de Villiers. The win keeps RCB’s tiny hopes of a top four finish alive with a minimum of six wins from their remaining seven matches required if they are to sneak into the Play Offs.

RCB’s win against KXIP was deserved – it was arguably their most complete performance of the season with Navdeep Saini, Yuzvendra Chahal and Moeen Ali returning excellent combined figures of 3 for 75 from their 12 overs before fifties from Virat Kohl and de Villiers took RCB home.

It was not a complete performance from RCB though with Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Siraj being taken for 96 from their eight overs. However, the control offered by the other three bowlers ensured KXIP only finished with 173 – a below-par total on an excellent pitch in Mohali.

Parthiv Patel has played a useful role for RCB at the top of the order this season and got the chase off to a quick start with a quickfire 19 off 11 balls before Kohli and de Villiers took over in a superb partnership that took RCB to the brink of victory before a 16-ball 28 from Marcus Stoinis pushed RCB over the line.

This victory will have done little to assuage fears that RCB’s bowling remains vulnerable. Moeen, Saini and Chahal are emerging as consistent performers with the ball but the rest of the attack looks very weak. Their batting is also clearly over-reliant on Kohli and de Villiers. That said, a win is a win and they’ll be relieved to finally be on the board.

This week RCB confirmed that Nathan Coulter-Nile would be unavailable for the entire season and will be replaced by Dale Steyn. RCB placed a huge amount of faith in Coulter-Nile to carry their bowling attack – this was a big risk considering his recent injury history and Australia’s reluctance to make players available for the IPL. Steyn will be available from April 18th.

Next Week – v MI (A), v KKR (A), v CSK (H)


CricViz Analysis: What’s going wrong at Rajasthan?

After losing five of their first six matches, Rajasthan Royals are quickly falling out of contention for this year’s IPL playoffs. Patrick Noone looks at the struggling franchise’s key problems.

Rajasthan Royals have endured a difficult campaign in this year’s IPL. Their only victory has been against fellow strugglers Royal Challengers Bangalore and, while they have come close on a couple of occasions to add to that solitary win, the men in pink have a mountain to climb in the second half of the competition if they are to make it into the playoffs. So, where has it all gone wrong for Rajasthan?

WEAKEST SQUAD

According to CricViz’s projected Impact scores at the start of the IPL, Rajasthan were always going to be in for a tough season. The model rated them as the eighth best squad in the competition and that was before considering the likely absentees at the back end of the tournament, because of their overseas players having to join up with their respective national teams ahead of the World Cup.

Even allowing for that projection though, losing five of their first six matches – and the manner in which they’ve lost some of those games – represents a particularly poor return for the Royals.

STEVE SMITH’S FORM

The former Australian captain has been a fixture in Rajasthan’s middle order after missing last season’s IPL. However, Smith’s prowess as a T20 batsman is far below the level that he has achieved in the Test arena, and his scratchy form is causing the Royals to lose momentum at a critical stage of the innings. Smith’s run rate this season is just 6.60 – pedestrian in the modern T20 era – and, using CricViz’s new Timing metric, we can see that he has the lowest Timing rating of any batsman to have faced 100 balls or more in this year’s IPL.

Smith is of course one of Rajasthan’s highest profile players and, as we have seen with other IPL franchises in the past, there can be a reluctance to remove a player of his status from the team, even when they are underperforming. However, on this occasion, Smith’s presence in the Rajasthan XI is proving detrimental as can be seen by his Impact scores in each match. Only against Kolkata Knight Riders – the only match in which he has passed 40 this season – has Smith’s batting Impact been positive.

Would they be better served by picking Liam Livingstone? A less heralded player than Smith but one who has already impressed in this year’s PSL and is a proven T20 hitter in the middle order engine room. Rajasthan’s hand may well be forced by World Cup call-ups and Livingstone could feature almost by default later in the tournament, but by then it will surely be too late. Another aggressive option is the Australian batsman Ashton Turner.

TWO ANCHOR BATSMEN

With Ajinkya Rahane batting above Smith, Rajasthan’s batting has lacked impetus. Both batsmen have undoubted qualities, but playing two batsmen who are far more comfortable in the longer formats is denying the Royals much needed momentum.

On a slow Jaipur pitch with big boundaries maximising the Powerplay is important because when the field drops back and the ball gets softer run-scoring can prove difficult.

However, Rahane’s position as opener is making it harder for Rajasthan to capitalise on the field restrictions. Rahul Tripathi has an excellent record at the top of the order but is being forced to play out of position in the middle order. Swapping Rahane with Tripathi could be something worth trying.

DEATH OVERS BOWLING

Thursday night’s defeat to Chennai Super Kings in Jaipur was a chastening one for the Royals. Seemingly in control for the majority of the match, Rajasthan let it slip when Ben Stokes failed to defend 18 runs off the final over. It was a horror show for the England seamer as he overstepped, bowled a wide and was lucky to avoid being called for a waist high no ball in the midst of frenetic passage of play.

That over was perhaps an extreme example of Rajasthan’s problems with the ball at the death, but it was indicative of a wider malaise that has plagued them throughout the campaign. Stokes, in particular, is becoming an issue during that phase of the innings; only Bhuvneshwar Kumar has bowled as many balls at the death and recorded a worse economy than Stokes’ 13.16. Both Dhawal Kulkarni and Jaydev Unadkat had bowled economically against Chennai and both had an over of their allocation remaining, yet Stokes was thrown the ball despite his poor record in the last five overs.

It all amounts to the fact that Rajasthan are the most expensive team during the death overs and, as a result, are struggling to see out matches that they are otherwise in control of. That happened on Thursday, as well as in their previous meeting with Chennai and against Kings XI Punjab in their opening fixture; on both occasions, Rajasthan leaked runs that meant they were chasing a more formidable target that they would ultimately fall short of reaching.

SEAMERS’ LACK OF PENETRATION

One of the causes of Rajasthan’s woes at the back end of the innings has been their inability to take wickets earlier on, allowing set batsmen to cash in at the death. While Shreyas Gopal, the Royals’ frontline spinner, has picked up six wickets with an economy rate of 7.00 in the middle overs, he has not been backed up by the seam bowling department.

Between overs 7 and 15, Rajasthan have opted to bowl seam 45.5% of the time, the third highest in the competition behind Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad. That is strange given that Jaipur has been one of the slowest tracks in the IPL this season, yet Rajasthan have persisted with their quicks despite none of them being able to take wickets on a regular basis throughout that phase of the innings.

Jofra Archer has recorded an economy rate of 7.00 but is yet to take a wicket in the middle overs, while Stokes, Unadkat and Kulkarni have leaked runs consistently with economy rates of 8.93, 11.42 and 11.33, respectively. Those numbers are nowhere near good enough and it is no surprise that they have had the domino effect of weakening the Royals’ death bowling as well.

Patrick Noone is an analyst at CricViz.

@PatrickNoone08

CricViz Analysis: How to beat the Chennai Super Kings

Ben Jones and Freddie Wilde consider how teams can land a blow on MS Dhoni’s side.

With six wins from seven matches the Chennai Super Kings are very well set to finish in the top four and qualify for the Play Offs yet again – maintaining their astonishing record of qualifying every season they have played. Since the start of the last IPL – which CSK won – they have clearly been the strongest team in the IPL winning 17 of their 23 matches, returning the best win percentage in the league of 74% – well clear of the next best.

According to CricViz Match Impact Chennai’s squad is not one of the strongest in the IPL, yet they consistently exceed expectations by relying on a core set of players with clearly defined roles. They know their strengths and play to them very effectively.

However, while Chennai are clearly a superb team they are not without flaws. Using CricViz data, analysts Ben Jones and Freddie Wilde consider how teams can stop the CSK juggernaut as we enter the second half of the 2019 season.

1 – Use Home Conditions

The ‘S’ in CSK refers to ‘Super’, but it could very easily refer to ‘spin’; Dhoni’s men really are the Chennai Spin Kings. Their squad is packed with high-quality, often experienced, gun-T20 spinners. Harbhajan Singh (projected bowling impact +1.03), Imran Tahir (+2.55), Ravi Jadeja (-0.70), Mitchell Santner (+1.16) and Karn Sharma (+0.31) – they are all canny, accurate white ball bowlers, who are as capable of strangling opposition innings as they of blasting them away. As such, Chepauk (Chennai’s home ground) is generally a spin-friendly surface, at times to an almost comical extent, as we saw when CSK routed RCB for just 70 the opening match of this season.

As such, they are dominant at home – in the last five seasons of IPL, they have the highest win percentage at home of any side. It follows therefore that as an opposing side you should look to disrupt them when they come to play at your venue. Preparing a seamer friendly surface will undoubtedly negate their strong spin attack, and force Dhoni to turn to his seamers – whilst this may have been a viable back up whilst Lungi Ngidi and (to a lesser extent) David Willey were around the squad, their back-ups are not quite of the same quality, and will struggle to replicate the effectiveness of Harbhajan et al.

2 – Luck

One of cricket’s enduring charms is the role that a coin toss can play in influencing results, even amidst the glitz and glamour of the IPL. Chasing has become an ever more accepted default for T20 captains, a result of the increased win percentages for sides batting second. You win the toss, and generally you chase.

