Eliminator 1, Bangalore
Last year, at this very stage, the third and fourth-placed teams from the group stages faced each other in the eliminator at Delhi. This year, at Bangalore, the same teams will battle it out for a place in the second eliminator against the loser of the Mumbai Indians v/s Rising Pune Supergiant match. David Warner’s Sunrisers and Gautam Gambhir’s Knight Riders have been consistently in the top four. At one point, both were favorites to reach the top two, until Pune made a late run at it.
The defending champions will take on the two-time champs. The Knight Riders will want to avenge last year’s 23 run defeat that dumped them out of the tournament. They have blown hot and cold this year, but have perhaps been the most innovative team of the tournament.
Sunrisers Hyderabad (Played 14, Won 8, Lost 5, NR 1)
Last year, only a monstrous Virat Kohli had scored more runs than David Warner in a record-breaking season. However Warner had the last laugh and ended up as yet another Aussie captain winning the Indian T20 league. This year, Warner has led the run charts all through, and nobody has come close. Their lead bowler, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, has led the wicket-taking charts all through, with 25 wickets so far and one five-wicket haul. Given that the orange cap and purple cap lie with this team, not finishing in the top two (unlike Mumbai Indians, who barely have any top scorers or bowlers) has been a disappointment. Had they won the match against Royal Challengers Bangalore, they would have been level with Pune on points, but ahead on their net run rate. They would have been the ones facing Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede a day earlier.
Instead, they find themselves now in a familiar position: having to win three matches in a row to win a consecutive T20 title. Only MS Dhoni’s Chennai Super Kings have successfully defended their title, back in 2010 and 2011.
Warner should be considering including the calmness of Kane Williamson back at number 3 for the big game. He needs experience, and Williamson, Moises Henriques and Rashid Khan as his other three overseas players will give him that. Their batting has been thin in the middle as usual, but Shikhar Dhawan’s form at the top has helped considerably. The two openers lead the charts this year.
Young Afghan spinner Rashid Khan has been a revelation this year. He remains the only bowler with an economy rate of less than seven, in addition to the 17 wickets he has taken. Siddharth Kaul has been another invaluable addition, with 16 wickets from nine games. He has consistently partnered Bhuvi at the death with a clutch of wickets. With three top bowlers, this team has stuck to tradition of being the best bowling team of the tournament. Once both the departments click, they are perhaps the most clinical team to watch – dismantling oppositions with the kind of flair that only one other team can boast of.
Kolkata Knight Riders (Played 14, Won 8, Lost 6)
From making Sunil Narine open the batting to discovering the devastating middle-over bowling potential of Chris Woakes, Gambhir has always been the most proactive captain around. He disbanded his own successful opening combination with Robin Uthappa and started the year with Chris Lynn at the top. The injury to him made Gambhir experiment a bit more; Sunil Narine became their Sanath Jayasuriya at the top, smashing unsuspecting bowlers with a poker face rather gracefully. But losing six matches will have riled Gambhir, who has seen his team taper off towards the end of the group stage for the second year in a row. Second spot was theirs for the taking, and it was only in the last week that the team fell to third and fourth.
Narine has scored the fastest fifty of the season, while Lynn has scored the second fastest. Gambhir at 3 and Uthappa at 4, along with the reliable Manish Pandey at 5, mean that this team boasts of probably the most potent batting lineup so far. Uthappa’s form has fallen off after his injury that made him miss a few games. But he had a splendid first half, filling in for an injured Lynn with style and panache. Lynn needs Gambhir and him to both fire in this crucial game at the small Chinnaswamy stadium. Together they can wreck havoc, but will have to overcome a smart, wily bowling attack.
But it’s their bowling that has been inconsistent, with Narine never hitting the form of five years ago. Meanwhile, Umesh Yadav has been fatigued after a brutal home test season, but has tried his best despite losing the plot somewhat in the slog overs. India will need him fitter for the Champions Trophy. Kuldeep Yadav has been inconsistent, but occasionally unplayable. Englishman Woakes has easily been their most effective bowler.
Warner all the way. The teams are evenly matched, and it’ll come down to who does better on the day. Both of them are big-match teams too, but Sunrisers look a better rounded at the moment, if they get their team combination right.