Who would have ever thought at the halfway stage that the Indian Premier League (IPL) Points Table will be this wide open. There exist an evident divide between the top three teams (Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi) and the rest in the tournament. The chances of a photo finish were only minimal but now, after the turn of events in the past two weeks, we all await a thrilling finish. Incidentally this season promises to have no dead-rubbers as it is imperative for everyone to wait till the last group stage game to decide the Top 4. While Mumbai Indians sit unchallenged at the top of the table, as many as six teams will battle it out for the last three Playoff spots. Here are the qualification scenarios for the Playoff for each of the six teams:
1. Rajasthan Royals:
Rajasthan began the tournament with a bang winning both their encounters at Sharjah and giving their fans a few enthralling memories. The team seemed unassailable, especially with the likes of Tewatia down the order. BUt after a couple of miraculous run-chases, Rajasthan faded away and found themselves relinquishing at the bottom of the table. But the addition of Ben Stokes to the side has come in as a blessing. After the Englishman’s addition to the side, Rajasthan have rallied through to stand a fair chance at Playoff qualification.
Playing the Kolkata Knight Riders on SUnday, Rajasthan will hope to finish the season with a bang. A win against KKR will take them to 14 points. However, being a team with one of the worst run-rates in the competition, Rajasthan will have to win big for a Playoff spot. The encounter though promises to be a thriller since both RR and KKR are in the exact same situation and face almost similar scenarios to go through. The winner will also hope that at least one of KXIP and SRH would lose their last match, making their chances easier.
2. Kolkata Knight Riders:
KKR have much of a similar script to Rajasthan but the only difference being that the side is yet to stabilize on its settled squad. THe number of hiccups, obstacles and shuffles that the team has gone through, with respect to both, the players and the management, has affected the environment a lot. THe team is yet to peak to its best and the unavailability of Naine and Russell at crucial times has affected the outcome.
Kolkata would therefore hope to play to their full strength as a team first and then capitalize on opportunities winning the encounter against Rajasthan. They would also need to win by a big margin to challenge other teams with the NRR. Interestingly, KKR have surprised everyone with their astonishing comebacks most often. So one coming in now in the later stage of the tournament is not improbable.
3. Kings XI Punjab:
The Kings XI Punjab seemed to be on a dream run in the second half of the tournament. WInning 5 games in a row, Punjab’s juggernaut was only halted by the Sunrisers in their previous game. The team though has had a roller-coaster ride throughout the IPL. After the first half, KXIP had a solitary win under their belt losing the other six by highly close margins. The shift in fortune and the momentum therefore has been a welcome change and the KL Rahul led team will look to bounce back into the Playoff race with a win.
Punjab are set to play a fairly tricky opponent in CSK in their last game on Sunday. MSD’s men, who for the first time wouldn’t be a part of the playoffs, will keep on finishing with some pride. Given their recent form, it would also be a task for Punjab to get through the CSK batting order. A convincing win is likely to see them through given a rather superior NRR than both RCB and DC, who are slated to play later. The return of the ‘Universe Boss’, Chris Gayle has brought luck and prosperity to the Kings XI and they’d highly depend on him to give the finishing flurry against Chennai.
4. Sunrisers Hyderabad:
The Sunrisers have been on a roll especially in the last few matches. THey have defeated even the top teams with relative ease and have claimed a fair stake at the Playoff berth. David Warner has been phenomenal with his captaincy and the inclusion of Wriddhiman Saha at the top has proved to be a match-winning one. Rashid Khan, Kane Williamson and Jason Holder as well have stepped up for the side exactly when needed.
If there is one team out of the six to not worry about the NRR, it would be the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Courtesy of their commanding victories over Delhi and Bangalore, SR have boosted their Net Run Rate by plenty. With every single individual in form and contributing to his best, the equation lays simple for Hyderabad. A win against Mumbai Indians in the last encounter will seal them a berth for the Playoffs.
5. Delhi Capitals:
It was not long ago that Virat Kohli and most others named Delhi Capitals as the ‘Team to Beat’ this season. Their magic and their prowess has only seemed to fade away ever since. The bowling especially, has been at the receiving end of a few stellar batting performances. The overdependence on the top order and the misfiring overseas pair of Hetmeyer and Stoinis of late has affected Delhi tremendously. Ponting’s men, once invincible now face a threat of straight elimination.
Delhi will play Bangalore on Monday in a winner takes all virtual quarterfinal. The winner will guarantee a Top 2 finish to face Mumbai in the Qualifier 1 at Dubai. The loser however, might not even feature in the Eliminator courtesy of a lower NRR. The equation for the loser will depend on various constraints with the most important being CSK beating KXIP on Sunday.
6. Royal Challengers Bangalore:
How often have we seen RCB hang on to the Playoff hopes by a whisker. This time, the team has brought the situation up to themselves with some unnecessary experiments and undue risks. Other than young Devdutt Paddikal at the top, everyone including VIrat Kohli and AB De Villiers have failed to deliver in recent times. There has been a sense of uncertainty within the players and three consecutive losses building upto to their ultimate encounter is sure to block some nerves. Bangalore of all teams will value this elusive Playoff qualification the most and will be expected to come out all guns blazing against Delhi.
RCB have been fairly successful at Dubai but have struggled at both Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. It will therefore be important to overcome their nemesis with the venue as they take on Delhi Capitals on Monday. Shreyas Iyer’s team got the better of them the last time around but are also tackling tough times themselves. A win will guarantee a Top 2 finish for RCB while a loss will make their proceeding difficult. If KXIP are to beat CSK on Sunday, the loser of Delhi vs Bangalore encounter will be eliminated.