As for many others, this has been the case for CSK. In the past two IPL seasons, they have an 80% win percentage when chasing, but that falls to 63% when they bat first. It’s not disastrous – they are still a fine team, regardless of the order in which they deploy their skills – but it is clearly their weaker suit. If you can force them onto the back foot in this regard, and keep them from chasing, then you’re already working from a strong position.

Which is where luck comes in. Since their readmission to the IPL following a ban for spot-fixing, CSK have enjoyed a streak of luck. They have won 70% of their tosses, more than any other team in the competition, a streak which has given them a slight head-start in most of their matches. Of course, as an opposing captain you have no control of this aspect of proceedings. At times against CSK, it can feel like you have no control of any aspect. But in this area, you simply have to cross your fingers, pray, and hope that things go your way.

3 – Focus Batting Selection on Spin

Chennai are a superb spin attack – makes sense that you’re batting line-up is put together with this in mind. With DJ Bravo struggling with fitness, the quality of CSK’s seam attack minimal compared to the spinners. As such, you should look to select good players of spin, and back them to adapt against Chahar, Scott Kuggeleijn and co. In particular, an intelligent way to construct the batting line-up is to have an even mix of left-handed and right-handed batsmen. Whilst all three of the spinners that Chennai have used frequently this season have performed excellently, they each prefer bowling to either RHB or LHB, as shown in the table below.

What’s more, the pattern holds up across these players’ careers. Harbhajan is more economical against left-handed batsmen, whilst Tahir and Jadeja are more economical against right-handers.

Chennai take this pattern into consideration, particularly with regard to Harbhajan; he played against RCB who had four left-handers in their top six, but didn’t play against RR who had just one leftie in their top six. It follows that if your top-order is a blend of both, you’re giving yourself the best chance of forcing Dhoni to turn to bowlers unsuited for at least one of the batsmen. Individual performances can win you matches occasionally, but making sure that you put the right individuals in the right situations is paramount.

4 – Attack Chahar

Deepak Chahar is hardly the most heralded member of the Chennai Super Kings squad, but he plays an extremely crucial role. A Powerplay specialist (83% of his IPL career deliveries have been in the Powerplay), he gets stuck into the bulk of his work at the start of the innings. That’s been the case this season as well, taking the new ball and with exceptional skill; a strike rate of 16.2 twinned with an economy of 6.29 RPO paint a picture of a very canny operator.

However, this reliability is double-edged – it makes CSK predictable. Teams know that, realistically, Chahar is going to lead the attack, and if they can go after him it disrupts all of the other plans CSK have in store. This isn’t to denigrate Chahar’s role, or his effectiveness in it, but rather to acknowledge that his skills are specific to the Powerplay, and that he is a less versatile bowler than the other stars in the CSK squad. Chahar has never taken an IPL wicket in the middle overs and he has bowled just three overs at the death.

In the one match CSK lost this season the Mumbai Indians attacked Chahar’s third over – taking him for 14 runs and forcing Dhoni to remove him from the attack after three overs – the first time in the season that he didn’t bowl his four overs consecutively.

The option to deploy a pinch-hitter from lower down the order, one who preferably specialises in scoring briskly against pace bowling, is a good one. This allows you the benefits of perhaps hitting Chahar out of the attack – benefits that are numerous, and of consequence throughout the innings – but without the risk of losing a top-order batsman on a kamikaze mission.

Batsmen can be confident that they know where Chahar is going to bowl – because he rarely changes his plan. He largely bowls good lengths in the corridor outside off stump. Batsmen could disrupt his line and lengths by using their feet to come down the track or to back away and give room to hit over the top of the inner ring.

5 – Attack in Powerplay and at the Death

Attacking Chahar in the Powerplay is the basis of a more general strategy that teams should adopt against CSK of attacking hard at the top and tail of the innings. CSK’s strongest bowling phase is the middle overs where they deploy their spinners and teams who have beaten CSK in the past two seasons have had success by attacking hard in the Powerplay and at the death and stabilising against the strong spinners through the middle overs.

This is illustrated by True Run Rate which compares the run rate of a team in an over with the average run rate for that specific over in that year. For example a team who scored 9 runs off the first over of an innings in 2018 would have a True Run Rate of +2.60 because the average run rate in the first over last year was 6.40.

The table below shows that teams who have beaten CSK in the past two seasons have generally done so by capitalising in the Powerplay and particularly at the death where they have scored +2.63 runs per over above expectation.

The death overs is certainly CSK’s weakest phase. In the period they have generally relied on Dwayne Bravo and Shardul Thakur who have bowled 58% of their deliveries in the phase. Both Bravo and Thakur are vulnerable at the death – as illustrated by their True Economy Rate since the start of last season.

Of course, attacking at the top of the innings risks losing early wickets which in turn makes the middle overs stabilising period more difficult which then makes launching at the death difficult. It’s a high-risk strategy but that’s kind of the point. Chennai are a very well structured bowling team and disrupting them is difficult. Teams who bat aggressively in the Powerplay risk being well beaten but at least they are giving themselves a chance.

6 – Don’t let Dhoni take it deep

This season CSK’s top order has been flattened twice by Rajasthan Royals who reduced Chennai to 27 for 3 in Chepauk and 24 for 4 in Jaipur but on both occasions brilliant fifties from Dhoni rescued the innings. In Chepauk they ended up posting 175 – which proved too many for the Royals and in Jaipur they tracked down their target of 152 off the last ball.

Dhoni’s ability to soak up pressure through the middle overs and take CSK to within striking distance of a target is one of his hallmarks. Although it is tempting to settle for what seems like a middle overs stalemate when Dhoni is rebuilding the innings, history has shown this to be a dangerous strategy. Dhoni’s hitting prowess may well have declined over the years but his tactic of taking the game deep takes CSK close enough for other lower order hitters to take them home.

Teams should therefore look to attack Dhoni early, or at the very least squeeze him with tight fields and force him to hit over the ring and take a risk, rather than giving him easy singles. Among the attacking options to target Dhoni full slower balls is one good option.

If you’re a spinner, the slower ball isn’t available to you as a variation, so you have to find another edge. If you are a leg-spinner, then the googly is a solid option, given that they dismiss Dhoni significantly more often than a standard leg break. It’s not a silver-bullet, but it’s an opportunity to disrupt his rhythm.

Conclusion

Indeed, that last point is true for all of these ideas. None of them will, on their own, guarantee that your team will beat CSK. If you managed to execute all of these strategies at once, you’d be a remarkably flexible and effective team; however, in this piece are a series of strategies that if implemented well, give you a better chance of coming out on top, than if you went into the match with no plan at all.

Freddie Wilde, and Ben Jones are analysts at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: The Changing Role of KL Rahul

Ben Jones reflects on a radical shift in the batting style of the Kings XI opener.

The 2018 Indian Premier League was a wonderful time for KL Rahul. Swaggering around India in Kings XI red, slog-sweeping his way into the hearts of neutrals. He was in the form of his life. 659 runs at 9.5rpo, made in a whirlwind 40-day frenzy where he looked ready to ascend to the next level of fame and acclaim; no longer just the poster boy, but the star of the show.

Unfortunately, for a man who strikes the ball as cleanly as Rahul, he had shown a surprising lack of timing. The nature of India’s touring schedule meant that Test cricket was the highest priority in 2018, three significant away series forming a sequence that was pre-ordained as the defining period of Virat Kohli’s captaincy. This was a year when FC runs were the most valuable currency, and whilst he was dominating in the shortest format, Rahul’s red-ball form was not quite as hot. It wasn’t even close.

In the following eight months, his stock fell through the floor. His returns in Test cricket were falling every time he batted; an average of 29.90 in England, 18.50 against the West Indies, 11.40 in Australia. When he was dropped from the side after 0 and 2 in Perth, few could argue against the decision with much conviction.

The knock-on effect was considerable. Whilst Rahul has never quite mastered ODI cricket – he made more runs in 2016 than he has done in the following three years combined – it has felt peculiar that such a talented white ball batsman has been only on the fringes of the 50 over side. He has played in just four of India’s 12 ODI series since the Champions Trophy. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that his reputation has suffered hugely because of that badly timed slump in Test cricket.

So the start of this IPL represented a chance for Rahul to get back that swagger, to reclaim his reputation as the vivacious talent in Indian cricket, ready to step up to full-blown, multi-format stardom. A chance, essentially, to erase the last year and start again. What’s actually happened has been far, far more interesting.

What we can see is that there has been a significant shift in Rahul’s approach to batting in this season’s IPL. In 2016 and 2018, Rahul was a dominant dasher, scoring at 8.78rpo and 9.5rpo respectively. Last year only Rishabh Pant hit more boundaries than him. So far this season, his scoring rate has plummeted, and his dismissal rate has risen substantially.

This change in his output can be traced back to his intent; Rahul has been more cautious this year, but also more clinical. He has attacked less in 2019 than he has done in any previous IPL season, and has played considerably fewer false shots, showing greater restraint and greater control than he ever has done before.

That clinical selection has paid off. Those attacking shots that he has played have also been more secure than they have been before – just 11.9% of his attacking shots have lead to a false shot, the lowest for any IPL he’s played in. There is a sense, from all of this data, that Rahul is taking greater care when considering which deliveries to attack, when to use his abundant talent.

Of course, you could take a broader view. Some may suggest that Rahul’s switch in strategy is simply a function of how Kings XI are playing as a whole, giving him less individual credit or agency. However, what we see is that whilst Rahul has scored more slowly and securely, his opening partners for KXIP have scored more quickly and less securely than in previous years. While Rahul has zigged, the man at the other end has zagged.

