Let us get the first talking point out of the way: to say Kings XI Punjab need a miracle to qualify for playoffs is an understatement. They do not have to just beat the Chennai Super Kings on Sunday but, they will need a victory margin unheard of in T20 cricket to overturn their Net Run Rate deficit — a win by 250 runs, if they bat first for instance.
But the teams’ last Indian Premier League group stage encounter in Mohali on Sunday is not a dead rubber. Already assured of a playoff berth, table toppers CSK will aim to maintain their pole position with a victory over a struggling KXIP side.
After a defeat against Mumbai Indians in an earlier match, Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led CSK bounced back with a massive 80-run win over Delhi Capitals in their last game, to once again capture the top spot in the table — a spot which they will retain with a win against R Ashwin’s team.
Heavy loss against Mumbai Indians in Dhoni’s absence saw their net run-rate falling and now with just a game left in the league stage, the defending champions need a win to maintain their dominance and cement their position at the top.
With 18 points from 13 games, a win will give them 20 points and the privilege of playing the Qualifer 1 at home, and two shots at qualifying for the final.
In their previous match against Delhi Capitals, skipper Dhoni and Suresh Raina guided the team to a challenging 179/4 and then restricted the opponent to just 99. Imran Tahir and Ravindra Jadeja shared seven wickets between them as they wrecked havoc in the Delhi batting lineup.
Dhoni, Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Shane Watson and Faf du Plessis will look to score big runs in Mohali, while Tahir and Harbhajan will aim to flummox the Kings XI batsmen with their spin magic.
Despite their qualification to the tournament’s business end for the 10th time in 10 seasons, CSK are not a flawless team. The batting has barely fired in unison and there are problems at the top — an average opening partnership of 19.80, with just one partnership of 50 or more in 13 matches tells you what you need to know. There has been the occasional contribution from Watson, du Plessis and Raina but the batting has been largely dependent of Dhoni — who has carried the team on his dodgy back more than once this season.
Inconsistent season for KXIP
In contrast, KXIP who are all but out of the playoffs race, would be playing to avoid finishing last. With 10 points from 13 games, they are last on the table now after Royal Challengers Bangalore defeated Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Inconsistent KXIP’s hopes of making it to the playoffs were dashed in a seven-wicket loss to Kolkata Knight Riders in their previous match at home. Not being in the reckoning will be a disappointment for the home crowd in Sunday’s match but they will hope that KXIP finish on a high.
In the previous game against KKR, despite posting a challenging 183/6, visitors’ openers Shubman Gill (65 not out) and Chris Lynn (46) took the match away from the KXIP.
After the match, KXIP skipper Ashwin admitted that powerplay has been one of his team’s “massive problems”.
“Most games that we won is because through the middle overs or sometimes in the death overs where you had some incredible performances by (Mohammed) Shami or Sam (Curran), something like that,” said Ashwin.
Ashwin summed up his team’s campaign this season as not up the mark. Their in-form openers Chris Gayle and KL Rahul, who have been among runs, would be keen to come good against CSK. The likes of Sam Curran, Mayank Agarwal and Nicholas Pooran have done alright but will have to shoulder more responsibility in the middle-order.
Their bowling has largely depended on skipper Ashwin and Shami, and the duo would have to find a way to keep Dhoni quiet most of all — KXIP are the CSK skipper’s favourite team to bat against in the IPL after all.
Head to Head in IPL:
Overall: Matches – 20, Kings XI Punjab – 8, Chennai Super Kings – 12.
Since 2015: Matches – 5, Kings XI Punjab – 1, Chennai Super Kings – 4.
Chennai Super Kings: MS Dhoni (captain & WK), Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Shane Watson, Faf du Plessis, Murali Vijay, Kedar Jadhav, Ravindra Jadeja, Dhruv Shorey, Chaitanya Bishnoi, Rituraj Gaikwad, Dwayne Bravo, Karn Sharma, Imran Tahir, Harbhajan Singh, Mitchell Santner, Shardul Thakur, Mohit Sharma, K M Asif, Deepak Chahar, N Jagadeesan (wk), Scott Kuggeleijn.
Kings XI Punjab: Ravichandran Ashwin (captain), K L Rahul, Chris Gayle, Mayank Agarwal, Sarfaraz Khan, David Miller, Mandeep Singh, Sam Curran, Andrew Tye, Murugan Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Mujeeb Ur Rehman, Karun Nair, Moises Henriques, Varun Chakravarthi, Harpreet Brar, Simran Singh, Nicholas Pooran, Hardus Viljoen, Ankit Rajpoot, Arshdeep Singh, Darshan Nalkande, Agnivesh Ayachi.
Match starts at 4 pm.
(With PTI and iplt20 inputs)