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Cricket news - Nowhere to hide for Sunrisers' batting frailties

Vijay Shankar has scored at a strike rate of 117 this season

So why did Rohit Sharma opt to bat first in Mumbai against Sunrisers Hyderabad? It was a question that became the topic of debate among commentators on the official broadcast as soon as the toss was done. It's generally accepted that Wankhede's short boundaries and its fast outfield, along with a belter of a pitch, make it a difficult ground to defend at. Such is the reputation that since 2017, prior to this particular match, there was only one instance of a captain opting to bat across 22 games. Hence, Rohit's decision was a cause of some bewilderment.

Trying to make sense of it, former Australia player Matthew Hayden reasoned that it might've had to do with putting a batting lineup, that's hurting after the departures of David Warner and Jonny Bairstow, under even more pressure.

"Part of the reason is to put this batting lineup under pressure. Get towards the pointy end of the stick. Sunrisers Hyderabad must win this game, and [it] means that their batting is under pressure. And their batting is actually their weakest link," Hayden said on air for Star Sports.

Hayden was just speculating. But, speaking at the post-match press conference, Rohit held no shots back and made some of the same points that the former Australian had earlier referred to. The very clear chinks in Sunrisers' armour weren't only exploited during the match, the Mumbai captain ensured they were laid bare for all to see.

"Their batting, after the departures of their two players [Warner and Bairstow] at the top, the rest haven't contributed a lot. That was in our plans to put pressure on their batting order, which lacks some experience. We thought even if we scored 140/150, it would be difficult for them to chase it down," Rohit pointed out as one of the reasons for MI's decision to bat first.

Make no mistake, losing a pairing as prolific as that of Warner and Bairstow would make a big hole in any side. Chennai Super Kings, for instance, have lost both their matches in which MS Dhoni hasn't played. With a tally of 358 runs, Dhoni has scored nearly 23% of CSK's runs and is comfortably their highest run-getter. So in his absence, the team has found it difficult to cope.

Now compare that with the massive slice of the pie Warner and Bairstow accounted for, scoring 61% of the runs SRH made, and it's no wonder that filling their shoes is proving to be no piece of cake.

Their replacements in Wriddhiman Saha and Martin Guptill - a completely new opening combination who've never paired up before - have been thrust straight into the boiler of the playoffs race without even getting a chance to find their feet. So for Saha, who's missed so much cricket over the last year due to his shoulder injury, and Guptill, who's all of 11 IPL games old, it's hardly been ideal preparation.

It hasn't helped that captain Kane Williamson's form is but a shadow of what it was last season, where he finished as the highest run-scorer in the tournament, playing a major role in their march to the finals. This time around though, the New Zealand captain has scored a paltry 58 runs from the 7 matches he's played. Although, in Williamson's defence, a lot of those runs last year came opening the innings, a spot he's had to sacrifice for the Warner-Bairstow combine to flourish. He's also just coming back from a pectoral muscle tear, which kept him out for much of the early part of the competition.

Then there is Vijay Shankar, who might've impressed enough with his technique to be considered as India's No.4 for the World Cup, but seems to lack the power game required for that position in the shortest format, as evidenced by his strike-rate of 117. And for those coming even further down the order, they've hardly had the opportunity for a decent hit in most games. Time and again, it was put forth that Warner and Bairstow's domination might be a double-edged sword leading to a rusty middle-order. But the rebuttal was that players lower down would step up when needed. That hasn't happened.

Amid all the troubles, Manish Pandey's resurgence at No.3 gives the Sunrisers something to latch onto as they go into a must-win encounter at the Chinnaswamy. It's another high-scoring venue, against a team whose bowling woes are well documented, but will that be enough to offset the blow in confidence suffered by a batting unit that failed to chase down the lowest target set at the Wankhede this season, leading to a Super Over defeat?

Time's almost up for the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Another disappointing show with the bat could prove terminal. Or maybe they'll just step up when needed the most - as promised - and say "not today".

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