Five-way race for last two IPL playoff spots
New Delhi: With nine games left in the group stages of the 12th edition of Indian Premier League (IPL), one would think that the points table would wear a settled look with the playoff positions sealed or on the verge of being sealed.
But a look at this year's points table reveals that this has been one of the closest fought editions since the inception of the tournament in 2008.
Five teams -- Mumbai Indians (MI), Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) -- are fighting it out for the last two slots in the playoffs with Delhi Capitals (DC) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK) already through with 16 points each from their respective 12 games.
Out of the five teams, MI stand slightly ahead with 14 points from 12 games. The other four teams all have 10 points apiece. But Kolkata and Rajasthan are on the backfoot as they have played 12 games as compared to SRH and KXIP's 11. So, while KKR and RR must win all their remaining matches to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot, SRH and KXIP have more room to play with.
The only team which is all but out of the tournament is Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB). Even though they still have a mathematical chance with 8 points from 12 games, skipper Virat Kohli made it clear that for them the last two games are about going out and expressing themselves.
"The important thing now, with two games left, is to go out there and have fun. Not take too much pressure. Obviously we want to perform the best we can, the fun factor should not go away.
"We put ourselves under too much pressure in the first six games and then it is always hard work in the latter half. We have to go out there and play positive cricket. Once the last two games are done, we will sit down and see where the tournament goes," Kohli explained after Sunday's loss to DC.
But the likes of Rohit Sharma (MI), Dinesh Karthik (KKR), Ravichandran Ashwin (KXIP), Bhuvneshwar Kumar (SRH) and Steve Smith (RR) have everything to play for in the remaining games. Interestingly, Steve Smith's Royals will take on Kohli's RCB on Tuesday and the boys from Rajasthan must win to stay in contention.
For MI, the best part is that both their last two games are at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and skipper Rohit will look to drive home the advantage against both SRH and KKR. KXIP, which take on SRH in Hyderabad on Monday, also play their last two games at home against KKR and CSK.
Hyderabad, meanwhile, have two games away after playing their last home game on Monday. They will battle it out against a confident MI in their own backyard before playing an out of contention RCB at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on May 4.
Kolkata also play both their remaining games away from home. But then, the conditions at the Eden Gardens didn't help their case much and the wicket or conditions wouldn't be a concern for KKR as they first play KXIP in Mohali before heading to Mumbai for the final game. Rajasthan too will be playing both their games away from home -- in Bengaluru and then in the national capital.
All in all, it will be a battle of nerves as five teams look to give it their best to squeeze into the remaining two slots in the race for a top-four finish and a chance to lift the coveted trophy.