With the world’s biggest T20 franchise tournament approaching the business end, interesting battles are shaping up between the teams to reach the playoffs. There are the usual suspects, there are chokers, and then there are Kings XI Punjab. Let’s take a look at how each one of our favorite T20 teams are doing, a week before the playoffs:
Chennai Super Kings
Cemented at the top by some truly bipolar performances on the field, arousing suspicions of foul play because of the reputation of their almighty owner, MS Dhoni’s men have still done the job and reiterated their spot as the most consistent T20 outfit in world cricket. They are at the top of the table with just 3 losses, and lost for the first time at home (to MI) in two years, but have consistently choked oppositions by batting first, putting up moderate scores and excelling at death bowling and tactics. Dhoni got it wrong once against MI, bowling youngster and new favorite Negi at the death, but has learned quick, and shockingly refused to bowl Ashwin against the Royals next game. It worked, and Sir picked up 4 wickets to seal the game.
Seasons change, years pass by, legends retire but CSK’s men remain the same. Winners.
Kolkata Knight Riders
Appropriately, Gambhir’s men are second to Dhoni’s, and even traditionally, KKR have been the second best Indian T20 team in this tournament. They have won two titles, as many as CSK, but have always been the underdogs. There hasn’t been an edition where CSK hasn’t reached the playoffs, and even this time, KKR pose their most serious opposition. Their trick has been to retain an all-Indian batting top order—guys who have played international cricket and are hungry for more. Gambhir, Uthappa, Pandey and Pathan are all hopefuls even now, and their motivation is apparent. Dropping Morkel made no sense, but KKR hasn’t suffered too much—with Yadav, and especially Hogg and Chawla performing beyond expectations. They stand at the cusp of the playoffs now, with only the rampaging RCB posing a real threat to them.
They began like Champions—5 wins in 5, till rain and a super over changed their fortunes. Royals have always been a team that have been in the mix, but lose steam towards the end of the group stages. None worse than their 2014 nightmare, where MI stole their spot under their nose by scoring at more than 14 an over to win a game. Despite the presence of Smith, Watson and Faulkner, they have struggled to win games in the second half, and have become pushovers struggling to reach the playoffs—what with RCB and SRH heavily in the mix now. Their reluctance to push local talent like Hooda and Samson up the order is hurting them.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Everyone is finally tipping this mercurial team to reach the playoffs in style. If Kohli doesn’t fire, Gayle does. If Gayle doesn’t, AB does. If none of them fire, Starc gets you. Such has been the 4-pronged domination of internationals in the line-up. Kids like Mandeep and Sarfaraz haven’t gotten enough opportunities, but have probably learned a lot just by breathing the same air as their idols. They are hitting their straps fast, and except for a minor blimp against CSK, RCB are the team to beat right now. Their destruction of Mumbai at the Wankhede makes them fearsome, if still a bit inconsistent.
Under Warner and Dhawan, this side has been fighting hard, but has never really dominated proceedings. They’re doing their job quietly, and hope to pose a serious threat to RR and RCB to steal a playoff spot. Warner hasn’t fired for a few games, but they’ve still managed some decent cricket—thanks to the death bowling of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. Boult will be leaving for the tour of England now, which leaves them with Steyn and Ishant—old Hyderabad faithful—to complete the job.
With 5 wins on the trot, including a massive one against CSK, they were the team to beat after losing their first 5 games. This is a usual and troublesome path they have lately begun to take to the playoffs, like in 2014, where they became successful with Lendl Simmons at the top, but still acted smart and bought Finch to open the batting. After winning five with a fixed combination, they came up against the might of AB de Villiers, which pretty much put them back in the mid-table. Their net run-rate has been destroyed, and they must win their last two games (against KKR and SRH) to stand a chance. But with KKR and RCB all standing on an odd set of points because of rained out games (15 and 13), MI at 12 points need a come-from-behind miracle now.
No matter who captains their side, and no matter how many promising youngsters play for this side, they will just never win the big moments—and therefore never make the playoffs. Sparks like Iyer, Duminy, Jadhav have all fired alternatively, and never together. This has spelled doom for the dark horses this tournament, and even a fit Zaheer can’t save them. Thanks to Punjab though, they won’t finish last.
Kings XI Punjab
The best team of the 2014 edition is now the worst. It has been a disaster for the team with Sehwag, Miller, Maxwell, Bailey, Johnson, Marsh and Axar, with virtually no hope of not finishing last after losing 9 games out of 11. It has been a sorry story—Maxwell has been a shadow of himself, as were Sehwag and Miller. Johnson was destroyed by many players, and isn’t half as dangerous as Starc in this format. All they can do now is play their last 3 games with nothing to lose, and ruin the script for the other sides. SRH are up first against them, but KXIP are not wounded tigers, they’re dead meat already.