It was expected to be straightforward. After all, the script had repeated itself several times over in the last 10 seasons. Mumbai Indians were expected to beat bottom-placed Delhi Daredevils and qualify for the IPL Playoffs. Rajasthan Royals were expected to lose to the Royal Challengers Bangalore, who in turn were expected to qualify spectacularly over the Kolkata Knight Riders (who were expected to crash to SRH). Kings XI Punjab never stood a chance in this weekend chaos.
Yet, on Sunday night, when Kings XI began to defend its score of 153 against CSK, they were locked in a battle with Rajasthan Royals to snap up fourth and final spot. Mumbai and RCB were eliminated – and in an hour, after CSK chased it down, Kings XI were eliminated. And so, against all odds, the Rahane-led Rajasthan Royals, without Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes, will take on Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens. While Sunrisers topped the table and will take on eternal “favorites” CSK in the qualifier at the Wankhede Stadium on Tuesday.
QUALIFIER 1: SRH v/s CSK
Location: Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai
Captains: Kane Williamson, MS Dhoni
SRH: Played 14, Won 9
CSK: Played 14, Won 9
The top two teams of IPL 11 have played each other twice this season. CSK has won both the games – in “adopted home” Pune and Hyderabad. In both the games, Ambati Rayadu was the man of the match – scoring 79 and 100 respectively. The SRH bowling has had a problem against him; he has only been run out once against them.
SRH won 9 of their first 11 games, before losing their last 3 in a row. CSK lost to Delhi Daredevils in their penultimate match, but defeated Kings XI Punjab to finish equal on points with SRH but with a slightly lesser run-rate. Funnily enough, Williamson’s men went through the group stages as the best bowling line-up of the season, defending scores like warriors. But their bowlers failed in the last 3 matches, while their batting has clicked – they almost chased down an RCB score of 220 in their penultimate match. The form of Manish Pandey at 4 has hurt them, and they might have to promote Shakib up the order to keep Williamson and Dhawan’s momentum going.
CSK has been CSK, profiting by the return of young pace sensation Deepak Chahar, as well as the sudden explosion of South African youngster Lungi Ngidi. Raina has shown glimpses of form, while Rayadu has looked their best batsman. They will go into this match at the Wankhede knowing that it will be a high-scoring game.
For SRH, it will be their captain Kane Williamson, who is in pole position to take the Orange Cap from Rishabh Pant in the next few matches. Rashid Khan has not been as consistent, and they will rely on the Afghani spinner to produce some magic against the experienced CSK batting line-up. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is still rusty after an injury, but if SRH has to win, they have to do so with their bowling ability. Their batting is overly reliant on two players.
For CSK, Ngidi and Chahar will carry the hopes of the team to pierce through the SRH top order. Rayadu will look to carry on his form after failing in the last match against KXIP. Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja will have to step up in the middle overs – they have been patchy this year, but have shined briefly, reminding everyone why they are so highly rated in this format.
CSK might nick this, given the sudden dip in form of SRH over the last few weeks. CSK looks well-oiled, and they are heavily experienced at this stage of the competition. This will put them through to the Final, while SRH will have to wait for the winner of KKR and RR.
ELIMINATOR: KKR v/s RR
Location: Eden Gardens, Kolkata
Captains: Dinesh Karthik, Ajinkya Rahane
KKR: Played 14, Won 8
RR: Played 14, Won 7
KKR have won both the games between the two teams this season – at Jaipur as well as Kolkata. Nitish Rana and Kuldeep Yadav have stood out in both games, where KKR have easily chased down moderate totals. KKR are clearly the heavy favourites and the better team, but tell that to the Royals, who have defied the odds on the final weekend to be here.
Rajasthan Royals have won 4 of their last 5 matches, losing only to KKR in their penultimate game. They have beaten stronger teams like CSK, MI, RCB and KXIP, and making a last-gasp leap into the playoffs. Buttler was responsible for their reincarnation, but Rahul Tripathi and spinner Shreyas Gopal stepped up in their final match to turn the tables on a clueless RCB team.
KKR have won 3 of their last 5 matches – losing twice to perpetual tormentors Mumbai Indians in three days. They did just enough to make the playoffs after those sapping defeats. The role of Karthik as a chaser, Narine as a pinch-hitter and Lynn as an accumulator has worked for them, but it has also meant that Rana and Russell haven’t had much time to bat in the middle. They will play at home to RR – a huge advantage for them.
KKR will rely on all-rounders Narine and Russell, as well as spinner Kuldeep Yadav, who is finally discovering his best form. He destroyed RR a week ago with 4 wickets on this pitch.
RR will rely on Rahul Tripathi to nullify Rahane’s slow starts. The middle order depends on Sanju Samson, Klaasen and Jofra Archer. Klaasen can boost his credentials, given that he enhanced his reputation against India earlier this year in South Africa. Bangalore boys Gowtham and Gopal will hope to be as effective as Narine and Yadav in Kolkata.
KKR for an easy win. The Royals have fought well to be here, but no Buttler is a big blow for them. KKR has too much firepower.