The picture this paints is a little clearer. Rahul is a man adjusting his mindset, and performing a different role, occupying a more responsible position in the Kings XI set-up. Perhaps this is a function of Mike Hesson wanting to maximise the effect of Chris Gayle’s destructive pre-IPL form; perhaps it’s an acknowledgement that Kings XI’s strength is their bowling, and that their batting outside of the opening partnership is relatively weak, or at the very least unproven. Just as Hesson has shown a desire to lengthen the batting order by using Curran as a pinch-hitter in the one match where Gayle didn’t open, the difference in Rahul’s approach is a tactical switch designed to minimise Kings XI’s weakness. It has worked – after six matches, Kings XI sit third in the table, well above where the punditocracy predicted they would be.

However, whilst this season of IPL has been fascinating, the consequences of this switch in approach could extend beyond the table. Rahul has long been criticised at international for being slightly dogmatic, unable to adapt to the particular challenges in front of him. For many, that is where is failures in Test cricket come from. They point to the fact that his notable recent successes in the Indian blue have come with the pressure off. A blistering century at Old Trafford in a T20I showed his skills, but nothing new – everyone knows Rahul can blast away an attack on a flat deck. The same could be said for his century at The Oval in the dead rubber Test; England wanted to win that Test of course, and were nervous for an hour or so while Rahul and Rishabh Pant were blasting everything to the boundary. Yet is was another flat surface, against a team understandably distracted by Alastair Cook’s farewell. He started his English summer with a century, and ended it with one, but neither proved anything we didn’t already know.

What this IPL season has shown us – so far – is that when asked to perform a different role, Rahul can adapt. The fact that he has proven this just six days before the Indian World Cup squad is announced feels careless, but not as careless as if he’d proved it six days afterwards. The Indian selectors are still not quite certain of their middle-order make-up, and when they’re casting their collective eye over Ambati Rayudu, Dinesh Karthik, Vijay Shankar and Rahul himself, the latter’s recent form could be enough to twist their arm. It is of course unlikely – Rayudu is the incumbent in possession of moderate recent success, a valuable attribute in a team that is succeeding so effortlessly elsewhere – but Rahul can feel safe in the knowledge that over the past fortnight, he has put his best case forward.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: IPL Roundup – Week Two

Patrick Noone, Freddie Wilde and Ben Jones take a look at the key themes of the week in the IPL.

Kolkata Knight Riders

This Week – Played 2, Won 2 (v RCB & v RR)

KKR will face tougher tests than the two teams they came up against in week two, but the ruthless nature of their two wins will have sent a warning to the rest of the competition that the men in purple mean business this year. Against a beleaguered Royal Challengers Bangalore side, the Knight Riders chased down 206 with five balls to spare thanks to another astonishing display of hitting from Andre Russell. The Jamaican only arrived at the crease in the 16th over, with KKR needing 67 from 24 balls. RCB’s death bowling was admittedly ropey but Russell’s 13-ball onslaught yielded another 48 runs for the standout player of the tournament so far, dragging his side over the line once again. To put the brutality of Russell’s six-hitting into context: by the time his innings at the Chinnaswamy was done, he had struck more than 10% of the tournament’s total amount of sixes. Russell is currently scoring at 18.88 runs per over during the last five overs, the average across all players in this IPL is just 9.47.

However, KKR did not require Russell’s death over hitting against Rajasthan Royals on Sunday as Chris Lynn and Sunil Narine put on comfortably their best partnership of the season, smashing 91 in 8.3 overs as the Knight Riders easily chased down 140, receiving a welcome net run rate boost in the process. Lynn’s return to form will be most welcome for KKR; the Australian had struggled to get going to in the first three matches, but his 43 against RCB, followed by a 32-ball 50 against Rajasthan means that KKR now have in-form batsmen at both ends of the innings. Their Powerplay run rate is the highest in the competition and, with Russell ready to unleash at the death, it is hard to see much of a weakness in KKR’s batting line up if this form continues.

With the ball, KKR made their first change of the season when Harry Gurney replaced Lockie Ferguson in Jaipur. It was a move that paid off as the Englishman returned figures of 2-21 from his four overs. Ferguson can perhaps consider himself a little unlucky – only three seamers in the competition have drawn a higher false shot percentage than the Kiwi quick, but he was going at 10.55 runs per over and there is little doubt that Gurney’s left-arm angle, coupled with his ability to bowl at the death make KKR’s attack more threatening.

The only concern for KKR has been the form of Sunil Narine with the ball. Last season’s MVP has taken just one wicket from four innings and his economy rate of 8.23 is significantly higher than any previous IPL season he’s featured in. With two huge games against fellow table-toppers Chennai Super Kings this week, KKR could do with their mystery spinner rediscovering his mojo, especially on the spin-friendly surface at the Chepauk.

Next Week – v CSK (A), v DC (H), v CSK (H)

Chennai Super Kings

This Week – Played 2, Won 1 (v KXIP), Lost 1 (v MI)

The defending champions suffered a first defeat of the season at the Wankhede Stadium as Mumbai Indians proved too strong for them on the day. That was a momentary blip as they responded with a convincing win over Kings XI Punjab in their next match. The defeat to Mumbai was notable for the fact that the surface prevented Chennai from overloading their bowling with spinners, a tactic that had defined their three previous wins. Harbhajan Singh was left out in favour of Mohit Sharma, only six overs were bowled by spinners and they were unable to apply their usual stranglehold on the innings as Hardik Pandya and Kieron Pollard cut loose in the death overs.

Another aspect of Chennai’s gameplan that was disrupted at the Wankhede was Deepak Chahar not bowling his full allocation at the top of the innings. Suryakumar Yadav struck three successive fours off him in his third over and MS Dhoni was forced to withdraw him from the attack early for the first time this season. Dwayne Bravo’s injury was another blow to Chennai’s plans, though Scott Kuggeleijn’s performance against Kings XI was illustrative of the Super Kings’ strength in depth. The New Zealander picked up 2-37 on his IPL debut, demonstrating an effective short ball that accounted for KL Rahul. Kuggeleijn is a different type of bowler to Bravo, and offers less with the bat, but Chennai are showing that they are able to find ways to adapt and win games even once their Plan A has been disrupted.

With the bat, Shane Watson’s form remains a concern at the top of the order – the Australian has only once passed 30 this season – but Chennai were boosted by the inclusion of Faf du Plessis in their last outing. The South African skipper crashed 54 from 38 balls as Ambati Rayudu was shunted down the order to accommodate him. It was a marked improvement for Chennai’s first wicket partnership which, up until that point had not passed 21.

It was a week in which a few chinks in Chennai’s armour were identified, but they have been able to find answers to just about every problem they’ve faced. The upcoming week could be a defining one as they face table-topping Kolkata Knight Riders both home and away.

Next Week – v KKR (H), v RR (A), v KKR (A)

Kings XI Punjab

This Week – Played 3, Won 2 (v DC, v SRH) Lost 1 (v CSK)

Despite being predicted to struggle by many pundits, Kings XI have been one of the stronger teams in this year’s IPL. Part of that has been the form of KL Rahul, who despite struggling in international cricket over the last 12 months has found himself in good nick just at the right time, in IPL terms. 217 runs with a dismissal rate of 44 is a dominating start to the competition. What’s particularly of note though is how his scoring rate has plummeted from previous years; this season he’s scoring at 7.35rpo, compared to 9.51rpo last year, and 8.78rpo in 2017. Rahul is also attacking a lot less – just 38% of his balls faced have been attacked this season, well down on an average of 55% over the last two years. His role has changed. Kings XI are happier for him to play a more secure, cautious role (which he has been, given that just 10% of his strokes have led to a false shot, his lowest ever for a season) and then partner him with a more aggressive batsman, either Chris Gayle or using Sam Curran as a pinch-hitter.

Because he’s not played anything as devastating as Andre Russell’s seemingly nightly pyrotechnics, Rahul has gone under the radar, but the effect he’s had on Kings XI is significant. His caution at the top allows the team to preserve wickets, and accelerate in the middle, which they duly have done. A scoring rate of 8.96rpo in Overs 7-15 is the joint best in the tournament, and Kings XI match it with a dismissal rate of 54, easily the best of the eight teams.

Powerplay bowling has been an issue for Ashwin’s side, recording the worst economy rate in the competition, and a mediocre strike rate of 43.4. Extremely concerning is the performance of AJ Tye; the Australian was a phenomenon last year, winner of the Purple Cap and an excellent all-round threat, but this year has struggled. His economy of 11.66rpo in the Powerplay – and with no wickets – is a cause for worry on the Kings XI benches.

Next Week –  MI (A), RCB (H)

Sunrisers Hyderabad

This Week – Played 3, Won 1 (v DC) Lost 2 (v KXIP, v MI)

After an explosive start to the tournament, led by the batting of Jonny Bairstow and David Warner, Sunrisers have returned to something more like their old selves – but not in a good way. Bowled out for 96 by Mumbai Indians was a real dent to early season success, and then following it up with defeat to Kings XI, unable to defend a middling total, will have been frustrating.

