The Indian Premier League wrapped up its final round of league play with a thrilling finish between the Mumbai Indians and the Rajasthan Royals. That intense clash for the fourth and final playoff spot wasn't decided until the very last ball.
Elsewhere, table-toppers the Kings XI Punjab closed out a fine season with yet another commanding victory. Here are the latest results from the IPL, plus a form guide for the top clubs headed into the playoff format:
|Match||Home Team||Away Team||Winner|
|53||Royal Challengers Bangalore||Chennai Super Kings||Super Kings by eight wickets|
|54||Kolkata Knight Riders||Sunrisers Hyderabad||Knight Riders by four wickets|
|55||Kings XI Punjab||Delhi Daredevils||Punjab by seven wickets|
|56||Mumbai Indians||Rajasthan Royals||Mumbai by five wickets|
By pipping Rajasthan to the post, the Indians earned fourth place. Their reward is an eliminator clash with a talented but inconsistent Super Kings squad.
Chennai had been edged out of second spot by the Kolkata Knight Riders on Saturday. That has set up a first qualifier pitting the Kings XI against the Knight Riders at Eden Gardens.
Here is how the form guide looks for each of this quartet before the playoffs:
|Kolkata Knight Riders||9||5||WWWW|
|Kings XI Punjab||11||3||WWLW|
|Chennai Super Kings||9||5||WLLL|
The form teams are obviously Kolkata and Mumbai. But it is the Indians who are the squad to watch once the playoffs begin.
They can take major confidence from having beaten the Kings XI in Punjab in match 48. That was the day batsman Lendl Simmons slugged his way to a century.
But as good as Simmons was, Mumbai owed its victory as much to the bowling exploits of Shreyas Gopal. Writing for IPLT20.com, Harsh Kalan credited Gopal with snatching momentum from the Kings XI:
Capitalising on the slight shift in momentum, Shreyas Gopal then dealt a massive double-blow. The young leggie first cleaned up Vohra (36) and then held on to Glenn Maxwell’s (2) catch off his own bowling in the space of three deliveries. Thanks to Gopal’s exploits, KXIP were suddenly reduced to 93 for four after 11 overs.
It's the ability of players to produce sudden match-winning turns that makes Mumbai so dangerous. In the decisive victory over Rajasthan, it wasn't Simmons or Gopal, but Corey Anderson who delivered.
The unpredictable all-rounder tallied 95 runs off 44 balls, according to ESPNCricinfo.com. Anderson even managed to smash 15 to the boundary and beyond.
Of course, before they get the chance to play the winner of Punjab-Kolkata, the Indians must get past Chennai. The Super Kings did the double over Mumbai this season, besting them by four wickets in match 33 and seven wickets in match 13.
Chennai has its own match-winners, such as opening batsmen Dwayne Smith and Faf du Plessis. The duo played a key role in snapping a three-game losing skid, per ESPNCricinfo.com writer Kanishkaa Balachandran:
The electric start provided by Super Kings openers du Plessis and Dwayne Smith cut the target down to size very early on. Super Kings rocketed to 53 in the Powerplay, with both batsmen taking 18 off a Mitchell Starc over as the captain Virat Kohli shuffled his bowlers to restrict the openers. Smith fell to a soft dismissal in the fifth over, but with a strong platform in place, Super Kings could afford to build steadily and look for singles instead.
Building steadily is something the Chennai batting line does a little too often. The group rarely shows off its obvious talent to amass the numbers it should.
If nothing else though, the Super Kings have at least righted the ship after their dangerous late-season slump.
Like Mumbai, Kolkata enter the playoff phase in brilliant form. There has been a swagger to their game in recent matches, and it's fair to say the Knight Riders have been one of the more exciting teams to watch in the IPL.
Players such as Yusuf Pathan have been delivering the magic in the last four matches. Pathan wowed fans and teammates during the Knight Riders' decisive win over Hyderabad, per ESPNCricinfo.com:
Yusuf Pathan can be a brutal hitter capable of changing matches in a matter of minutes, as he famously showed during his two ODI centuries and a 37-ball 100 for Rajasthan Royals in 2010. Memories of those innings were fading, though, after three lean seasons in the IPL, and an international career that stalled in 2012.
Those memories came flooding back when he ripped Sunrisers Hyderabad apart at Eden Gardens with the fastest half-century in the IPL. Shane Warne, Yusuf's captain in 2010, had famously and hyperbolically said that the 37-ball 100 was the 'best innings I have ever seen.' Yusuf's current captain, Gautam Gambhir, didn't go that far, but was awestruck by the 22-ball 72 that grabbed a top-two place for Kolkata Knight Riders.
Having Pathan and Orange Cap leader Robin Uthappa in the same batting order gives Kolkata a chance of upsetting the Kings XI. The Knight Riders will also be encouraged by having won their most recent encounter with Punjab.
Kolkata triumphed by nine wickets in match 34. In their current form, the Knight Riders will pose another formidable challenge to the otherwise dominant Kings XI.