Dubai: A six-week long contest, which commenced from April 7, has finally produced the four teams for the play-off in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Like in the previous years, there have been surprise packages with star-studded favourites crashing out and teams that faced huge setbacks to start with holding on to reach the last four.
Sunrisers Hyderabad, which topped the league table with a creditable nine victories from 14 matches, had lost their captain and star batsman David Warner, who got banned due to his involvement in the ball-tampering scandal in Cape Town Test between South Africa and Australia in March before the start. Rajasthan Royals too lost their captain Steve Smith in the same row — forcing them to appoint Ajinkya Rahane, who had little experience as a captain in this format, at the helm. They pulled off seven victories from 14 matches.
As much as it was a testing time for Hyderabad and Rajasthan, so was it for Kolkata Knight Riders and Chennai Super Kings. There were doubts if Dinesh Karthik, who was succeeding Gautam Gambhir who had brought two titles to this team in the past, can step into his shoes.
Kolkata were so inconsistent at one stage that they reached a stage of having to win their three matches on the trot to avoid elimination. Yet, they pulled off victories with Karthik showing the way with some brilliant finishes, backed by West Indies all-rounder Sunil Narine, Chris Lynn and Robin Uthappa.
Like Rajasthan, Chennai too was staging a comeback into the tournament after serving their two-year ban from IPL for illegal betting. Chennai was even forced out of their home ground due to the Cauvery river protest but their legendary skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni inspired confidence in everyone — showing the way through his batting form. The consistency of Chennai, barring a few hiccups, was a result of the yellow shirts managing to retain a chunk of players of the core group which had helped the team make the last four of all the nine editions they have played so far.
All the four teams’ captains who are left standing were inspiring performers. Hyderabad skipper Kane Williamson stood out by scoring 661 runs. The first qualifier clash in Mumbai on Tuesday between Chennai and Hyderabad will put to test the strength of both teams in all departments of the game. While Hyderabad has a successful strike bowler in Siddharth Kaul with 17 wickets, Chennai has Shardul Thakur with 14 wickets. Chennai is also blessed with the form of Ambati Rayudu, who already has 586 runs in the bag.
The elimination battle the day after (May 23) between hosts Kolkata and Rajasthan will be a battle of nerves. Kolkata have the home advantage but Rajasthan have lifted their game under pressure. Their win over star-studded Virat Kohli led Royal Challengers Bangalore in their final league game is an example, though they will lack that depth with star performer Jos Buttler and all-rounder Ben Stokes returning to England for the Pakistan series. Kolkata, two-time champions, have learnt a lot from their bumpy ride so far and showed they can turn the tables on any opponent on their day.