They have still found success in some places. Their economy rate at the top of the innings has been excellent, almost down to below a run-a-ball. They have backed that up with an economy of 6.98rpo in the middle overs, maintaining their reputation as a bowling team – but it ends there. At the death, they have conceded runs at 10.8rpo, a record only beaten by Rajasthan Royals. Whilst some of that will be scarring left by Andre Russell’s magnificent win on the opening weekend, it does reflect a worrying trend – the issues surrounding Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Previously regarded as the premier death bowler in Indian cricket, he has gone the distance so far this season, conceding runs at a whopping 13.55rpo. Sunrisers will still be happy to push teams to the end of the innings, and they do still have an attack capable of limiting the opposition, but when your gun seamer is so off his game, that affects the team substantially.

However, whilst it’s been a tough week, you’d back Sunrisers to come out of this slump in the next few matches. They have played just 17% false shots, a remarkable level of control achieved given their broadly aggressive approach this year, and in David Warner have a man in excellent form at the top of the order. The issue they need to resolve is the overseas balance in the window before the World Cup exodus. Mohammed Nabi has been a comprehensive success (his Overall CricViz Impact of 17.3 is the third best in the competition), and thus Shakib-al-Hasan has been left out, but when Williamson returns they will have to drop one of Rashid Khan, Warner or Bairstow – and that isn’t going to happen, realistically. Sunrisers may need to find more overs from someone like Vijay Shankar, who is far more of a batting all-rounder, if they are going to crowbar Williamson back into the line-up.

Next Week – DC (H)

Mumbai Indians 

This Week – Played 2, Won 2 (v CSK & v SRH), Lost 0

Mumbai got their season on track this week after an underwhelming start that saw them win one of their first three matches. It serves as particular cause for encouragement that both victories came against strong teams in the top half of the points table: CSK at home and SRH away. 

Both MI’s wins this week were founded on the strength of their bowling attack – a reason for optimism for Rohit Sharma’s team after their early season was derailed by injuries and availability issues surrounding their quick bowlers – most notably Adam Milne and Lasith Malinga.

MI’s bowling performances were led by two IPL debutants – Jason Behrendorff against CSK and Alzarri Joseph against SRH. Behrendorff’s performance in particular, against a strong CSK top order was excellent – his early wickets derailed a middling chase and set MI on the way to a comfortable victory. Joseph’s performance – finishing with 6 for 12 – was clearly worth of Man of the Match and provides MI’s overseas pace bowling with enviable depth. However, it was arguably the performance of Rahul Chahar – who took 2 for 21 in his four overs and help choke SRH’s middle order that was arguably more significant. MI’s squad is without a frontline attacking wrist spinner, with Mayank Markande and Chahar competing for a spot in the team this season. Chahar’s excellent performance was very encouraging for MI. No team has bowled fewer spin overs than Mumbai this season and that is unlikely to change given their pace-strength, but additional spin firepower in the form of Chahar – if he were to continue his current form – would be a key piece of Mumbai’s puzzle.

The form of Yuvraj Singh – which cost him his place in the team against SRH, and Krunal Pandya –  who continues to struggle against the short ball, is a major problem for Mumbai. However, this week a return to form for Kieron Pollard – who blitzed 17 not out off 7 balls against CSK and 46 not out off 26 balls against SRH – was very important to arrest to problems facing the middle order. Mumbai have the second lowest balls per wicket in the middle overs of 19.2 but thanks to Pollard and Hardik Pandya – who has been in supreme hitting form – the second best run rate at the death of 11.21 runs per over. 

Next Week – v KXIP (H), v RR (H)

Delhi Capitals 

This Week – Played 3, Won 1 (v RCB), Lost 2 (v KXIP & v SRH)

A comfortable win and a comfortable defeat in low-scoring matches against RCB and SRH respectively were low-key results in what was a week undeniably defined by Delhi’s implosion against KXIP on Monday. With just 23 required off 21 balls, Delhi’s middle and lower order proceeded to lose seven wickets for eight runs to fall short of the target. It was the second time in three days that Delhi’s lower order had collapsed after doing so against KKR – only for Kagiso Rabada to rescue them in the Super Over. 

Delhi’s lower order collapses are likely a consequence of their extremely attacking approach in the death overs which has seen them attack a higher proportion of deliveries than any other team in the league; they also have a lower balls per wicket than any other team in the league. Their defeat against KXIP – a team who may well be a rival for a top four finish – was emblematic of a side who, although brilliantly talented, perhaps are short on experience and leadership in such situations. 

The complexities of the T20 format were laid bare in their defeat against SRH when on an admittedly tricky pitch they struggled to pace their innings correctly with Shreyas Iyer and Shikhar Dhawan getting stuck in the middle overs as Delhi limped to 129 for 8 from their 20 overs. Delhi’s top four is marked by the contrast between the aggression of Prithvi Shaw and Rishabh Pant and the relative caution of Iyer and Dhawan. When the latter pair are batting together there is a concern that Delhi lack the firepower to keep pace with modern T20 batting. So far this season when they have batted together they have scored at just 7.19 runs per over.

Delhi’s week was improved by a win on Sunday against a struggling RCB. The management deserve credit for sticking with the same team despite the convincing defeat against SRH on Thursday and the players returned the favour with a solid performance. Rabada and Chris Morris are proving to be excellent attack leaders and are being well complimented by their Indian spinners. Even another late order collapse could not stop them chasing RCB’s below par total down. Away matches this week against KKR and SRH make for a tough upcoming week. 

Next Week – v KKR (A), v SRH (A)

Rajasthan Royals

This Week – Played 2, Won 1 (v RCB), Lost 1 (v KKR)

An important milestone for Ajinkya Rahane and co this week, as Rajasthan registered their first win of the season, coming out on top against RCB. Right now that isn’t saying much, but they appear to have doubled down on a strategy. Their batting has been cautious, both in the Powerplay and in the middle overs, which whilst not being the most thrilling tactic is, at the very least, a plan. The selection of Rahane and Steve Smith rather dictates this strategy, given that both are naturally more conservative players. It gives them stability, as shown in the scatter below; only Sunrisers Hyderabad lose wickets more rarely in the first six overs.

At the top of the order, Jos Buttler is still being tasked with the bulk of the Powerplay scoring – he has attacked 59% of deliveries he’s faced in that period, the most of any Rajasthan Royals batsman, considerably more than Rahane (41%) and Smith (43%). The idea is clearly for Buttler to go hard at the top, then lay foundations for exploding at the death, but whilst their scoring rate at the death is perfectly fine (9.9rpo), it’s not outrageous enough to make up for the go slow earlier.

Their issues with the ball are most obvious at the death as well. Their economy rate of 11.68rpo in the last five overs is comfortably the worst in the tournament. Whilst they do struggle to keep the runs down throughout the innings as a whole (they also have the second worst economy in the middle overs), it’s at the death where the damage has really been done.The performances of Ben Stokes (death economy of 12.25rpo) and Jaydev Unadkat (14.25rpo) have been disastrous, and have put pressure on Rahane to save his only reliable death bowler, Jofra Archer, for those last few overs. This limits his flexibility as a captain, and makes his struggle more understandable.

Next Week – CSK (H), MI (A)

Royal Challengers Bangalore 

This Week – Played 3, Won 0, Lost 3 (v RR, v KKR, v DC)

Another week without a win means RCB’s hopes of a top four finish are already in ruin. Typically it takes a minimum of seven wins to qualify for the Play Offs and RCB only have eight matches remaining. 

The concern for Bangalore is that they are losing due to both their batting and their bowling – rather than just one department letting them down.

Against RR and DC it was RCB’s batting – which on both occasions posted sub-par totals – that cost them the match. RCB did relatively well to make RR’s chase difficult but DC cruised to the target. In their second match of the week their batting fired to post a very challenging target of 206 for KKR and for the large majority of their defence their bowling kept a lid on KKR’s scoring rate only for one of the all-time great IPL innings by Andre Russell to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.  

RCB’s problems are reflected in their confused selection with three different opening partnerships in the first six matches and a change from each match to the next except for one. 

RCB’s team balance has also been compromised by their insistence on selecting two overseas all rounders with Moeen Ali being joined by one of Colin de Grandhomme or Marcus Stoinis in every match so far this season. With AB de Villiers guaranteed a starting spot their insistence on two overseas players has restricted their choice regarding their fourth overseas player with RCB being forced to choose between the talented batsman Shimron Hetmyer and bowler Tim Southee. Given that RCB have two quality Indian all rounders in Pawan Negi – who belatedly got a game this week – and Washington Sundar – who is yet to play this season, they are arguably not making best use of their resources. 

CricViz Match Impact rankings underline the scale of RCB’s struggle this season. The only areas in which they are in the top four ranked teams is in Powerplay batting, batting against pace and spin bowling. They have been the poorest team in the league in terms of overall batting, bowling and fielding. 

Next Week – v KXIP (A)



CricViz Introduces Batting Profile Analysis

Freddie Wilde introduces CricViz’s new Batting Profile analysis based on three new metrics: Attack, Timing and Power. 

What makes a batsman the player he is? It is a broad and expansive question – one that incorporates multifarious traits and characteristics. However, we can get closer to answering it by using detailed data analysis which breaks a batsman’s game down into its component parts.

At CricViz we have introduced attacking shot percentage – which has helped evaluate the intent of the batsman – and false shot percentage – which has helped evaluate their control. 

These measures are based on data recorded by Opta analysts for shot-type and shot-connection. We then group these shot-types into the attacking, rotating and defensive categories and into the played, missed and edged categories, from which we can produce attacking shot and false shot percentages. 

