Punjab had started the season with a string of wins before going off the boil. Currently placed at the seventh position with 12 points, Kings XI still have a slender chance of making it to the play-off.
The cash-rich league is still alive and kicking with only Sunrisers Hyderabad (18 from 13 games), Chennai Super Kings (16 from 13 games) and Kolkata Knight Riders (16 from 14 games) having clinched play-off spots.
While Delhi Daredevils (8 points in 13 matches) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (12 points in 14 matches) are already out of the tournament, Rajasthan Royals kept their play-offs hope alive with a 30-run win over RCB in their last league match on Saturday.
Mumbai Indians are also at 12 points with one match to go but Punjab will have the advantage of knowing exactly what they need to do to make a last-ditch effort to steal a play-off berth. It has been a story of individual brilliance for Punjab who have failed to click as a team. Only KL Rahul (652 runs) has been scoring runs in a heap but none of the other batsmen have played to their potential on a consistent basis.
Kings XI had come agonisingly close in securing a win against Mumbai Indians in their last outing before a last-minute slip saw the defending champions seal the contest by three runs in the last over. Chris Gayle played some superb knocks early in the tournament but he has looked inconsistent. Among others, Aaron Finch, Karun Nair, Marcus Stonis, Mayank Agarwal and Yuvraj Singh — all have failed to score runs when it mattered.
Among bowlers, only Andrew Tye (24 wickets) has delivered along with injured rookie Afghan leggie Mujeeb Ur Rahman, which has hurt the side’s chances. If they have do the improbable, R Ashwin’s side would need a better show from their bowlers and batsmen alike in their last league game.
Chennai Super Kings, on the other hand, have already qualified for the play-off but they would be eager for a top-two finish. Handed a reality check by an out-of-reckoning Delhi Daredevils last night, Chennai will be looking to plug the gaps before they take on Punjab.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni-led Chennai are sitting in second spot with 16 points and a victory would pilot CSK into the top two and a place in Qualifier 1 against Sunrisers Hyderabad in Mumbai on May 22. However, the 34-run defeat against a bottom-placed Delhi Daredevils exposed the weakness of two-time champions Chennai and they need to quickly regroup.
For Chennai, Ambati Rayadu (585 runs) has been brilliant throughout the season as he has delivered wherever he was asked to bat – as opener or at number 4. He and experienced Australian campaigner Shane Watson (438 runs) will have to give the Southern outfit a solid start.
The tournament has seen some vintage innings from Dhoni (430 runs), who has reminded his critics that he has not past his prime. His role will be crucial tomorrow when CSK play their last game at their adopted home venue – the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium. Others like Suresh Raina, who failed with the bat last night, West Indian Dwayne Bravo and Ravindra Jadeja will also need to chip in.
The return of pacer Deepak Chahar from injury has bolstered CSK’s bowling attack that will also depend on Shardul Thakur and the experienced spin duo of Harbhajan Singh and Jadeja to stop in-form Rahul and Gayle from taking the game away.
Kings XI Punjab: Ravichandran Ashwin (captain), Chris Gayle, Aaron Finch, KL Rahul, Karun Nair, Mohit Sharma, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Barinder Sran, David Miller, Andrew Tye, Ankit Rajpoot, Axar Patel, Akshdeep Nath, Mayank Agarwal, Manoj Tiwary, Yuvraj Singh, Marcus Stoinis, Mayank Dagar.
Chennai Super Kings: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (C), Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Faf Du Plessis, Harbhajan Singh, Dwayne Bravo, Shane Watson, Ambati Rayadu, Deepak Chahar, K M Asif, Kanish Seth, Lungi Ngidi, Dhruv Shorey, Murali Vijay, Sam Billings, Mark Wood, Kshtiz Sharma, Monu Kumar, Chaitanya Bishnoi, Imran Tahir, Karn Sharma, Shardul Thakur, N Jagadeesan, David Willey.