Every IPL Team's Worst-Case Scenario in Final Week of 2014
The complete league phase of the 2014 edition of the Indian Premier League is entering its last seven days, as teams eye the remaining fixtures leading into the tournament's finals.
At present, only the Chennai Super Kings and Kings XI Punjab will feel comfortable with their chances of progressing, with five teams likely to battle it out for the last two positions in the top four.
Indeed, after an extremely disappointing campaign, it's perhaps only Kevin Pietersen's Delhi Daredevils side that is incapable of reaching the competition's all-important matches.
So, ahead of a pivotal week, we've examined each team's worst-case scenario as the tournament steps up another gear.
Bangalore: Virat Kohli's Poor Form Continues
This current Bangalore outfit feels a little like the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers or the 2012 Dutch national football team—the sum of the individual parts is extraordinary, but somehow the calibration is off.
No RCB player embodies that quite like the captain, Virat Kohli.
Arriving at this tournament following an exceptional ICC World Twenty20 campaign, the sumptuous Indian star appeared set to embark on an all-conquering period in the T20 arena.
Instead, Kohli has battled his way to just 154 runs from 10 innings in the ongoing IPL, desperately searching for both runs and fluency when both had been at his mercy as recently as a month ago.
Consequently, the powerful-looking Bangalore franchise has failed to exercise its might in this competition; the skipper's struggles severely harming the side's potential threat and morale.
Should Kohli's malaise continue, RCB's hopes of reaching the competition's semi-finals will be erased.
Chennai: The Team Falls out of the Top 2
The importance of remaining in the top two on the IPL's points table is critical for Chennai, given the tournament's current balance.
At present, MS Dhoni's outfit is one of two standout teams alongside Kings XI Punjab, with a significant differential in depth and quality separating the competition's elite pair from the bulk of their challengers.
Should the Super Kings remain among the top two places, the competition's most successful franchise will enjoy the opportunity to progress straight to the final if it was to be triumphant in the heavyweight Qualifier 1 encounter, which would likely present a matchup with the Kings XI.
However, falling out of the top two would see Chennai having to compete in the first eliminator match. Were the side to progress past that pivotal encounter, it would have to face another elite opponent in the second qualifier on May 30 in Mumbai.
For a side seemingly out of reach for many of the tournament's inferior teams, having to advance to the final through two gruelling showdowns would be an extremely disappointing outcome.
Delhi: Kevin Pietersen's Woes Linger
The 2014 edition of the IPL was supposed to represent the beginning of retribution for Kevin Pietersen.
Having been axed from the national setup, it was anticipated that the former England renegade was ready to take the competition by storm, reminding his former employers of his mercurial abilities and highlighting the naivety of his exclusion from the World T20 in Bangladesh.
But things haven't worked out for the Delhi Daredevils captain.
After missing his side's opening three matches, Pietersen has been caught scrambling to unearth his outfit's winning formula in the midst of a personal slump.
The results have been far from pretty, as Pietersen has laboured to only 130 runs from seven innings to date, leaving his under-strength franchise sitting at the foot of the standings.
A continuation of the pattern would be disastrous for the Daredevils and their captain, given their sudden reliance on one another in the wake of the controversial star's England sacking.
Hyderabad: Amit Mishra's Sudden Decline Isn't Arrested
In the opening stages of the ICC World Twenty20, Amit Mishra appeared set to become a decisive operator in the game's shortest format.
Courageously flighting the ball against the world's elite swashbucklers, the leg-spinner reaped immediate rewards with his thoughtful approach that prioritised the capture of wickets over the need to contain the opposition.
However, Mishra appears to have progressively lost his nerve.
As the World T20 wore on, the 31-year-old became less effective as his flight flattened out and his speed quickened. The same thing is happening in this year's IPL.
Across eight matches, Mishra has claimed only six wickets at a troublesome economy rate of 9.15. More worryingly, the diminutive tweaker has consistently retreated when attacked, often resorting to faster deliveries and other panicked variations, which have dramatically reduced his wicket-taking threat.
Given the ongoing issues surrounding Hyderabad's out-of-balance batting line-up, Shikhar Dhawan's team can't afford to see its primary spinner endure another difficult week.
Kolkata: Sunil Narine Sustains an Injury
It's clear for all to see that Kolkata's batting armoury is well under-strength in comparison to the competition's leading teams.
Without a collection of powerful superstars among the top order, Sunil Narine's ability to claim victims while stifling opposing teams with the ball is the key ingredient in the Knight Riders outfit.
Even after finishing his two least impressive displays in Kolkata's most recent pair of matches, the West Indian star still boasts a record vastly superior to most, having claimed 13 wickets at a sublime economy rate of 6.36.
At this stage, Gautam Gambhir's side is hanging on to fourth place by the skin of its teeth, and if anything were to happen to Narine, the team's hopes of reaching the tournament's deciding games would be immediately vanquished.
Mumbai: Other Teams' Results Don't Fall Favourably
Mumbai's disastrous form in the opening weeks of this season's IPL has slowly turned around, as Rohit Sharma's team has emerged triumphant in three of its last four encounters.
Without completely returning to the force the franchise became in 2013, the Indians have conjured ways to edge past the finishing line in recent weeks. But much like an engine bursting to life with only three cylinders, Mumbai's return to winning ways has been anything but spectacular.
In three victories, Sharma's men have snuck past their rivals with just a small collection of important contributions from revolving identities.
Now away from the bottom of the points table, Mumbai must continue the winning ways but also hope that Hyderabad, Kolkata and Bangalore—the three teams seemingly battling with Mumbai for fourth position—slip up on various occasions throughout the final seven days of the league stage.
If results don't fall favourably, it's unlikely that the reigning champions will be presented with an opportunity to defend their crown.
Punjab: The Maxwell-Miller Combination Falters
It's indisputable that Glenn Maxwell's burgeoning partnership with Kings XI teammate David Miller is the key storyline to emerge from this season's IPL.
With regular and almost frightening destruction of the tournament's bowling attacks, the lethal duo has propelled Punjab to a position of strength unprecedented in the franchise's history.
Between the Australian and the South African, a colossal 771 runs have been clattered from a staggering 422 balls, equating to a combined strike rate of 182.70.
And for George Bailey's team, the outlook is simple: Maxwell and Miller will either fire the team to IPL glory or falter and leave their team extremely vulnerable to opposing sides such as Chennai and Rajasthan.
Rajasthan: James Faulkner's Bowling Continues to Be Expensive
James Faulkner has been responsible for some truly remarkable feats in limited-overs cricket over the previous 12 months, hauling Australia to incredible victories in Mohali and Brisbane, as well as propelling Rajasthan past Bangalore on Sunday.
However, there has been a growing imbalance to the all-rounder's accomplishments: They've all been with the bat.
In last year's edition of the IPL, the Australian was superb with the ball for the Royals, claiming 28 wickets at a superb economy rate of 6.75.
Yet Faulkner's ability to quell opposing batsmen appears to have regressed recently, seeing the left-armer become his team's most expensive operator with the ball this season.
Across nine matches, the seamer has nine wickets an at economy rate of 8.71 and has been dealt with harshly in consecutive matches by Bangalore and Chennai.
If Faulkner's inability to stifle the opposition continues, Rajasthan's batsmen will be under extreme pressure to match the immense totals that could follow.