The scatter graph below plots these two measures against one another. Players in the bottom left quadrant don’t attack much but have high levels of control; players in the top left quadrant don’t attack much and aren’t in control often; players in the top right attack a lot but are rarely in control and players in the bottom right attack a lot and have high levels of control. The scatter shows how using attacking and false shot percentages we can begin to get an idea about a batsman’s method and effectiveness with that method.  

Now, we have taken these metrics and elevated them further – producing three more advanced measures – Attack, Timing and Power – built by CricViz Lead Data Scientist Sam Green. Taken together these three figures help paint a more detailed profile of a batsman.

ATTACK

The attack metric enhances basic attacking shot percentage by distinguishing between all shots – not simply sorting them into groups. A slog shot is clearly a more attacking shot than a drive for example – but under the basic categorisation they are both simply considered as ‘attacking’. 

So instead we have created a more advanced measure which is based on evaluating their attacking-ness according to their overall strike rate. So for example a pull shot – with a strike rate of 194.22 is more attacking than a drive shot with a strike rate of 161.22 which in turn is more attacking than a cut shot with a strike rate of 123.45.

The attack metric is therefore the overall strike rate we would expect the batsman to score at based on the shots they have played and if they had made a good connection with those shots. It is important to assume that they have made a good connection because the measure is only seeking to evaluate intent which remains independent of execution. As a result the Attack rating – or expected strike rate – of batsmen will almost always be higher than the strike rate of that player because not even the world’s best batsmen make a good connection with every shot they play.

A comparison of CricViz’s basic attacking shot percentage and the new Attack rating shows how there is, unsurprisingly, a strong correlation between the two figures with a high attacking shot percentage generally translating into a high Attack rating. 

However, a closer look at the outliers reveals more about the measure. For example Andre Russell’s Attack rating is considerably higher than his attacking shot percentage might suggest based on the regression line. This is because when Russell attacks he plays exceptionally attacking shots – for example slogs, hooks and pulls – and when he doesn’t attack he plays very few defensive shots. This elevates his Attack rating higher than we might expect based on his attacking shot percentage. In contrast Shakib Al Hasan’s Attack rating is lower than his attacking shot percentage suggests it should be – this is because the attacking shots he plays are less attacking than most players and he will play more defensive shots. Sam Billings has a similar Attack rating to Shakib despite having a significantly lower attacking shot percentage – this is because Billings plays a lot of slog, conventional and reverse sweeps, shots that are considered exceptionally attacking therefore elevating his attack rating significantly higher; the same can be said of Sarfaraz Khan. 

Attack rating is a more advanced measure for evaluating batting intent than attacking shot percentage. The list of the batsmen with the highest Attack rating since the start of the 2017 season is below.

TIMING

Timing is a more advanced measure of the quality of contact that the batsman has made than false shot percentage. The basic false shot percentage is simply the percentage of balls edged or missed by the batsman. Timing elevates this measure by contextualising the contact made by the batsman according to the format, the shot-type and the bowling type. 

We do this by comparing the overall shot average for all players with that shot – for example a drive shot against a pace bowler in T20 has an average of 25.90; with the average for that shot given the contact made by the player – for example a well-timed drive against a pace bowler in T20 has an average of 323.17. The player’s Timing rating is the ratio of their contact average with the shot average; multiplied by 100 – so in this example it would be 1247 (12.47*100). These figures are aggregated across all shots played by the batsman to produce an overall Timing rating.

As with attacking shot percentage and Attack rating; false shot percentage and Timing rating are strongly correlated with a lower false shot percentage translating into a higher (better) Timing rating.

However, as with attacking shot percentage and Attack rating the outliers are illustrative of how the measure works. Sunil Narine, for example, has a false shot percentage of 33% but his Timing rating of 106 is slightly above what we might expect and this is because Narine is a very attacking batsman and plays shots that typically have a high false shot rate. At the other end of the spectrum, someone like Hashim Amla has a higher Timing rating than his false shot percentage might suggest, this is likely to be a consequence of the fact that he makes a lot of very good connections and when he edges the ball they are generally thicker edges – in other words he is being beaten to a lesser extent than, say, Axar Patel who has a similar false shot percentage but a far inferior Timing rating.

Timing rating is a more advanced measure for evaluating batting contact quality than false shot percentage. The list of the batsmen with the highest Timing rating since the start of the 2017 IPL season is below.

POWER 

The third and final new measure is Power which sees CricViz explore beyond intent and contact and look at a player’s ability to find and clear the rope when they make good contact. Power looks specifically at shots when the batsman has made good contact and is a ratio of their well-hit boundaries to the boundary-rate of those shots. For example, when Kieron Pollard makes a good connection with a drive shot against a spinner he hits a boundary every 1.85 balls. This number is then weighted towards sixes which are worth more and then compared to the overall shots per boundary for all players with good connection drives against spinners of 3.49 balls per boundary, which is also then weighted towards sixes. As with Timing figures are aggregated across all shots and multiplied by 100 to produce a Power rating.

It is important to stress that in this form Power is not a measure of how far or how hard the batsman can hit the ball – something we can categorise as Raw Power; but instead it is a measure of how effective the batsman is at hitting boundaries, and more specifically, sixes – something we can categorise as Game Power. 

There is clearly a strong correlation between boundary percentage and Power rating. In the scatter below those players above the regression line are typically those who are better at hitting sixes or finding the boundary from their shots.

The list of the batsmen with the highest Power rating since the start of the 2017 season is below.

BATTING PROFILES 

Attack, Timing and Power – in that order because they are sequential – are interesting measures in their own right. But it is when they are presented as a three that a profile of a batsman can be formed. 

Across the last two and a half seasons of IPL the average Attack, Timing and Power ratings are 165, 117 and 116. Based on this the batsman closest to the IPL average according to these three measures is Vijay Shankar.

Russell is an exceptionally dangerous and aggressive batsman – combining the IPL’s highest Attack rating with the second highest Power rating. His Timing rating of 132 ranks him 25th in the league which is not anywhere near as elite but is still very good. Russell’s main weapons are his intent and his effectiveness at hitting boundaries. 

Shakib Al Hasan is a player who bats very aggressively – with an Attack ratting of 173 and his Timing rating of 127 is solid. However, he massively falls down in terms of Power with a rating of just 70, which is the 74th best in the league. Shakib’s Attack rating reflects his role in the lower order but his Power rating suggests he is not up to the task. 

Where Shakib is effective in two areas, Ajinkya Rahane is effective in just one – Timing. But in terms of Attack and Power he falls well short of the league average and this is often reflected in his T20 innings where he often looks elegant but lacks the aggressive game to score at higher rates. 

Shubman Gill’s potential as one of the most exciting players in India is confirmed by his exceptional Timing rating of 175 – the second best in the IPL. His Attack rating is relatively low but a Power rating of 104 is encouraging for a young man who is only going to get stronger.

Rishabh Pant’s Batting Profile shows him to be one of the most complete batsmen in the IPL. Indeed no batsman’s profile is further from the average player than Pant who combines exceptional Attack, Timing and Power ratings. 

Combining all three metrics on a scatter allows us to illustrate how batsmen play in greater detail – elevating the attacking shot and false shot percentage scatter at the top of this article.


Freddie Wilde is an analyst at CricViz. @fwildecricket

CricViz Analysis: How do you stop Andre Russell?

Ben Jones tries to find the weakness of the West Indian who’s lighting up the IPL.

Andre Russell is a poster boy. His game, his aesthetic, everything about the man from the moment he steps into public view, is what T20 is supposed to be about. Vibrant, skillful, powerful and fun.

Specifically, Russell has always been a wonderful hitter. His phenomenal ability to find the boundary is unmatched around the world; nobody to face 1000+ balls since he debuted can match his boundary percentage of 24.27%. Nobody scores more quickly. That sort of skill doesn’t go unnoticed, and as such, Russell has always been a coveted T20 recruit, travelling the world on the short-form circuit, the star attraction rolling into a town near you, and you, and you.

Yet over the last 12 months or so, he has gone up another level. Since the start of 2018, Russell scores at 10.84rpo overall, and 11.68rpo at the death; the average for all players who’ve played in the same matches is 8.14 and 9.20. Russell scores more than two runs-per-over faster than those playing on pitches he’s playing on, facing attacks he’s facing. He may not fit cricket’s traditional imagine of one, but Russell is a genius.

So far, he’s certainly brought that genius to the 2019 Indian Premier League. Scores of 49* (19), 48 (17) and 62 (28) have lit up the competition, Russell taking his place on the bench as a looming bogeyman for bowling sides, every Kolkata Knight Riders wicket a double-edged sword that brings him one step closer to the crease. Kagiso Rabada’s yorker that dismissed Russell, in the Super Over between KKR and Delhi Capitals, was celebrated as if the South African had slain a dragon, that the immortal had become mortal. In T20, Russell is fast-moving towards the mythical status enjoyed by Virat Kohli in ODIs.

So considering all this – given the insistence from the league structure that you’ll run into him at some point or other – if you’re an IPL captain, how on earth do you go about setting plans to Andre Russell?

PRE-BAN V POST-BAN

Across his career, there is a clear pattern to the way Russell performs against spin and pace. The West Indian has found it easier to score quickly against faster bowling, but easier to survive against spin bowling.

