IPL Playoffs: With Yusuf Pathan, form and momentum, KKR are favourites

News of Mumbai Indians’ astounding and improbable win over Rajasthan Royals in 14.4 overs is still reverberating around the IPL but with the Playoffs beginning, there is little time to dwell on what has been.

The final four in the points table are as follows: Kings XI Punjab, Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians. The latter three are the winners of the last three IPLs, with Kings being the surprise package this season.

Mumbai will need to come down quickly from the high of qualifying if they want to continue their stunning revival and become only the second team to defend the title. The deck is still stacked against them though, as the eliminator format makes it hard for franchises finishing third or fourth in the table. It means a team has to win three games on the bounce against the best teams in the tournament – a tall ask in an unpredictable format such as Twenty20 cricket.

In one of those quirks of fate, the team that has finished second has won the title both years with this format, though in different ways. Kolkata Knight Riders won the first qualifier in 2012, then the final. In 2013, Mumbai lost to Chennai Super Kings but beat Rajasthan Royals in the second eliminator before taking revenge on CSK in the final.

That’s a good omen for KKR, who finished second this time around as well. They also have the advantage of playing the first qualifier against Kings XI Punjab at The Eden Gardens, where their passionate supporters give them an added edge over visiting teams.

The other match – the first eliminator – features the next chapter in the most storied rivalry in the IPL as Mumbai looks to keep Chennai Super Kings from reaching their fifth consecutive final. It is also the third straight year in which they have met in the playoffs.

We break down both matches below:

 IPL Playoffs: With Yusuf Pathan, form and momentum, KKR are favourites

File picture of Gautam Gambhir and George Bailey. BCCI

KKR vs Kings XI Punjab

They split their two games in contrasting fashion. Kings XI won the first by 23 runs in Abu Dhabi. KKR strolled to victory by nine wickets at the Barabati Stadium in the second – their sixth victory in a string of seven straight.

That winning streak suggests momentum is on Kolkata’s side but momentum is a tricky thing. Liverpool looked to have all the momentum in the English Premier League after winning 11 straight games but stumbled in the home stretch. Still, it means KKR are brimming with confidence and the return to form of Yusuf Pathan gives them a dangerous weapon few teams can match.

The bowling attack is also more potent on their home turf and we should see the return of Piyush Chawla considering Glenn Maxwell might have a weakness against leg-spin.

Meanwhile, Kings XI led the table for most of the league stage but had an up and down finish as Maxwell cooled off. In his last seven inning he has gone past 30 just once and is averaging 14. Punjab needs him to break out of his funk if they are to avoid the same fate that befell Delhi Daredevils in 2012.

While KXIP have plenty of batting depth with the likes of David Miller, George Bailey and Wriddhiman Saha, the bowling is a concern as they have struggled to get their balance right. It was fine while they were racking up 200-plus scores but with the batting returning to more earthly dimensions, and a stacked KKR batting line-up, Punjab won’t
be able to afford an off-day for their bowlers.

Advantage: KKR. They are the form team. They are playing at home. They have the better bowling attack and their batting has come together at just the right time.

Chennai Super Kings vs Mumbai Indians

CSK uncharacteristically swooned towards the end of the league stage, losing three matches in a row before winning their final game against Royal Challengers Bangalore. The bowling has been the primary concern, with the seamers struggling to find the right lengths in Indian conditions. Only Mohit Sharma has been consistent, and CSK even turned to the unreliable Ashish Nehra in their final league game because nobody else had nailed down their place.

The batting, however, is more than solid. Led by Brendon McCullum and Dwayne Smith at the top and anchored by MS Dhoni, the team believes it can chase down any target. CSK’s best chance will be to bowl first and capitalise on a Mumbai attack that is missing Lasith Malinga and struggles to stem the flow of runs.

For Mumbai, having to play at the smaller Brabourne Stadium takes them away from their fortress Wankhede and helps CSK just that little bit. They will be on a high after that mad run-chase against Rajasthan Royals and should approach the game with the same abandon. All too often Mumbai have choked in the knock-outs because the team lets the pressure get to it. Having won the title last year and come back in spectacular fashion this year after losing their first five games, Mumbai have little to lose.

Their bowling, like Chennai’s is a concern. They conceded 189 to RR in a must-win game and given the firepower CSK has, will be hard pressed to control a run-chase. And the batting has been unreliable despite their winning seven of their last nine games. They will be hoping Corey Anderson’s whirlwind 99 not out is the start of something special and not a one-off.

Advantage: CSK, especially if Dhoni wins the toss. Mumbai have the momentum but Chennai has the pedigree. CSK also have greater batting depth than MI and in T20 cricket that is the deciding factor more often than not.

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Updated Date: May 28, 2014 08:47:50 IST