Four teams remain as the 11th edition of the IPL enters its final week with the play-offs beginning with the clash between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Chennai Super Kings in the first Qualifier on Tuesday.
The fourth and final team for the play-offs was decided only after the 15th over of the last league match – between Chennai and Kings XI Punjab – which shows how closely fought this year’s IPL has been as Rajasthan Royals squeezed through to set up a face-off with Kolkata Knight Riders in the Eliminator.
Sunrisers Hyderabad were the first team to seal their play-off berth, followed by Chennai and then Kolkata. Rajasthan made the cut only after Mumbai and Punjab failed to win their final games. Here, we look at the main talking points as the four teams prepare for the four remaining matches.
Chennai Super Kings have proved it beyond doubt that T20 cricket is not just a young man’s game. They returned to the tournament after a two-year suspension and then suffered the ignominy of losing their home venue in Chennai due to crowd trouble.
Difficult times call for calm heads and you don’t get them any cooler than Dhoni. Battling a serious back problem that restricted his bat swing, a 36-year-old Dhoni led the way with the bat as he relied on the strength of his forearms to muscle his way to 446 runs from 14 outings at a strike rate of 157 and an average of 89.
The Super Kings had other veterans in their ranks – Harbhajan Singh (37), Shane Watson (36), Dwayne Bravo (34), Ambati Rayudu (32) and even Suresh Raina (31) – but all of them delivered at various stages to make Chennai one of the most consistent teams in the tournament.
Among the four teams, Chennai and Hyderabad are the two sides that have relied on a core of players who have delivered for them previously. This familiarity with high-pressure situations should hold them in good stead this week. Also, Chennai have lifted the title twice and been the losing finalists four times. So expect them to be in Mumbai on May 27.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
While the Mumbai Indians were slow to start, Kings XI Punjab were on fire in the first half of the IPL. Last year’s champions Mumbai lost four out of their five matches, and that too in the final over. It was thought this season would also see Mumbai gather momentum once May came around and make a mad dash to the play-offs finish line.
Punjab, on the other hand, started brilliantly under the captaincy of Ravi Ashwin. They won five out of their first six matches, with opener KL Rahul, mystery spinner Mujeeb ur Rahman and a revitalised Chris Gayle doing the job on their own.
But with a play-off spot within reach, Punjab lost their final five matches to make a meal of what should have been a simple equation.
You only need to look at how Rajasthan made the cut to realise the importance of timing. England wicketkeeper Jos Buttler was hardly doing anything batting lower down the order as Rajasthan’s campaign struggled to take off. But the moment he was pushed to open, Buttler smashed five fifties in a row to almost single-handedly take Rajasthan to the brink of qualification.
CHASE IN KOLKATA, CLOSE CALL IN MUMBAI
The Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai will host the first Qualifier and the final while the Eden Gardens in Kolkata will be the venue for the Eliminator and the second Qualifier.
It is therefore imperative for all four teams to look at the records of the venues this season. The scenario is simple when it comes to Kolkata – bowl first. Out of the seven matches hosted there, five have been won by teams chasing and that too by fairly comfortable margins.
Mumbai, however, is a different situation. Teams have won chasing three times this year and have defended totals successfully four times. Also, Chennai beat Mumbai by one wicket at the venue at the start of the tournament while the Indians beat Punjab by three runs in the final league fixture at the ground. So, take your pick.
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