Of course, we have glossed over a significant event here. Russell’s performance may have exploded in the last 12 months, but there’s another more controversial reason to see that as a break in his career. Banned for a “whereabouts violation” relating to doping regulations in 2017, he was removed from cricket for a year, the recipient of all the usual slurs against players in his position. The integrity of everything he had ever done on a cricket field was questioned. Inevitably, when he returned to the game 12 months ago, he returned a different player. What is surprising, as we’ve established, is that he arguably he returned a better one.  

However, while the quality of his record may have changed, the nature of his batting record hasn’t. In fact, the pattern is amplified. Just like the Russell we had grown used to watching, the post-ban Russell was more secure against spin, and more explosive against pace, but the gap between the two had widened. He returned as the batsman he had been before, but with the contrast turned up.

GO SPIN HEAVY

So at the very least this gives a clear path for captains. If you want to contain, bring the spinners on and accept Dre Russ will be in for a while; if you want him gone, then bring on the seamers and accept the chaos that could ensue. Reassuringly, this is true throughout the whole innings. At every stage, it is more aggressive to bowl pace to Russell, and more economical to bowl spin. At every stage, it is more aggressive to bowl pace to Russell, and more economical to bowl spin.

If Russell does make it through to the death, then bowling spin pays. Dismissal rates at the death are significantly less important than scoring rates, so restricting the opportunity for the West Indian to free those muscular arms and crash the ball to the rope is paramount. In general, T20 captains rarely rely on spin in the latter stages – too rarely, given their relative success in this period – but there is a clear benefit to targeting Russell with slow bowling.

In particular, as is often the way in contemporary T20 cricket, your leg-spin bowler is your biggest weapon. Russell has struggled to get the wrist-spinners away since returning; he’s scored at 8.56rpo against leg-spin and 12.23rpo against all other bowlers. If you are lucky enough to have access to a leggie, you’d be best advised to use him against Russell. High stakes cricket, but having the confidence to save your gun leg-spinner specifically for an opposition star can reap dividends, as Kane Williamson found when Rashid Khan removed Jos Buttler last week.

SURVIVING AS A SEAMER

However, regardless how careful you are with the deployment of your bowlers, it’s almost certain that you’ll need to send down some pace to Russell at some point. When that moment comes, what do you do? Well, as with everything in T20 cricket, it comes down to a blend of planning and execution. The graphics below show Russell’s strike rate according to where the ball reaches him, or where the ball pitches. The darker the red, the higher the strike rate. For bowlers, it’s slim pickings.

What we can see is that you essentially have two choices – bowl a perfectly executed wide yorker, or drop your length right back, with a tight line, most likely attempting to set a trap by putting a man back on the midwicket fence (and distributing helmets to the crowd members in that zone). Neither option is foolproof, to any extent, but there is at the very least clear warning not to bowl anything in that good length region.

Of course, Russell is going to bat differently at different stages of the innings, and as such you want to bowl differently to him. If you break those strike rate graphics down by phase, there is good news and bad news.

On the one hand, we can see that well-planned, well-executed seam bowling plans in the middle overs can subdue Russell. Anything which forces him to reach wide outside off stump, either back of a length or yorker length, has been effective in the last 12 months. His tendency to plant his feet and hit from a solid base does rather limit his options when the ball isn’t more obviously in his arc.

On the other hand – at the death, seamers really are on a hiding to nothing. Barring the most perfectly executed yorker, pinning his toes to the crease, there is no correct option for the seamer bowling to Russell at the death. Short, good length, full, wide, straight – he has shown, over time, the ability to hit powerfully in any zone.

Of course, this doesn’t mean he’s immune from failure. He will get out to certain deliveries over time, and he won’t always succeed in every game, but there is nowhere you can confidently bowl to him. There’s nowhere to hide. He hits everything.

Which is why, not to labour the point, that bowling spin is paramount. The absolute elite fast bowlers in the world will be able to find a way to limit Russell – as Rabada did in the Super Over – but most quicks are left with nothing on their side, chasing their own tails as the ball flies over the boundary. As an IPL captain, if you don’t have an elite fast bowler in your attack – and they’re a scarce resource, that’s sort of the point – then you are significantly better off keeping spin on against Russell, even when the death overs arrive.

***

It’s an easy thing to say from here. The sort of madness that Russell can create disrupts even the most carefully laid plans, and most of the time captains shouldn’t be chastised for faltering. He is an agent of chaos. However, if you can avoid being drawn into this, the key is to keep your head, and look to overwhelm him with a simple strategy of bowling almost exclusively spinners – leg-spin if you have it – then you’re giving yourself half a chance.

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.

CricViz Analysis: IPL Roundup – Week One

Patrick Noone, Freddie Wilde and Ben Jones pick out the key themes after an eventful first week of IPL 2019.

Chennai Super Kings

This Week – Played 3, Won 3 (v RCB, v DC & v RR)

The defending champions have got off to a perfect start as they chase a record fourth IPL triumph, with three wins from three including a demolition of RCB on the opening night and narrow eight-run victory over RR in their second home game. Chepauk Stadium could well turn into a fortress for CSK, as both matches that have been played there this season have been on slow, spinning pitches. With a spin attack of Imran Tahir, Harbhajan Singh, Ravindra Jadeja and potentially Mitchell Santner, few sides will be able to live with Chennai in those conditions.

CSK have taken more wickets with spinners (13) than any other team. While that is in part owing to the fact that they have bowled a significantly higher percentage of deliveries with their slower bowlers than all other sides, it should also be noted that their spinners are conceding just 6.41 runs per over, while the next most miserly collection of twirlers is that of Sunrisers Hyderabad, who have conceded 7.45 runs per over.

That said, it has not just been the spinners upon which Chennai’s early success has been built upon. Right-arm seamer Deepak Chahar has bowled unchanged from the start of the innings in each of Chennai’s three matches, picking up all three of his wickets in the Powerplay overs and recording an economy rate of 4.33. Since Chahar’s IPL debut in 2016, only Umesh Yadav and Mitchell McClenaghan have taken more wickets in the first six overs than him and his consistent threat has been a key reason behind Chennai’s Powerplay economy rate of 6.72, the second best in the competition behind Sunrisers Hyderabad (6.22).

With the bat, Chennai were not hugely tested in their first two matches, chasing down 71 and 148 against RCB and Delhi, respectively, but showed the depth they possess in their narrow win against the Royals on Sunday. MS Dhoni’s side prefer to chase – they’ve chosen to field first on each of the last six occasions they’ve won the toss – but were asked to bat first against Rajasthan. Despite wobbling to 88 for 4, the captain himself dragged them to 175-5 with an unbeaten 75 off 46 balls before the bowling attack overcame the late night dew to restrict the Royals to 167-8. All appears well in the Chennai camp and the ominous sign for the other teams is that you sense that there is plenty more to come from them.

Next Week – v MI (A), v KXIP (H)

Sunrisers Hyderabad

This Week – Played 3, Won 2 (v RCB & v RR), Lost 1 (v KKR)

A remarkable turnaround. Last year, Sunrisers were the bowling kings, picking an XI skewed heavily towards limiting the opposition batsmen and keeping their games low-scoring and tense – so far this year, it’s been the opposite.

Sunrisers are comfortably the fastest scorers in the competition, the opening partnership of Jonny Bairstow and David Warner looking like it may become a force to be reckoned with. Three matches in, they are yet to lose a wicket in the Powerplay and have dominated in that period, scoring at a phenomenal 10.11rpo. Their overall scoring rate so far is 10.09rpo, comfortably higher than any previous season. It will most likely fall, but it throws into sharp relief quite how differently they are playing compared to last year.

However, that is true of their bowling as well. They are currently recording their worst ever strike rate for a season, and their second worst economy rate. It’s fair to acknowledge this as a consequence of their shift in strategy – the added firepower with the bat has come at the expense of the bowling, but it is still concerning for Sunrisers that individual bowlers haven’t been able to stand up. In particular, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is a worry. Previously considered an elite T20 bowler, banging out length at the top before nailing yorkers at the death, Bhuvneshwar’s form has gradually deteriorated – particularly at the end of the innings. Sunrisers will be able to cope with the shift towards a batting-heavy balance, but they need the India star to find his best form, but as shown below, he’s currently in a rut.

Nothing typifies this switch in strategy more than SRH’s selection of overseas players. Against Rajasthan Royals on Friday SRH opted for three overseas batsmen for the first time in their history, leaving out Shakib Al Hasan. The Bangladesh all-rounder, solid with the bat and extremely canny with the ball, has been symbolic of SRH’s approach in the last two seasons. Leaving him out was a significant move that represented SRH’s move towards a more batting-heavy strategy.

Next Week: v DC (A), v MI (A)

Kolkata Knight Riders

This Week – Played 3, Won 2 (v SRH & v KXIP), Lost 1 (v DC)

After two wins from two, Kolkata Knight Riders took their first mis-step at the Feroz Shah Kotla where they lost a Super Over against Delhi Capitals. Sunil Narine’s injury meant that they were forced to shuffle the deck and curiously opted to not bring in one of their overseas options – Carlos Brathwaite, Harry Gurney or Joe Denly could all have played – instead choosing to open the batting with Nikhil Naik and fielding only three overseas players. Naik scored just 7 off 16 and wasted his team’s review as the gamble didn’t pay off; a rethink is surely needed if Narine continues to be absent from the XI.

