Here we are. The Playoffs.
Four final games in a T20 tournament that seems to have begun in our childhood, only seconds after the World Cup ended. Or did the World Cup end? It certainly did, for players like Maxwell, Bailey, Johnson, Finch, Cummins and Hazlewood—all of who failed to make any impact this season for their respective teams. But they’re World Champions.
8 teams and 47 games later, four teams have qualified (out of 8) for the playoffs.
This has easily been the closest T20 season in ages—with 3 of the 4 spots still up for grabs on the final Sunday of the group stages. Rain played a part, as it always did for most RCB games—and in the end, the most miraculous story is that of the team that finished second.
2013 Champions MI began the season as badly as they did in 2014. They lost their first 5 games in a row, in stark contrast to RR—who won their first 5 games. That they finished 2nd, and RR 4th, is a testament to their never-say-die spirit, and despite a support staff brimming with international talent that could have displaced the first-choice team in any game, the youngsters got their act together and reached the playoffs for the 5th time in a row. They took a spot that should have belonged to KKR, and it did, till KKR choked in their final two games of the season. MI, though destroyed by RCB, finished above them—thanks to RCB’s rain-ravaged Bangalore ground, and therefore get two shots to reach the final instead of RCB’s one. Thanks to Parthiv Patel, Symmonds, Mclenaghan, Malinga, Harbhajan and Pandya, MI are now the in-form team—riding on momentum and facing old does CSK at home for the first qualifier on Tuesday.
This is similar to the 2013 season, where they lost to CSK in the qualifier, but won the eliminator and then defeated CSK in the final again. Will the script play out similarly?
Chennai Super Kings
They were destined to finish on top. They almost always do. They barely tinkered with the team, and the results show. Raina hasn’t been in form at all, but players like Negi, Bravo, Faf, McCullum and Nehra have stepped up to nullify Raina and Jadeja’s failures. Ashwinhas done well too, and along with Harbhajan, he has been the best off-spinner of the tournament with most economical figures. Dhoni’s captaincy is on auto-pilot now, and he knows exactly what to expect from his players. CSK won 9 out of their 14 games to finish on top, compared to the other teams who finished on the same point tally (16)—MI’s 8 wins out of 14, and RCB’s 7 wins (2 no results) and RR’s 7 wins (2 no results).
Royal Challengers Bangalore
They fought rain, wind, weather and Gayle’s rollercoaster form to make the playoffs for the first time in 3 years. One feels that they are the team that destiny has singled out this time; it’s theirs to win. With AB, Kohli, Mandeep and Starc, they have also been the most prolific scorers, with the best net run rate, despite unfortunate rain-shortened matches. If you ever want to win the fantasy league, they are the team to bet on. They go big, or go home. Kohli’s six against SRH, that Warner will long remember, is the shot that put them through to the playoffs. Warner, who dragged his team through the group stages only to fall in the final game against MI, will be haunted by memories of his premature celebrations at the boundary—a mistake that cost his team a place in the playoffs, and perhaps the title. Harshal Patel has been the unsung hero for this team.
They snuck in finally, after having the worst second half amongst all teams. Watson relinquished captaincy to Smith, and that did the trick, for the Watson century against KKR sealed it for them. They have done well with their resources, with the likes of Morris and Rahane coming good for them at the best time. They will face RCB in Pune in the eliminator, and while they might consider themselves unfortunate to not finish second, they are fortunate to get past KKR and snatch that final spot. They will be the weakest team in the playoffs once again, but not many will bet against them—with most of their players in form now, and the explosive Aussies sparkling under Steve Smith’s leadership.
MI will lose to CSK, and face RCB (who will defeat RR in the eliminator). CSK will face the winner of MI-RCB. My bet is on RCB to reach the final, and then maybe finally win it.