The seventh edition of the IPL reached its business end on Wednesday as the playoffs commenced with a victory for Kolkata Knight Riders over Kings XI Punjab, giving us our first finalists.
Kings XI led the way during the regular season with 22 points from their 14 games, while Kolkata surged to a second-place finish on 18 points. However, the Punjab outfit were very much second-best on Wednesday in a 28-run defeat.
Rounding out the four playoff teams are Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians, who will face off in an Eliminator.
Let's take a look at the full fixture list for the playoff phase as well as the format and an examination of each team's form.
Fixtures and Playoff Format
|IPL 2014: Playoff Schedule|
|Qualifier 1||May 28||Punjab vs. Kolkata||Kolkata|
|Eliminator||May 28||Chennai vs. Mumbai||Mumbai|
|Qualifier 2||May 30||Kings XI Punjab vs. Chennai Super Kings||Mumbai|
|Final||June 1||Kolkata Knight Riders vs. Kings XI Punjab||Bengaluru|
The IPL's unique playoff format gives the league's leading pair two bites at the cherry when it comes to getting into the final.
Thus, Punjab and Kolkata played in Qualifier 1, with the winners, the Knight Riders, automatically proceeding to the final. The losers, Kings XI, were not knocked out of the competition. They headed to Qualifier 2 to face the winner of Chennai and Mumbai.
In the eliminator match, the Chennai Super Kings edged Mumbai Indians by a score of 176/3 to 173/8. Unfortunately for Chennai, they were unable to keep up with Punjab in the second qualifier and Kings XI earned the second final spot.
Punjab and Kolkata will now battle once again, but this time the championship is on the line.
There is no doubt that the form side going into the playoff phase of this year's IPL are the Kolkata Knight Riders.
Relatively underwhelming in the first half of the competition, the Knight Riders won their last seven league games on the bounce.
That is in no small part thanks to Robin Uthappa, whose extraordinary run-scoring consistency has seen him break an IPL record, per Opta, and he sat atop the chart of leading run-scorers heading into the playoffs:
Kolkata's impeccable form saw them soar up the table to snatch the all-important second spot from Chennai, who had been holding the position for some time.
Another in-form team are eventual fourth-place finishers and reigning champions Mumbai Indians, who qualified for the playoffs courtesy of a stunning 195 from 14.4 overs to beat Rajasthan in the final league game, displacing the Royals in the last knockout spot.
Kiwi Corey Anderson's 95 from 44 balls was instrumental in an outrageous win, which saw the Indians through on net run-rate.
Mumbai lost the first five games of their campaign and looked to be a poor representation of last year's winning outfit. The fact that they have somehow made the playoffs could give them some key momentum.
Kings XI had been the form side throughout the tournament and should still be considered serious contenders to take the championship, having won 11 of their 14 league games.
They racked up some quite astonishing scores during the league competition, regularly smashing the 200 mark thanks to their formidable middle order, which includes Glenn Maxwell, David Miller and George Bailey.
They were downed by Mumbai Indians in their third-last match of the league, but they have been sure of a playoff place for some time and will remain a tough proposition despite their loss to Kolkata.
Chennai Super Kings slightly spluttered to the finish line with three losses from their final four games, which eventually saw them forced into the Eliminator against Mumbai.
They will need to be well prepared for that crucial game, and winning their last game convincingly—by eight wickets—against Bangalore should give them some momentum.
No matter what happens, there are sure to be fireworks as IPL 7 comes to a close. The final is scheduled to take place on June 1 in Bengaluru.
The next few days will decide who contests that final, and form will then be out of the window for the one-off showpiece to decide this year's winners.
A resurgent Knight Riders will feel confident they can keep their run going but Kings XI will surely have something to say about that, and maybe Mumbai can nip in to retain their title.