KKR’s first three matches have been defined by the performances of one man: Andre Russell. The Jamaican all-rounder was Player of the Match in the Knight Riders’ first two matches, smashing 49* off 19 balls and 48 off 17 balls against Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kings XI Punjab, respectively to get his side over the line on both occasions. Russell followed those innings up with a 28-ball 62 that propelled KKR from 61-5 to an eventual score of 185-8 against Delhi Capitals, before he was bowled by Kagiso Rabada in what proved to be the pivotal moment of the Super Over. In a lineup as packed with batting talent as KKR’s is, having a player like Russell coming in down the order is an absurd luxury and one that means that bowling attacks can never settle against the men in purple.

If there has been one area of slight concern for KKR in the first three matches it’s the lack of potency from their much vaunted spin attack. Sunil Narine looked out of sorts in the two matches he played, before missing the Delhi defeat with injury, while Kuldeep Yadav went wicketless in his first two matches. Only Piyush Chawla has registered an economy rate below 9 runs-per-over and a dot ball percentage above 30%. The pitches at Eden Gardens have so far been good for batting so it’s perhaps something that KKR are going to have to live with, knowing they can rely on their batting lineup to score more runs than the opposition. It’s a tactic that has broadly worked up until this point but it remains to be seen if it can be sustained across a 14-match season.

Next Week – v RCB (A), v RR (A)

Delhi Capitals

This Week – Played 3, Won 2 (v MI & v KKR), Lost 1 (v CSK)

With two wins from three matches Delhi are well-placed despite poor availability in their first week and obvious confusion surrounding their strongest team.

Delhi had three very different results in their first week: a convincing win away against MI when Rishabh Pant powered them to a huge total, an underwhelming defeat at home against CSK where their middle order subsided against the spinners; before a thrilling win at home against KKR in a topsy-turvy match where Delhi twice squandered positions of strength before sneaking home in the Super Over.

Delhi’s week was defined by their Indian batting core. Against MI, Pant powered them to a match-winning score while against KKR, Prithvi Shaw marshalled a steep run chase. On the one occasion when their Indian batting flopped – against CSK, they finished with an under-par total and lost the game.

DC’s first three matches have also been marked by clear uncertainty surrounding the make-up of their team but as the week has progressed they have moved towards a more well-rounded side.

The absence of Chris Morris – who lends precious balance – from the first two matches, complicated their selection with the management using Keemo Paul as an overseas all rounder and juggling their Indian all rounders Axar Patel, Rahul Tewatia and Hanuma Vihari in an effort to maintain batting depth while not compromising the bowling.

More surprising was the absence of Sandeep Lamichhane from the starting XI against MI and CSK. Lamichhane has been a force in the major leagues across the last 12 months and many assumed he would be a certain starter for DC. He was finally selected against KKR and made an immediate impact. Lamichhane’s selection against KKR meant DC fielded what looks to be their strongest overseas players for the first time with Colin Ingram, Morris and Kagiso Rabada completing the quartet.

Ahead of the season DC’s Indian pace bowling was the major area of concern but so far Ishant Sharma and Harshal Patel have fulfilled the role well.

In DC’s only defeat of the week against CSK they curiously only selected three overseas players and made the bold decision of opting to bat first on an unfamiliar home pitch – something that captain Shreyas Iyer has since admitted was a mistake.

Delhi have played two matches at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium and the early signs are that the pitch will benefit the spinners, who recorded notably better figures in both matches. This should suit Delhi who have an all Indian top four, accustomed to playing spin, and plenty of spin options (Lamichhane, Mishra, Tewatia, Axar). They should seek to exploit this advantage as the season progresses.

Next Week: v KXIP (A), v SRH (H), v RCB (A)

Kings XI Punjab

This Week – Played 3, Won 2 (v MI & v RR), Lost 1 (v KKR)

With two wins from their opening three matches, Kings XI will be pleased. The controversy surrounding their captain may have reduced a bit of goodwill they may have received, but Kings XI have started more confidently than most had expected. A defeat at the hands of a Russell-inspired-KKR can be brushed aside, with their wins against Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals far more encouraging.

When batting, Kings XI have been fairly cautious in the Powerplay overs, scoring at just 6.72rpo in that period (the second slowest) and attacking just 35% of deliveries (the lowest percentage) – the lull whilst Chris Gayle winds up and gets his eye in, perhaps. However, just like the big West Indian, they soon catch up. In the middle overs, only the turbo-charged Sunrisers Hyderabad have outscored KXIP, and at the death they have only been outdone by KKR.

With the ball, they have struggled. They have the second highest economy rate (9.49rpo) of all the teams involved. Specifically, they have found the Powerplay a real nightmare, conceding runs at 10.24rpo (the worst of any team) and taking a wicket every 36.3 deliveries (the second worst of any team). Encouragingly, Indian seamer Mohammed Shami – who hasn’t historically been the most reliable T20 bowler – has stepped up and been very economical, going for just 7.6rpo. At the other end of the scale is Sam Curran, who bowled two overs in his first game, went for 31 runs, and hasn’t played since. The good early form of Hardus Viljoen – and the confidence of the coaches to immediately remove Curran from the line of fire – has meant that Kings XI have limited the damage, but they are still vulnerable.

In the middle they have tended to pull things back with their spinners, but as it stands they are winning games with their batting, not with their bowling.

Next Week: v DC (H), v CSK (A)

Mumbai Indians

This Week – Played 3, Won 1 (v RCB), Lost 2 (v DC, v KXIP)

Mumbai Indians have established a reputation for slow starts in recent IPL seasons and this year looks no different. With one win from three matches and matches against CSK and SRH coming up this week MI are already on the back foot this season.

MI’s campaign was derailed before it had even begun when Adam Milne was ruled out of the season with an ankle injury and Lasith Malinga was declared unavailable for the first six matches. With Jason Behrendorff absent with Australia’s ODI squad Mumbai’s overseas bowling – an area they have historically liked to have well-stocked – was severely depleted with only Mitchell McClenaghan available for their opening fixture.

The weakness of their bowling was exposed in their first match when they lost control of Delhi Capitals and Pant in particular. The decision to select 19 year-old Rasikh Salam ahead of the more experienced Barinder Sran was questionable, given the weakened bowling attack – with Ben Cutting filling the fourth overseas spot. Since then they have reinforced the attack with Malinga who has been made available sooner than expected.

Batting wasn’t the problem in their defeat against Delhi but the decision to select Yuvraj Singh left the very talented Ishan Kishan – who played every match last season on the bench. Yuvraj opened his campaign with a fifty and played an exciting cameo against RCB but whether he – or Suryakumar Yadav – should be keeping Kishan out of the team is highly questionable based on recent form.

Those questions have only intensified as a result of MI’s performances against RCB and KXIP where middle over collapses left them needing to play catch-up in the death overs. Fortunately a brilliant cameo from Hardik Pandya against RCB elevated MI to an above-par total which they defended thanks to the brilliance of Jasprit Bumrah and the spin duo of Krunal Pandya and Mayank Markande who went for just 7.28 runs per over in a high scoring match. However, against KXIP more fireworks from Hardik couldn’t elevate MI to a competitive total and KXIP cruised home. Only RCB (14.7) has a worse balls per dismissal in the middle overs this season than MI (18.0) who are throwing away good starts provided by Quinton de Kock and Rohit Sharma at the top of the order: only SRH (10.11 RPO) have scored faster in the first six overs than MI (8.88 RPO).

Kieron Pollard had a brilliant PSL, averaging 28 at a run rate of 10.39 but his IPL form is also a growing problem for MI – since the start of last season he is averaging 16 at a run rate of 7.78. Krunal Pandya is also exhibiting major problems against the short ball. MI need these two – the engine room of their batting – to rediscover form.

The bowling is not free from concerns either though. So far the only MI bowler with a negative True Economy Rate is Bumrah. Hardik’s bowling in particular has been a major problem.

Next Week: v CSK (H), v SRH (A)

Rajasthan Royals

This Week – Played 3, Lost 3 (v KXIP, SRH, CSK)

A disappointing start to the campaign for Rajasthan Royals, losing all of their first three matches and sitting stranded at the bottom of the ladder. Coverage of them may have been dominated by the Buttler-Ashwin debacle, but there are far deeper causes for concern if you’re a fan of the team from Jaipur.

Rajasthan’s bowling has been a clear weak area. They have the second highest economy rate in the competition, and the highest economy in the middle overs – that lack of control has been a weight on their progress. Part of the reason for them struggling particularly in this period is that their star bowler – Jofra Archer – has been used almost exclusively at the top and tail of the innings, meaning that from the end of the Powerplay until the death, the Royals are relying on their weaker performers. Equally, with 26% of their overs from spin, they have relied on their seamers more than any other side barring Mumbai – so far, RR’s bowling has been lacking in both quality and variety.

With a player like Jos Buttler opening the batting, it’s no surprise that the Royals perform well with the bat in the Powerplay, the third fastest scorers going at 8rpo. In the middle overs, Rajasthan have been significantly more cautious, playing 17% false shots (the third lowest) and losing a wicket every 54 balls, the joint highest. As a result, they compensate for this by going harder in the last five overs – they attack 84.7% of deliveries at the death, more than all bar Delhi. Their strategy is to explode out of the blocks, consolidate, then go hard again. The issue is that with players like Ajinkya Rahane and Steve Smith cemented in that top-order, they are lacking the firepower to execute this strategy effectively; just 27% of their attacking shots this season have brought a boundary, the second lowest of any team. It may not be working so far, but they do have a plan – if they want to execute it more effectively, they could add extra firepower by replacing Smith with his compatriot Ashton Turner, given the latter scores at 10.62rpo with his attacking strokes compared to Smith’s 9.49rpo. Trust in their strategy, but give themselves a better chance of getting it right.

