Punjab have a glaring conundrum in their hands after four completed matches where they have won just one and lost three. How many players do they leave unused in the line-up?
In the competition so far, the Punjab openers, KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal have batted out 164 and 155 balls respectively. Nobody else has batted more than 60 balls. Karun Nair, Sarfaraz Khan and James Neesham have faced 14, 20 and 7 balls respectively.
The make-up of the Punjab line-up is very similar to that of the typical T20 team - top-heavy and light in the middle. But when the openers have been this good without taking risks and the middle-order has had so fewer opportunities, why would Punjab try and fit in too many batsmen?
James Neesham's selection
The selection of James Neesham is perhaps the most bizarre of all. The Kiwi all-rounder has bowled 10 overs in three innings and conceded runs at a rate of 10.50. His batting is underutilized given his batting position. When a proper bowler in Chris Jordan or Mujeeb-ur-Rahman can be brought in, Neesham is surplus to their requirements.
Balancing the lower middle-order with no Neesham will be a challenge if Glenn Maxwell continues to be out of touch. If Mujeeb comes in for Neesham, it will help Punjab add a different dimension to their attack early on with Sheldon Cottrell and Mohammed Shami having some company in the powerplay overs.
The Sarfaraz Khan and Karun Nair cases
Sarfaraz Khan has been misused too at Punjab. More of a cheeky middle-overs batsman, Sarfaraz has often batted in the death with diminishing returns. His scoops, laps and nudges are better suited in the middle overs and when Punjab have a passenger in Karun Nair and Nicholas Pooran and Glenn Maxwell in the middle, No. 3 is the right position for Sarfaraz.
Karun Nair is a position wasted, particularly since he has no gears. Playing Mandeep Singh, known to finish off games ahead of him at No. 6 could help Punjab add flair and some lower-order stability without compromising too much on striking capacity.
Cottrell or Jordan
Sheldon Cottrell has leaked runs aplenty in the latter half of the innings. While his economy until the last four overs is quite impressive, not having that bowler in the death means Punjab need to add specialists to avert damage like the one that unfolded against Mumbai.
Cottrell and Mujeeb-ur-Rahman can be played alternatively with Chris Jordan in the setup too. It can help them space out their bowling strengths rather than rely too much on wickets upfront that's definitely not working.
Chris Gayle, for now, should continue to be on the sidelines. The effect of partners from the same state batting together at the top is underestimated and Punjab have two players who were friends from teenage days in their opening slots in KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal. While the Universe Boss can be handy against some attacks, splitting this opening pair could only harm, more than do good.
With Gayle out of the picture, Nicholas Pooran is the first choice overseas player with Sheldon Cottrell or Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, Chris Jordan and Glenn Maxwell (at least for now), holding onto places. If Maxwell continues to be a no-show, Mujeeb, Cottrell and Jordan could play in tandem to strengthen the bowling.
Feature image courtesy: Twitter.com / Punjab