They made it! How Lions, RCB, SRH and KKR reached the IPL play-offs after a topsy-turvy ride
As the IPL caravan takes a breather ahead of the play-offs, we look back at the topsy-turvy ride of Gujarat Lions, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders who have earned the right to stake a claim at the IPL crown
The race is over! After one and a half months of intense battle and a grueling schedule, four teams have finally managed to make it to the play-offs. The journey so far wasn't by any means a walk in the park with most teams making it by the skin of their teeth.
Hunger, desire and will to win. These were the determining factors in the end in a contest of evenly-matched outfits, as teams who needed it the most have survived to leave another day.
As the IPL caravan takes a breather ahead of the play-offs, we look back at the topsy-turvy ride of Gujarat Lions, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders who will fight it out in the play-offs to take another crucial step towards the coveted trophy.
What a debut! If you want to know what hitting the ground running is, look no further than the Gujarat Lions. Suresh Raina and co. came out roaring at the start of the season with three straight wins. While wins over a weak Kings XI Punjab, and fellow debutants Rising Pune Supergiants didn't cause many ripples, the third win of their streak against Mumbai Indians at the Wankhede stadium was where they really announced themselves.
But then came the reality check. The high-flying Lions were brought back down to earth as a David Warner-led Sunrisers Hyderabad thumped them by ten wickets in their next game. Welcome to the IPL!
However, just when it seemed the bubble had burst, the Lions roared back with another three-match winning streak, beating Royal Challengers Bangalore, Delhi Daredevils and Rising Pune Supergiants on the spin. The doubters were silenced. Gujarat Lions were there to stay.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. This was the state of their next opponents Kings XI Punjab. Fighting for their lives, Kings XI Punjab upset the Lions, triggering a series of three defeats on the trot. The early season swagger of the Lions felt like a thing of the past. Perhaps their hunger to win also wasn't the same as at the start. There were fresh signs of life after their win over Kolkata Knight Riders, but they were laid to rest when a Suresh Raina-less Gujarat Lions were bludgeoned by the marauding duo of AB De Villiers and Virat Kohli in Bangalore. The Lions fell to the worst defeat in IPL history.
Downhill. That's where the their season was heading to according to ex-players and pundits with two games left to play, but the Lions had a few more kills left in them. Caught in a scarp for the play-offs, they found their mojo back when needed the most and dispatched the Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians in crucial encounters to end the season how they started the it, on top of the pile.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Story of the season. Like every year, IPL 2016 also had its 'phoenix' who rose from the ashes. With just four wins from their first ten games, Royal Challengers Bangalore seemed dead and buried. Despite the titanic batting line-up featuring Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and Shane Watson, a feeble bowling attack coupled with lack of luck with the toss deserted the star-studded Royal Challengers Bangalore. Wins over Rising Pune Supergiants, ensured RCB hung on, but only by a thread.
Virat Kohli was scoring centuries for fun, but ending up a losing centurion wasn't something that went down well with him. And he decided to take RCB to the play-offs all by himself. His cause was helped by return to form of Gayle and De Villiers, but it was the captain who led from the front and breathed life into a roller-coaster ride. The bowling attack that looked toothless all season suddenly livened up. After Kohli-De Villiers blitz took RCB to 248 against Gujarat Lions, the bowlers did extremely well to restrict Lions to 104. That was the difference in the end, not just in terms of the points table, but also in terms of self-belief.
There was no looking back for Kohli and co from then on. Another century from Kohli's bat against Kings XI, before a well-made fifty against Delhi Daredevils in the final game made the impossible possible and RCB found themselves second on the table. What a turnaround.
Failing to qualify for the play-offs for two straight seasons meant Sunrisers Hyderabad were often overlooked when possible candidates for the play-offs in IPL 9 were discussed. They did little to change that belief after starting off with two defeats, firstly to a Kohli-De Villiers inspired RCB and secondly to the seasoned Kolkata Knight Riders.
However, sometimes greater challenges seem to bring out the best in teams, and that's what happened with Sunrisers when defending champions Mumbai Indians came calling. Sunrisers' pace-battery of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Barinder Sran and Mutafizur rose to the occasion to bundle Mumbai Indians batting cheaply. David Warner struck form as the champions were overturned in Hyderabad and suddenly SRH had a winning equation.
The equation worked again and again before it became their secret formula. Nehra's return to fitness came as a huge boost as the SRH bowlers led their team's surge to the play-offs. Eight wins in ten games had Sunrisers on the brink of the play-offs after a long wait, before Nehra's injury slightly affected the rhythm of the Sunrisers. For all their consistency, SRH had to settle for third place for perhaps letting their foot off the gas a bit in the end. The IPL is quite unforgiving and Sunrisers must pull their socks up again, before the eliminator
Kolkata Knight Riders
Been there, done that! It was normal business for Kolkata Knight Riders as they geared up for the 9th edition of the IPL. Strong, well-balanced squad, experience of winning the trophy and a favourites tag. That was all that the Knight Riders were so used to.
And the season began in spectacular fashion, as KKR trumped Delhi Daredevils at fortress Eden Gardens and justify their favourites tag straight away. Twin defeats to Mumbai Indians meant that KKR's momentum was broken twice, still the 2014 champions were still well-placed to make the play-offs after six games.
However, KKR's season failed to hit top gear, as constant speed-breakers hurt their progress. Two defeats, at first to Gujarat Lions, and then Royal Challengers Bangalore threatened to leave KKR too far behind in the race for the play-offs. But every time Gautam Gambhir's men had their backs to the wall, they managed to produce the goods.
KKR were in a spot of bother while chasing a target of 66 from nine overs in a rain-affected clash with Rising Pune Supergiants. Ashwin had already sent the KKR openers back in the hut and the ball was doing a quite a bit. But in came Yusuf Pathan and blasted Ashwin and the demons in the pitch into oblivion to guide KKR to a crucial win.
Then in the final game of the season, it was the spinners who came to the fore to take KKR through to the play-offs after a comprehensive win over Sunrisers Hyderabad. Last year, they fluffed it in the end when play-offs spot seemed like a cake-walk, this time, they made sure the mistake wasn't repeated.
It's been a thrilling ride for all the four teams. A real test of their physical as well as mental character. Team balance and consistency will be the key going forward, something which was missing from almost every team's arsenal.
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