The 2016 Indian Premier League season reaches its business end this week as the top four teams enter the play-offs to determine who will contest the final.
Gujarat Lions will take on Royal Challengers Bangalore in the first qualifier on Tuesday, before Sunrisers Hyderabad face Kolkata Knight Riders on Wednesday in the eliminator for the right to compete in the second qualifier ahead of Sunday's final.
Read on for a preview of play-off fixtures, but first, here is the remaining schedule for the competition, complete with predictions and the latest odds:
|IPL 2016: Remaining Fixtures|
|Date||Time (IST/BST)||Fixture (Odds)||Prediction|
|Tuesday, May 24||8 p.m/3:30 p.m.||Gujarat Lions (25-18) vs. Royal Challengers Bangalore (4-6)||RCB|
|Wednesday, May 25||8 p.m/3:30 p.m.||Sunrisers Hyderabad (15-13) vs. Kolkata Knight Riders (5-6)||KKR|
|Saturday, May 28||8 p.m/3:30 p.m.||Qualifier 2||N/A|
|Sunday, May 29||8 p.m/3:30 p.m.||Final||N/A|
|IPL 2016: Outright Winner Odds|
|Royal Challengers Bangalore||5-4|
|Kolkata Knight Riders||13-2|
Gujarat Lions vs. Royal Challengers Bangalore
The top two sides from the league stage of the IPL will face off in Bangalore in what should be an explosive encounter on Tuesday after each side won their home match against the other in dominant fashion.
Gujarat won by six wickets when the pair met in April, before RCB exacted revenge in style on May 14 with an incredible 144-run win—the biggest-ever winning margin in IPL history.
Though the former finished top of the table with 18 points to the latter's 16, it is RCB who ultimately dominated the league stage, per ESPN's Bharath Seervi:
Bangalore finished the league in fine style with four wins from their last four matches. Commentator Harsha Bhogle believes they're right to be considered favourites for the IPL overall:
Indeed, they certainly hit form at the right time, unlike their opponents, who have lost twice in their last five outings.
Key to their form has been their incredible batting trio of Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle. Kohli in particular has shone with a staggering 919 runs this season, per ESPNcricinfo:
According to ESPNcricinfo, the Royal Challengers captain reflected on the astounding numbers he's produced:
Those stats have reached me through images, because every game is a new game. We were at an impossible stage. our focus has paid off. My focus is to take the team through. You have to start afresh today, it sounds boring but that's the way it is. To have discipline, you need to be boring. You need to make every day count. When I come onto the field, this was what I was born to do. Very important not to get rude or arrogant when you are in form.
In his 14 innings, Kohli has hit four centuries and six 50's, so if he can keep that run going, his side should march straight through to the final.
Gujarat's Suresh Raina hasn't been as impressive as expected this season, but he racked up 58 and 53 in the Lions' last two matches.
Cricketer Mohammad Kaif noted the important timing of his revival:
He'll need to replicate that to give his side a realistic chance of progressing, but with the partisan crowd behind them, RCB's momentum and batting should see them through here.
Sunrisers Hyderabad vs. Kolkata Knight Riders
Kolkata beat Sunrisers on Sunday to make the play-offs, and they'll be looking to make it three wins from three against their opponents in order to take on either Gujarat or Bangalore in the second qualifier.
KKR won by 22 runs at Eden Gardens, and earlier in the campaign, they romped to victory by six wickets.
As noted by commentator Ayaz Memon, Sunrisers struggled to cope with them on Sunday:
SRH have lost three of their last five heading into the eliminator—hardly ideal preparation, particularly when the most recent defeat came against their upcoming opponents—but they do have one of the players of the competition in David Warner.
The captain has led by example with 658 runs, second only to Kohli, comprised of seven half-centuries—more than any other player—including 66 fours and 25 sixes.
Warner believes his side can emerge triumphant:
Indeed, if he and Shikhar Dhawan can get their innings off to a good start, Hyderabad will have a good platform for victory.
KKR have got the better of them twice, though, so they'll be even more confident they can secure a victory.