It's not the epic final battle fans had been expecting to see for weeks, but the IPL will get its third and last meeting between Kings XI Punjab and Chennai Super Kings on Friday in the second qualifier, with a ticket to the IPL7 final on the line.
Punjab and Chennai dominated the IPL standings for much of the tournament and looked set to meet in the tournament showpiece, but a late dip from Super Kings saw Kolkata Knight Riders take over their ticket for the first qualifier, a match they won against the suddenly less-formidable Kings XI.
Both teams' weaknesses have been exposed in recent matches, and even though Punjab twice handled Chennai during the IPL season, it is by no means a guarantee Kings XI will be heading for their first final in IPL history.
All statistics used are courtesy of ESPN Cricinfo, unless stated otherwise.
Punjab's Glenn Maxwell scored more than 90 runs in both meetings between these two teams, and his overall tally of 539 runs is the most of any of Kings XI's batsmen by a large margin.
As shared by Star Sports, however, the Australian hasn't been nearly as impressive in his last few matches as he was at the start of the tournament:
Maxwell was held to just six runs against Kolkata and didn't score a single run the match prior to that, against Delhi Daredevils. When your primary batsman isn't scoring runs, that's a problem.
Punjab's main outlet for runs outside of Maxwell is South Africa's David Miller, with 407. The next best is Virender Sehwag, who is yet to cross the 350-mark.
Punjab seemed near impossible to defeat just a few weeks ago, but teams have figured out that by taking out one of Maxwell and Miller early, Kings XI can be put on the back foot quickly.
As important as Maxwell and Miller have been, the biggest key for Punjab will be a third outlet for runs in this match, and that's where Sehwag comes in. With the pitches getting slower as a result of wear and tear, bowlers definitely hold the advantage over the batsmen they face.
Kings XI will need as many runs as they can get, and some of them will have to come from somewhere other than the duo of Maxwell and Miller. If Sehwag can add 35-plus runs, Punjab will be in great shape to make the final.
Bowling for Chennai, Ravichandran Ashwin leads the team's attack with an economy of 7.03. Along with Suresh Raina, Ishwar Pandey and Ravindra Jadeja, he'll be looked at to keep Punjab at bay, opening the door for Chennai's explosive batsmen to make the difference.
Dwayne Smith (559 runs), Raina (436) and Brendon McCullum (394 runs) make up one of the most feared threesomes of batsmen in all of the IPL, and the reason the team failed in their bid to finish the season in the top two was their bowling.
Ashwin is supposed to be the leader of the group, but in two matches against Maxwell, he's given up 64 runs from 24 balls, for no wicket. Unless he improves on those figures, Chennai will have little chance of getting past Kings XI.
Akshar Patel (58 overs, 361 runs, 6.22 economy, 16 wickets) headlines a solid attack for Punjab, and one that should eclipse Chennai's own group of bowlers. Alternative Cricket pointed out the team had to fix their bowling a week ago, and so far, little has changed:
The Alternative Cricket Twitter account also added this beauty:
Maxwell may have struggled to maintain his sensational form from the first few weeks of competition, but a match against Chennai's spotty bowling may be exactly what the Australian needs.
Calling him out is never a good idea, and unless Chennai drastically improve their bowling, Punjab should be favoured for a rematch in the final against Kolkata.
Prediction: This match could go either way, but Punjab's bowling gives them the edge.
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