Of course, the points table didn't show it. But close observers of this season's Indian Premier League knew: The Kings XI were running into the wrong opponents at the wrong time.
In the lead-up to this pivotal first qualifier, Robin Uthappa had been going all world record on the tournament's bowlers. Sunil Narine's wizardry had been bordering on the dark arts. Morne Morkel had recaptured his ferocity from Port Elizabeth. Yusuf Pathan had dismembered Sunrisers Hyderabad.
It had all transpired to give the Knight Riders seven wins from seven—and the No. 2 seed to boot.
In contrast, George Bailey's Punjab outfit had meandered its way into the playoffs. A blistering start and clean sweep of the tournament's UAE leg meant the Kings XI had hit cruise control early. The pyrotechnics from Glenn Maxwell and David Miller had been fading. Virender Sehwag's form was on the wane. Sandeep Sharma had slowly lost his touch.
Despite wins in four of their last six, the tournament leaders had been soundly defeated in each of their recent encounters with playoff-bound opponents.
Kings XI Punjab had peaked. The Kolkata Knight Riders were ominously trending upward.
A result mirroring that respective form ensued on Wednesday. Bailey's side was trounced.
Now, the men in red desperately need a victory to avoid throwing away what was once a sparkling campaign. But the task is an unenviable one: a knockout clash with the most dominant franchise in the IPL's history.
It must be remembered that the Kings XI cruised past Chennai in both of the team's league-phase showdowns this season. In the third match of the tournament, the Maxwell-Miller tandem blasted Punjab home in their chase of 206. Three weeks later, Kings XI batted first and romped their way to an insurmountable 231-4 with much the same recipe.
Yet, those evenings feel distant. The brazen hubris has slowly ebbed away from the Kings XI outfit. Based on the precedent set in 2014, lost momentum is extremely difficult to rediscover. Stopping opponents who are surging with it is even harder.
You only need to look how Australia's 2013-14 Ashes series panned out once the ascendancy had been seized—and what happened to England once it had been lost. Concurrently, in the middle of that dramatic tour, the Perth Scorchers rode a late wave of momentum to upset the Melbourne Stars and Sydney Sixers in Australia's own Twenty20 indulgence, the Big Bash League.
Michael Clarke's boisterous outfit then dismantled the South Africans on their own turf. Such was Australia's conviction, not even AB de Villiers or Dale Steyn could do enough to reverse the tide. On a different continent, Sri Lanka used an impressive stretch of limited-overs results to propel the nation to the Asia Cup crown. A barnstorming run to the capture of the ICC World Twenty20 title quickly followed.
Perhaps the packed international schedule benefits those on the crest of the wave for a short while: There's not enough time to lose touch. Beleaguered teams can't regroup.
But you get the feeling that the IPL is a little different when it comes to sustaining it. Australia's Ashes humiliation stretched just five matches in the main format. The South African leg spanned just three. Meanwhile, Perth's Big Bash campaign only included 10 hit-outs. Sri Lanka's two pieces of silverware were won after only five and six games, respectively.
In this tournament, Kings XI Punjab are already 15 games deep. Staying so hot for so long has proved rather difficult.
So as Bailey's men prepare for their do-or-die second qualifier against Chennai on Friday, forget the analysis of matchups, forget the talk of conditions and ignore the selection possibilities. It's not even about MS Dhoni's Super Kings.
Instead, for the Kings XI, Friday will be nothing more than a head-on duel with momentum.
The problem is: They don't have any of it.
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