Pune: There could not be a more exciting end to the league stage of the Indian Premier League (IPL) as a resurgent Kings XI Punjab will take on Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) in a virtual knockout clash at the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium here on Sunday.
Till now, table toppers Mumbai Indians are the only side to qualify for the play-offs with 18 points, while the rest three spots are occupied by Kolkata Knight Riders, RPS and Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Fifth-placed Punjab are on a roll lately and will be a tough nut to crack for Pune, who are currently on 16 points from 13 games with a net run-rate of -0.083. Punjab are on 14 points from an equal number of matches but have a comparatively better run rate of +0.296.
When the two teams square off on Sunday, the equation is pretty simple for Glenn Maxwell’s team. A win is all that they need to qualify as it will take them to 16 points with a superior net run-rate. The Punjab outfit doesn’t have to look at any other results.
The Supergiant have themselves to blame for being in such a vulnerable situation, after having gone down to Delhi Daredevils by a mere seven runs in their previous encounter at the Ferozeshah Kotla on Friday.
After restricting the Daredevils to 168/8, Pune faltered in their chase with Manoj Tiwary playing a lone hand while the rest of the batsmen failed to complement the Bengal right-hander’s 45-ball 60.
On Sunday, Pune will hope for a better batting effort from the likes of Rahul Tripathi, Steve Smith, Ben Stokes besides Tiwary and Mahendra Singh Dhoni down the order.
Opener Ajinkya Rahane’s poor run is surely a cause of concern for the hosts.
In the bowling department, Pune has the huge advantage of having Englishman Stokes, whose lethal yorkers have made him the most valuable player for his franchise. Stokes is set to leave after Sunday’s tie to join his national side ahead of the ODI series against South Africa.
Young Jaydev Unadkat and Shardul Thakur have been impressive with the new ball while off-spinner Washington Sundar and leg-spinner Adam Zampa can be good options in the middle overs.
Punjab, on the other hand would want openers Martin Guptill and Manan Vohra to give them a sound start before Shaun Marsh, Wriddhiman Saha and captain Glenn Maxwell can accelerate their scoring rate. All-rounder Axar Patel can also smack the ball out of the park towards the end.
The visitors, however, still need to work on their bowling despite the pace duo of Sandeep Sharma and Mohit Sharma bowling some good overs at the death. Both Sandeep and Mohit were instrumental in Punjab’s narrow win over Mumbai on Thursday. Spinners Axar and Rahul Tewatia have done well to slow down the onslaught in the middle overs.