Like rail passengers who have bought waitlist tickets, most teams in this year’s Indian Premier League had to wait until the last day of the league stage to get their playoff berths confirmed. Season Eight  has been very open-ended and we have witnessed some dramatic turnarounds during the course of the league. 54 matches weren’t enough to decide who plays whom in the playoffs.

At last, it is time for the playoffs and the top two teams, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians will battle for a place in the final on Tuesday at the Wankhede stadium.

Yes, you read that right. If you had missed to follow a few matches in the end, you would now be surprised to see Mumbai Indians at the second spot on the table.

Road to the playoffs

Mumbai Indians

The men in blue hadn’t opened their account until they played their fifth match this season. At that point, Mumbai Indians’ chances to make it to the last four looked ominous. As their skipper, Rohit Sharma said, the boys did not play to their potential. They were not able to click as a group. Some of their key players have been out of form. They had to bank on their tail-enders for runs. It hurt them badly.

But they had been in similar situation in the previous editions. Did that prove to be an inspiration?

It might have. They made a remarkable comeback. From being a team that had lost 4 consecutive matches, they went on to win six on the trot. They have come up with some clinical efforts to stay alive in the tournament.

What led to the turnaround?

Lendl Simmons got going at the top. He added strength to the Mumbai batting order. Parthiv Patel effectively joined him at the top and the duo made some crucial contributions to the scorecard. Mitchell McClenaghan's inclusion worked wonders for Mumbai Indians. Their bowling attack looked quite complete after his arrival. But the surprise package has been the 21-year-old from Baroda, Hardik Pandya. He became "the man" the Mumbai Indians needed with some brilliant all round performances. He single handedly won quite a few games for the men in blue. Let us not forget Mumbai’s marquee player, Lasith Malinga.

Mumbai Indians are pumped up now. They have the luxury to try twice to make it to the finals. They will be looking to go through in the first attempt though.

But to do so, they have to be at their best when they take on the league leaders.

The CSK story

When you see the fixtures of the tournament well ahead of the start, you know there is one team that is going to make it to the final stages. Chennai Super Kings, on all eight occasions have reached the final stages of the tournament. Consistent cricket has been CSK’s mantra.

This time too, they started the tournament with a bang. When you have Brendon McCullum at the peak of his form and Dwayne Smith opening the innings, your team seldom fails. They won most matches inside the first six overs. In spite of having a poor start, the spin department buckled up to do well. Ashish Nehra and Dwayne Bravo have fed the team with wickets. The medium pace duo has been brilliant this season.

Well begun is half done, they say. CSK began well and always looked like making it to the top four in spite of losing steam towards the end of the league stage.

So, which of the teams will first reach Kolkata?

A few questions will be this tough to answer. Both teams are known for playing fearless cricket. Mumbai, playing in front of their home crowd, is a tough team to beat. Their players have been in good form recently and will continue to do so. Their think tank will come up with a lot of strategies to help them beat the men in yellow.

On the other hand, Dhoni’s men are known to be big match players. They aren’t susceptible to pressure. In fact their players deliver the best on big occasions. But this time around, they look a bit inconsistent. With no Brendon McCullum at the top, there is huge pressure on the out-of-form Dwayne Smith. Their middle order, that had been inconsistent, stood up against the Kings XI a few days ago. Dhoni will be a happy man if CSK’s middle order clicks on Tuesday. Having said that, they can still prove to be a handful for any opposition if it is their day on the field.

In crunch situations like the playoffs, you want contests where you are expected to wait till the last ball to know the winner. Tuesday night’s contest might prove to be one such battle.