The 2014 Indian Premier League is wrapping up the first part of its schedule, which was played in the United Arab Emirates, and as the tournament gets set to move back to India, the top teams have already separated themselves from the pack.
Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings lead the standings, having lost just a single match between both teams. They will not be facing each other again until Match 29.
Defending champions Mumbai Indians lost all four of their opening matches and are joined at the bottom of the standings by Sunrisers Hyderabad as both teams look like the ultimate of long shots to qualify for the playoffs.
|Match 17||Chennai Super Kings||v||Sunrisers Hyderabad||Chennai won by 5 wickets|
|Match 18||Kings XI Punjab||v||Royal Challengers Bangalore||Punjab won by 5 wickets|
|Match 19||Rajasthan Royals||v||Kolkata Knight Riders||Tied, Rajasthan won Super Over|
Kolkata Knight Riders have lost two matches in a row and will need to bounce back from an eliminator-loss to Rajasthan Royals to defeat Super Kings, whose only loss of the tournament came in a high-scoring match with undefeated Punjab in both team's opener.
Sunil Narine is one of the tournament leaders with an economy rate of 5.35, and he'll be going up against compatriot Dwayne Smith, who has been firing on all cylinders on his way to 240 runs in five matches, the second-highest total in the 2014 IPL.
Smith is joined by Brendon McCullum (193) to give Chennai the most productive duo of batsmen in the tournament. They powered the team to four straight wins and to second place in the standings.
Kolkata would like to keep hold of their spot in the top four, which would see them through to the playoffs, but they simply can't match Chennai's group of batsmen. Look for Super Kings to make it five wins in a row.
Mumbai Indians have yet to win a single match and face the daunting task of having to halt undefeated Kings XI's run in what could be the most one-sided contest of the entire tournament. Freddie Wilde doesn't like their chances of progressing:
Punjab's Glenn Maxwell has amassed an incredible 300 runs in five contests, and backed by a superb group of bowlers, Kings XI have been on cruise control for much of the tournament.
Sandeep Sharma (5.63), Akshar Patel (5.72) and Rishi Dhawan (6.15) have all comfortably kept their economy average under seven and have given the tournament leaders some very consistent bowling throughout the 2014 IPL.
Last year's champions, on the other hand, don't have a single batsman with triple-digit runs and while their bowlers have been very solid as well (Harbhajan Singh, Lasith Malinga and Zaheer Khan have similarly bowled for an economy lower than seven), their inability to put runs on the board has cost them.
No surprises here either—Indians' miserable run continues with Kings XI easily recording the win.
Rajasthan Royals will be powered by the emotion of winning a Super Over against Kolkata, but they won't have things easy when they take on Delhi Daredevils.
Jean-Paul Duminy has been one of the tournaments' top performers so far with 173 runs scored and just 93 given up in 14 overs. Dehi lost a close one to Hyderabad and bounced back with a solid win over struggling Mumbai, and any push for a top-four finish would have to start with a statement win against Royals.
But those Royals have momentum on their side in a big way, as shared by Freddie Wilde:
Rajasthan might not jump out with flashy plays, but their bowling has been absolutely sensational. No less than six of their players are currently carrying an economy rate under seven with at least five overs bowled. Only one of those six has given up more than 100 runs.
Stuart Binny, Shane Watson, Tim Southee, Pravin Tambe, Kane Richardson and Rajat Bhatia have combined for some phenomenal bowling displays, and that group could be heating up at just the right time.
With a match against Chennai and their top batsmen McCullum and Smith on the horizon, Royals will get an excellent opportunity to see whether their bowling can hold up against Duminy and company. Look for Rajasthan to win in a contest closer than you might be expecting.
*All statistics used are courtesy of ESPN Cricinfo.