MEGA MONDAY- THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

This could arguably be the most important day of IPL-2012. Straying slightly from our regular practice of previewing only the important games, both the games today cannot be missed, at any cost.

Not only are the four teams playing today the semi-finalists of IPL 2011, but they also began as favorites in their own right this year. Just as we thought that the Southern teams of Bangalore and Chennai were fading away, the Champions in them have woken up- and they’re powering their way through the last few games. A last hurrah, or a final push, or too little too late? 
Table-toppers Delhi are followed by KKR (13 games, 17 points), Mumbai Indians (13 games, 16 points), Chennai (14 games, 15 points) and Bangalore (13 games, 15 points)- and this will be CSK’s penultimate game, while the others still have two games in hand after this one. The points table is too close to call, and today may very well make or break the fortunes of atleast one team. 
 
 
Royal Challengers Bangalore v/s Mumbai Indians
M Chinnaswamy stadium, Bangalore
The possibilities are endless, and both teams seem to have found their mojo at the right time, while early favorites like KKR and Delhi are floundering towards the end. Could Bangalore continue to push so late every year, and still make it to the playoffs? Surely, their luck must run out soon, but with Gayle and AB in the form they are- they are intent on having their fate in their own hands, for now. Their closest competitors are defending Champions CSK, who, finally, have exploded into form with the arrival of Hilfenhaus. 
But today, they face a re-born Mumbai Indians team- a team that has, at the last possible moment, found the right opening pair combination- with the experience of Gibbs looking set to compliment the mega experience of Sachin, with contrasting playing styles. Rohit Sharma’s burst of dazzling brilliance against KKR have put them in pole position for the third playoff place, and knowing KKR’s choke-prone end to the league stages (IPL 2011), they could very well be eyeing second place too. A win here could pretty much seal their spot, and then it could just be about where they finish in the top 4. Also, they would LOVE to exact revenge on a marauding RCB outfit, for the one-sided card handed to them at Wankhede a few days ago.
 
 
TABLE Situation:
A win for Mumbai will propel them into second place by a point, only if temporarily until the KKR game. A win for Bangalore will put them in third- until CSK play their game. Curiously, both these teams suffer from a negative NRR, which could be very important for a team like Bangalore- that remain on ODD points, because of their washed-out game earlier, much like CSK. Mumbai will have to win it, hands down, with an even number of points- and cannot depend on their run-rate anymore (all those close wins), which is beyond repair right now. With a game in hand for Mallya’s marauders, Bangalore will fancy their chances- having not to depend on CSK’s results anymore, and play for their own destiny. 
 
Prediction:
Mumbai rely too much on individual brilliance to win games, while Bangalore have a perfect balance of attacker-finisher with Gayle and AB. If Kohli decides to strike form, well, they’re unbeatable- making up for a weak bowling attack, led by an in-form Zaheer Khan. Bangalore are peaking at the right time, and they are favorites for this game at Home- though Mumbai do favour Away pitches more than their own. Close call, but if Mumbai win, it will be close- and if Bangalore succeed, it will be another mauling. 
A close game is what we need.

 
Kolkata Knight Riders v/s Chennai Super Kings
Eden Gardens, Kolkata
KKR have just crashed to their first defeat in 8 games, thanks to Rohit Sharma’s massive statement. As Gambhir rightly said, there is little the opposition side can do, if subjected to a T20 century of such class. KKR, though, will have to regroup quickly, and try their best to avoid a repeat of IPL 2011 closing stages- where they were the best team till the last three games, and it all unraveled into tragedy after that- culminating with an Ambati Rayadu last-ball six to steal it from them, and relegate them to fourth. Gambhir will be vary of Dhoni and co., because the yellow brigade is well and truly back in town- a few minor adjustments seem to have tweaked a tired side into action- with Hussey and Hilfenhaus humiliating favorites Delhi in a hurry. No team will want to face this desperate side, who may have left it till too late, with their fate pretty much depending on the form of Bangalore right now. A LOSS for CSK here will effectively mean curtains, and there will be too many unlikely permutations to worry about for them after that. A win will keep them alive for their last game, and their run-rate is only third to Delhi and KKR. They must win both their games now, against KKR and Punjab, and one would be a fool to bet against a team that knows nothing but success. 
 
TABLE Situation:
A loss for KKR will have them sweating again (though still in the top 3), and a heavy loss might really hurt their chances altogether. It is hard not to expect a mega-choke, with SRK’s clueless face constantly coming to mind, but a slight dip in performance could hurt their NRR a bit too, which is VERY important, considering the fact that they are on an odd number of points too. This seems like the most likely situation, almost waiting to happen, because no IPL is complete without the Knight Riders shocking the world. What works to their advantage, though, is that a loss will still keep them above CSK (NRR) with a game in hand. Really, now, is it possible? Can it happen? RCB, meanwhile, will be praying for a CSK loss, to make the coast clear for them. Otherwise, RCB will have to win a game more than CSK, because of a negative NRR.
 
 
Prediction:
Chennai are charging, and even Murali Vijay is back in decent form. Expect a commanding performance from this team, taking it right to the end. Also, Suresh Raina looks dangerous enough to hit that elusive big one, and what better time than now? KKR might very well be struggling to hold onto their second spot after this game.
 
There we have it, May 14th, a day that may very well decide who will be joining Delhi in the last four. For once, kudos to the schedulers, one couldn’t have asked for a better combination of games- feels very much like the last day of EPL- with three teams scrapping for Champion’s League places. 
Nothing different about this situation.
 

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