This is it. Two games to go in T20 cricket league.
And it is only appropriate that the two most explosive teams of the tournament battle it out for a place in the Final against the rampaging 8-match-winning-streak Kolkata Knight Riders. Till the last few games in the group stages, Kings XI Punjab were clearly the most powerful team of T20 cricket league, with CSK not too far behind as usual in second place. It was destined to go down to the final between these two teams.
But then, out of nowhere, KKR blindsided the Sunrisers and snatched second place from CSK—who stuttered to lose 3 games on the trot before winning their final game against Delhi. Now, Dhoni’s men, perpetual playoff specialists—and easily the most consistent team in IPL cricket—will take on the flavour of the year in Bailey’s boys.
Last year, the script was a bit similar. MI finished top of the table, and lost their first Qualifier match against CSK, only to roar back against the Royals in the Eliminator and beat CSK in the final. Can KXIP repeat MI’s heroics after losing their qualifier? Is it only a minor stutter, or have Maxwell and co. been exposed for good?
Kings XI Punjab
While many signs point towards a Preity-SRK final face-off, their form has been slightly questionable lately. That said, it is almost impossible to beat KKR in their own spin-friendly backyard, and so KXIP must not be too disheartened by their sapping loss in Eden Gardens against a team that has forgotten how to lose. There are some major concerns though—Maxwell has averaged 11 on his return to India, and Sehwag has lost the form he showed glimpses of in the beginning. The only reason they’ve kept afloat is due to their tremendous depth in bowling—especially tall lanky left-arm spinner Akshar Patel and tweaker Karamveer Singh. Manan Vohra at the top has been a consistent threat, but it is the seniors and overseas players that have fallen short in the last few games. Against KKR, none of them could read Narine, and nobody put up a fight on the tricky pitch. Bailey will be disappointed, especially because his team has chased down mammoth totals consistently through the league, and may be burning out at the wrong time. They need the experience of Shaun Marsh desperately, and might have to sacrifice Johnson for the same. Marsh has been their most experienced batsman, and even showed his class in their meaningless final group game. Maxwell’s power is desired, but his luck seems to have run out. But CSK could be just what the doctor ordered for the Aussie, because as we know, he resembles Obelix in a boar roast when he sees Ashwin getting ready to bowl at him. That said, at Wankhede, young Sandeep Sharma could find a place in the side, given Dwayne Smith’s inability to face genuine swing bowling.
X-factor: Virender Sehwag
. Could this be Viru’s final hurrah? With only 1 fifty in the tournament, the out-of-favour Indian opener must be hurting after Gambhir was selected as backup opener for the England tour. Now is the best time to make a statement, in a crucial knockout match, against his former Captain.
They’re back where they belong. Raina stepped up, Dhoni has been finishing off games, and Jadeja has been taking crucial wickets. In short, Yawn. There hasn’t been a league without this team in the semifinal, and their impressive streak continues after a convincing win over defending Champions Mumbai Indians in the eliminator at Brabourne. There was no real failure, and Dhoni seems to have gotten his troops together just in time to recover after a lapse at the end of the group stages. No fuss, and the job is half done already. They have the purple cap in their team (Mohit Sharma), and one of the most valuable players this year in Dwayne Smith. They haven’t been explosive, but as always, they have known how to win the little moments. They will now face the team that tormented them in the group stages. Revenge may not be on Dhoni’s mind, but he will be yearning to be back in the final after a tough year leading Team India. There will be no changes to the well-set team, and David Hussey’s addition has been gutsy and probably the most useful decision they’ve made so far. Two overseas players open the batting, followed by Raina
, who is then followed by McCullum and David Hussey. Their bowling is entirely Indian, which seems to be working, because the muscle in the batting is pulling them through. Not to forget Jadeja and Dhoni to round off the heaviest middle order in T20 cricket.
X-factor: Du Plessis. The South African has found himself once again at the top of the order, where he belongs, and is striking form at the right time. Usually, it would be Murali Vijay going through a lean tournament before turning it on in the knockouts, and now it’s Du Plessis.
Prediction: The heart says KXIP, but cold hard logic and form says CSK. I’m not one to bet against history, but I’m going to go with the success story of the year. Bailey and his boys, to put up a showstopper before the final.