Dubai: Riding on the experience and the inspiration of ‘Universe Boss’ Chris Gayle, it is Kings XI Punjab who have been the late bloomers in this edition.
Their record speaks for itself: five straight wins after a wobbly start to their campaign speaks a lot of the talent within the Kings XI Punjab squad and the way it has been harnessed to the benefit of the north Indian franchise.
Their last four wins have come against the top four teams on the table and Rajasthan Royals, their next opponents on Friday, will have to be at their best to ensure the Kings XI are stopped in their tracks.
As things stand – and without considering Thursday’s match between Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders – it is the four-time defending champions Mumbai Indians continuing at the top of the table with 16 points, followed by Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Capitals with 14 points each and the Kings XI and Kolkata Knight Riders in fourth and fifth, respectively, with 12 points each.
The top five teams will also have to be wary of sixth-placed Sunrisers Hyderabad as two wins in their last two group games could change a lot of things above as the Hyderbad side possesses a much better net run-rate.
The Kings XI Punjab chase against the Kolkata Knight Riders earlier this week was a classic example of how a team of champions comes through unscathed. Young Mandeep Singh – whose dad passed away in India a few days earlier – played a key role as the Kings got past the modest target with seven balls to spare.
With the mad scramble for the play-offs at the back of their head, the Kings XI Punjab side will be only too eager for the two points. They are aware they can’t afford to slip up and if they do lose on Friday, then they will be out of reckoning for one of the top-four spots.
The Kings would once again expect their skipper Rahul - the bearer of the Orange Cap – to give them a steady start. The inclusion of Gayle has done wonders for the team’s run chases and confidence at the same time. It would be interesting to see if opener Mayank Agarwal, who missed the last two games with a bruised knee, makes a comeback.
It was Agarwal’s absence that offered Mandeep Singh the opportunity to revel and he did so with a classy, match-winning unbeaten 66 in their win against Kolkata Knight Riders.
Their bowling department has also fared well over the campaign - with the last encounter allowing the trio of Mohammed Shami (3 for 35), Ravi Bishnoi (2 for 20) and Chris Jordan (2 for 25) to put the brakes on Eoin Morgan’s side.
The last time Kings XI and Royals clashed in Sharjah sometime back, it led to the discovery of Rahul Tewatia. That was more than a month ago as Royals staged the highest successful chase in the history of the tournament.
Perhaps, we can expect yet another cracker in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
Catch the match
Kings XI Punjab vs Rajasthan Royals
Venue: Sheikh Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi
Start: 6 pm UAE
Live telecast on Bein Sports