Aside from selection, what compounds the poor start for Rajasthan is that the three losses have come after winning three tosses – the game was there for them to dictate, and they couldn’t make it count. If they continue to get that sort of fortune falling their way, they simply have to do better.

Next Week: v CSK (H), v MI (A)

Royal Challengers Bangalore

This Week – Played 3, Lost 3 (v CSK, v MI, v SRH)

RCB’s season has got off to a terrible start. A narrow defeat at home against MI has been sandwiched between two thrashings – firstly they were bowled out for 70 by CSK on a spin-friendly pitch in Chepauk and then they were pummelled for 231 by SRH on a flat pitch in Hyderabad. The contrasting nature of RCB’s defeats is indicative of their problems with bat and ball. Only a week into the season and RCB’s Play Off hopes already look in serious danger.

Against CSK, RCB were unfortunate to lose the toss and be put into bat on a devilish pitch. However, that said their team selection betrayed a major failure to read conditions with RCB opting for just two spinners compared to CSK’s four and that mis-reading of conditions translated into their batting which was slow to adapt and subsided far too easily.

RCB challenged MI in an epic match at home on Wednesday but their performance was heavily dependent on Yuzvendra Chahal, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers – an all-too familiar reliance on their best three players.

That lack of strength in depth was cruelly exposed against SRH who demolished RCB’s weak bowling attack for 231; a total which proved far too many for RCB who collapsed in their effort to chase it down.

RCB’s squad has clear flaws – most notably shallow batting stocks and a collection of average, but not exceptional, bowlers. However, so far this season they have not helped themselves with their team selection. Picking two overseas all rounders – Moeen Ali and Colin de Grandhomme – has betrayed a lack of faith in their batting and their bowling but hasn’t done enough to address either discipline. With Nathan Coulter-Nile soon to be available slotting him into the bowling attack should make a difference with Moeen likely to compete with Marcus Stoinis for the other overseas spot. Washington Sundar and Pawan Negi are two all round options not yet used by RCB which should help balance the team and allow them to adjust their overseas four. De Grandhomme has had a terrible start to the season, averaging 14 with the bat with a run rate of less than a run a ball and having taken no wickets with the ball at an economy rate of 10.75.

Shimron Hetmyer has made a very quiet start to his IPL career but he is undoubtedly a talent that deserves patience.

Next Week: v RR (H), v KKR (H), v DC (H)

Ben Jones, Patrick Noone and Freddie Wilde are CricViz analysts.

CricViz Analysis: Aaron Finch’s Resurgence

Ben Jones analyses the return to form of the Australian opener.

There’s a funny difference in mentality between the cricketing cultures of England and Australia. Eoin Morgan’s England side haven’t lost an ODI series at home since 2015, and have all but swept the board over the last two years, but the default position for most England fans is nervous concern ahead of the World Cup. “Is there enough bowling? What if the pitches are slow turners? Will we choke in the semis again?”

By contrast, Australia have been abysmal in ODI cricket for more than a year, and yet two series wins against India and Pakistan sides rotating as they attempt to find combinations ahead of the World Cup has seen optimism soar. “Best attack in the competition; they’ve got that tournament nous, built in; as good a chance as any other side”. It’s interesting how a culture so used to winning can always see a route back to the top.

Australian cricket’s refusal to accept mediocrity is infectious and usually well-meaning, but it translates into the mainstream coverage of the game, into much of the discussion around the national team. They are presented as either no-hopers, or world-beaters. Most notably in recent times, it has translated into the treatment of Aaron Finch.

It’s reasonable to say that Finch is a notch below ODI greatness. He is inconsistent, and flawed, but prolific and devastating when he hits his stride. On the one hand, only 16 Australians have made more ODI runs than Finch; on the other, his average is worse than all but four of them. Equally, he has 13 centuries in this format of the game, and the four Australians with more have all played more matches than him. In the history of Australian ODI cricket, no batsman has ever made three centuries in three consecutive innings, but few will get closer than Finch did today. He should be held in higher regard, enjoying the cushion for brief failure that comes with sustained excellence.

From this base of appreciation, it’s also important to note that Finch’s dry spell in ODIs has been exaggerated, for two reasons. One, because the rest of the Australian team have been dire, and in such a climate everyone comes under greater scrutiny. Bad players aren’t given time, good players are held to higher standards, and everyone gets raked over the coals. Two, because of his shonky and unconvincing performances in the Test series against India, where the general cricketing public grew frustrated with Finch’s inability to get them off to a solid start. Whilst his decline has been intensifying in 2019, last year’s average of 44.81 was actually the second highest average Finch has ever recorded in a calendar year. He has hardly been in terminal decline.

However, that record was boosted by an excellent performance against England at the start of the year, and for the remainder of 2018 Finch averaged 27.25. With the question of how to incorporate the returning David Warner an increasingly pressing issue, Finch’s place in the XI was coming under ever greater scrutiny from many commentators.

Yet two centuries (and a 90) in three matches against Pakistan – the holders of the most recent global ICC ODI tournament – have dismissed any questioning of his place in the XI. Playing with remarkable control that looked beyond him just weeks ago, only 15% of his shots have resulted in a false stroke, the lowest figure for any series he’s played in (min 3 matches). He has been supreme.

So how did he orchestrate this turnaround?

Well, the first thing to do is isolate where Finch’s issues specifically lay. In the 12 months prior to this series in the UAE, he averaged 25.06 in ODI cricket, but wasn’t struggling disproportionately against either pace or spin. There was also no evidence of a clear kryptonite head-to-head – the bowling type which dismissed him most often was right-arm pace, but he still averaged 23.55 against those bowlers, very much in the same ball park as the overall record. He had been struggling uniformly, across the board.

On the other hand, there were patterns to his dismissals, if we look more closely. Against seamers he was troubled particularly by good length bowling – hardly an unusual weakness, but the severity of his trouble is notable. Against balls pitching 6-8 metres from his stumps, Finch had been averaging just over 10. He was negotiating the fuller bowling, and wasn’t dismissed at all by short pitched deliveries, but that difficult in-between length was causing him all sorts of problems.

Some of his recovery in this series could be attributed to improvement against those deliveries. In the last three matches in the UAE, he’s averaged 33 against good length bowling, significantly more secure than he has been. He’s only scored at 2.95rpo against them, but Finch appears to have made a conscious decision to be very selective; the length balls that he has gone after have been wider deliveries. Typically, if the ball has been on a good length and a good line, Finch has been happy to defend or rotate.

Whilst his attacking against good length balls appears to be more focused on wide deliveries, Finch also appears to have made a concerted effort to play straighter against the seamers. In this series, 22% of his runs have come in ‘the V’, the highest figure he’s recorded in a bilateral ODI series since the Champions Trophy. It’s a basic principle, but it seems to have served him well.

However, fundamentally there hasn’t been a change in approach substantial enough to account for Finch’s massive upturn in fortunes. For that, we have to look at what’s been happening 22 yards away. Bluntly, the bowling Finch has faced has not been of the same standard he has been coming up against over the last year.

During the India series in Australia, the Expected Dismissal Rate (Tracking Only) of the balls bowled to Finch was 25.5**, meaning that regardless of who had faced those balls we would expect them to be dismissed every 26 balls. Whilst Finch’s own dismissal rate of 17.6 in that series shows that he was still underperforming, the quality of the bowling was seriously high and his struggles were understandable. In this series, the Expected Dismissal Rate (Tracking Only) of the balls bowled to Finch has been 41.8. As the pressure has lessened, Finch has flourished.

The bowling has also been of the right type for Finch. Whilst his troubles in the last year have been against all bowling, he’s historically been a very strong hitter against spin; it is hardly a surprise then, that his return to form has come in a series where 56% of the balls he’s faced have been from spin bowlers, the highest percentage for any ODI series he’s ever played.

Of course, that shouldn’t diminish his achievement. Presented with an opportunity against a weakened attack in conditions that should suit him, he has been ruthless, which is admirable and indicative of a base talent level which should never have been in doubt. Helmet off, cap on, chewing away on his gum as if to show that, seriously, this isn’t his first rodeo. There’s no ‘chicken and egg’ question here – the improvement brings the swagger with it, not the other way around – but it is hard to ignore how nonchalantly imposing Finch appears when he’s in this sort of groove.

The wider implication of this surge of form is Australia will now have to confront the Warner issue head on. Finch’s place is locked, only the identity of his partner up for debate now. In a way, the loss of Finch’s form could have led to an easier call for Cricket Australia, given that they could include both Warner (a genius, but one out of match practice and with a huge political cloud over him) and Khawaja (an inferior player to both Finch and Warner, but bang in form) in the XI, without making any particular compromise. Now, they have to make a call – deal with the side effects of recalling Warner, or accept the limitations of Khawaja. Both have benefits, both have flaws. What is decided however, is that the man walking out alongside them will be a strapping Victorian, and one peaking at just the right moment.

**This figure is calculated using CricViz’s Wicket Probability Model, which uses historical ball-tracking data to assess the likelihood of any delivery bringing a wicket**

Ben Jones is an analyst at CricViz.