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