The early stages of any prolonged tournament are always a grind. Teams know that it is vital to get off to a solid start, and that can lead to some tight contests in which opponents are unlikely to give an inch.
To begin with, it's all about getting points on the board.
But typically, as you come towards the end of the campaign—as is the case in the IPL 2014—teams begin to play with a purpose, a freedom and a fluency, as playoff spots are up for grabs, and subsequently the title is there to be won.
This year's IPL is no different, and as the competition rolls on towards the enthralling knockout stages, there are a myriad of different teams looking to continue their run in this wonderful tournament.
So after the Kolkata Knight Riders got the better of the Chennai Super Kings in an eight-wicket win, here is a look at the very latest points table and a glance towards the schedule that will see the top four battle it out in the playoffs:
|IPL 2014: Current Standings|
Schedule Ahead of Playoffs:
|IPL 2014: Upcoming Fixtures|
|Punjab T20 v Mumbai T20||21 May 2014||3:30 p.m.|
|Kolkata T20 v Bangalore T20||22 May 2014||11:30 a.m|
|Chennai T20 v Hyderabad T20||22 May 2014||3:30 p.m.|
|Mumbai T20 v Delhi T20||23 May 2014||11:30 a.m|
|Punjab T20 v Rajasthan T20||23 May 2014||3:30 p.m.|
|Bangalore T20 v Chennai T20||24 May 2014||11:30 a.m|
|Kolkata T20 v Hyderabad T20||24 May 2014||3:30 p.m.|
|Punjab T20 v Delhi T20||25 May 2014||11:30 a.m|
|Mumbai T20 v Rajasthan T20||25 May 2014||3:30 p.m.|
|Qualifier 1 - First Place vs. Second Place||27 May 2014||3:30 p.m.|
|Eliminator - Third Place vs. Fourth Place||28 May 2014||3:30 p.m.|
|Qualifier 2 - Qualifier 1 Loser vs. Eliminator Winner||30 May 2014||3:30 p.m.|
|Final - Qualifier 1 Winner vs. Qualifier 2 Winner||1 June 2014||3:30 p.m.|
The IPL doesn’t have an orthodox semi-final structure, meaning the final could end up being a combination from almost any of the four teams that have qualified for the playoffs.
Currently occupying the top spot in the table is Kings XI Punjab. Led by some blistering batting displays from their No. 3 Glenn Maxwell, the league leaders have been brilliant to watch this season, posting scores in excess of 200 on three different occasions.
After their recent win over the Delhi Daredevils, the Punjab side guaranteed their spot in the playoffs, as confirmed here by their official Twitter account:
Maxwell—who has smashed 531 runs from just 11 matches—is on course to beat the most runs ever scored in a series, an accolade currently held by Michael Hussey and Chris Gayle with 733.
It'd be easy to dub this team as a one-man show, but they were quick to reaffirm after their latest victory that plenty have been playing their part:
After their defeat to the Kolkata Knight Riders, the Chennai Super Kings missed the chance to go level on points with Kings XI and guarantee their own place in the playoffs.
To be fair, if it wasn’t for the exploits of Maxwell, who has scored a whopping 185 runs in two matches against the Chennai side, the Super Kings would probably be sitting atop of the standings themselves.
Here's why they will be hoping to avoid the Punjab side, should the Super Kings make it to the final:
On paper, they have a much more rounded line-up than Kings XI, and the two look set to meet in the first playoff qualifier. Chennai have an extremely long batting line-up, one that contains explosive talents such as Brendon McCullum, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Dwayne Bravo.
Their bowling attack is bristling with quality, too, with the variations of Ravindra Jadeja, Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohit Sharma giving batsman—perhaps Maxwell aside—plenty of problems in the tournament so far.
At this juncture, the aforementioned two sides have stood out, and it’s surely only a matter of time before the Super Kings do secure their playoff spot.
The teams that look most likely to join them are the Rajasthan Royals and the Kolkata Knight Riders. They are set to complete the playoff foursome with both sides tied on 14 points, four points clear of the Royal Challengers Bangalore and the Hyderabad Sunrises, who occupy fifth and sixth respectively.
If there is to be any significant movement in amongst the top four, it could well be either Rajasthan or Kolkata overhauling the Super Kings in second place.
The Chennai side have lost their last two games to each of those teams, and whilst they look in little danger of dropping out of the playoff spots, they could find themselves playing in the eliminator instead of the qualifier.
Although if it means avoiding Maxwell for a little longer, that might be a blessing in disguise!
It's incredibly tough to call an overall winner this year. Chennai have the most balanced squad but are in the worst form of the top four at the moment, whilst Punjab have a player in Maxwell who has a patent for winning matches on his own.
Given the experience in their team, expect the Super Kings to get it together in the knockout phases. Players such as McCullum, Dhoni and Ashwin know exactly what the IPL is all about and have shown in years gone by that they are capable of handling those big pressure moments.
By comparison, Punjab have a host of players who remain untested in the final knockings of the IPL, and that may see them fall just short at the final hurdle.
All statistics are courtesy of ESPNcricinfo.com