If you’re a fan of the Kolkata Knight Riders and are happy with the team’s progress this season (currently in third place with 12 points), you might want to look away.
A year back on this day, KKR sat happy in second place in the 2015 Indian Premier League table. With 15 points in the bank and a couple of games to go, they seemed like a shoo-in for a place in the playoffs.
Then it all unravelled.
Gautam Gambhir’s knights lost their last two matches against Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians in close encounters. From second, they collapsed to fifth and crashed out of contention for the playoffs, in a season that had looked so promising early on, but ended so disappointingly.
So if you’re a KKR fan or support any other team, be warned. This season is even more closer. And with each team having four or five games to go, anything could still yet happen.
The magic number here is 16, and up until Wednesday's game, none of the top three teams has been able to get there. Toppers Sunrisers Hyderabad are very close – their narrow three-run win over the Rising Pune Supergiants on Tuesday meant they require just one win from their last four games to get to the mark. Gujarat Lions are also just two points away, but have one less match to play, while the Kolkata Knight Riders need four more points from as many games.
However, Kings XI Punjab may be languishing at the bottom, but they can still mount a comeback. They are currently on six points, but if they win their next four games, they can move up to 14. While that may not guarantee a place in the playoffs, it is likely to force a situation where net run-rates come into equation, making things extremely interesting.
The same can’t be said of the Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s Rising Pune Supergiants, though. With six points from 11 games, the best they can get to is 12, not enough to make it to the playoffs.
For all the criticism about the Royal Challengers Bangalore, who are currently sixth in the table, their narrow one-run win over Punjab on Monday ensured that Virat Kohli’s men are still firmly in contention. If they can put together a run of good form and win all their last five games, they can conceivably move up to 18 points, which will guarantee a play-off spot.
Yes, it’s an unlikely bet to make, but it has happened before – remember the Mumbai Indians last year who lost their first five games and bounced back to ultimately win the title?
It may be largely due to the fact that there’s not really been any standout team this season. Gujarat Lions may have won seven out of their 11 games, but as their negative net run-rate shows, their defeats have been quite comprehensive. On the other hand, Sunrisers Hyderabad have looked the better team, largely thanks to the exploits of their bowling attack. Their batting still looks susceptible and too dependent on the likes of David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan.
An open tournament
The other surprising thing is that despite this being one of the IPL’s most open seasons till now, the buzz around it has been quite negative. The first few weeks were overshadowed by controversy – first about Harsha Bhogle’s ouster from the commentary team and then the Board of Control for Cricket in India's being nudged by the Bombay High Court to shift out all matches from Maharashtra due to the prevailing drought conditions.
And it seemed to have reflected in the viewership numbers as well. This season has seen the second-lowest viewership over all seasons after the 2014 edition. It even elicited a response from IPL chairman Rajeev Shukla, who admitted that an overdose of matches had led to some fatigue, but remained optimistic that it would be better as the tournament went on.
Perhaps there is a message for the BCCI there if they can spot it. The exit of Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings, even if forced, has made the tournament much more even and interesting. Instead of allowing franchisees to retain their players and ensure that the stronger teams remain stronger, the BCCI can actively think about a draft system where teams are more evenly matched. As this year’s IPL shows, it makes for a much more interesting tournament.