A handful matches remain for each team as the 2015 Indian Premier League (IPL) stage heads towards an intriguing climax.
Chennai Super Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders are setting the pace at the top of the points-table, whereas Rajasthan Royals are somewhere between free-fall and saving their season, looking to regain enough momentum to make the knock-outs stage.
Elsewhere Kings XI Punjab are more or less out of contention, but Royal Challengers Bangalore, Mumbai Indians, Delhi Daredevils and Sunrisers Hyderabad are locked in an exciting battle for the fourth spot.
Team of the Week: With one win in five matches, Mumbai Indians did not make the best of starts to this season.
As always, there was desperate experimentation with a plethora of talent available to them, and given that so many ‘coaches’ have a say in their matters, it was a clear-cut case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.
With experimentation up and down their order, four losses in a row and injuries to both Aaron Finch and Corey Anderson meant they had lost two major impact players. Their season looked dead and buried.
In turn though, those injuries turned out to be a disguise.
Since they were restricted in terms of the players available to them – with the four-overseas-players-rule – they needed to pick the same players again and again, giving them a longer run.
Lendl Simmons came in, Parthiv Patel settled in his opening job, Rohit Sharma became the focal point of the batting order in the middle, and Mitchell McClenaghan got many outings.
The same batsmen did the job, with one or two changes here and there, and it was much the story of the bowling attack too, led by Lasith Malinga and Harbhajan Singh.
Their run started with a 20-run win over Sunrisers Hyderabad, followed by an eight-run victory over Rajasthan Royals. Kings XI Punjab were brushed aside by 23 runs and then Delhi Daredevils were beaten comprehensively by five wickets.
It helped that they played three of these four matches at home, in the screaming cauldron that is the Wankhede Stadium, while the one away game was to the hapless Kings XI whose challenge has more or less ended for this year.
At the time of writing, Mumbai were placed sixth in the points-table with 10 points from10 games, equal with Sunrisers Hyderabad and one shy of Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Their four remaining games are against Chennai (away), Bangalore (home), Kolkata (home) and Hyderabad (away). It’s not going to be easy.
Match of the Week: Chennai Super Kings have won the IPL twice, so have Kolkata Knight Riders. They both look equally good this year, with strong squads respectively.
And equally consistent, losing here and there before getting a string of victories together to put them atop the league standings.
The consistency shown by the Knight Riders in the last couple seasons means that this is the new big rivalry in the IPL. And it was proven in their league-stage match-ups this past week.
At Chennai, the Super Kings won after their batting misfired once again to put together a lowly total and their bowling dug them out of a hole for the umpteenth time this season.
Ravichandran Ashwin led their spinners in a masterly performance as the Knight Riders left too much to do for too late on a slow turner.
At Kolkata then, they returned the favour, learning their lessons as Chennai put on a 160-plus total.
Robin Uthappa didn’t squander away his start this time around and made sure he got the job done. Over the course of two matches then, these teams were inseparable and it will be a huge surprise if these two teams don’t meet again in a higher-stakes round later on.
Disappointment of the Week: At this stage of the season, usually this space is reserved for the team ending up with the wooden spoon, Kings XI in the current scenario.
However, with four defeats in their last five matches, three of them in the last week, Delhi Daredevils take the cake this time around.
They didn’t start the season well enough and then made some ground in the middle.
They weren’t the confident bunch but they were getting the odd wins to stay in contention. With these three losses though – by 14 runs to Rajasthan, by five wickets to Mumbai and to Kolkata by 13 runs at the time of writing – they are now placed seventh in the table.
Their next match is against Sunrisers Hyderabad on Saturday, another contender for the fourth spot in the table, and a loss in Raipur would more or less end Delhi’s season.
Matches to watch-out for: At this stage in the season, nearly every match gains prime importance.
Particularly in the current context when there are six teams in the fray for the top four slots and the seventh team still has an outside chance remaining.
Then there is the eighth team, the weakling, against whom everyone wants to play but watchfully.
Playing Kings XI Punjab is all very good when they are down because it will help with the run-rate if you win well, like Royal Challengers Bangalore did.
it can also be a banana-skin game and a slip-up at this late stage will be very costly.
Kolkata and Hyderabad will be those two teams who will tread cautiously, the latter also going up against the Daredevils.
Mumbai Indians will clash with Bangalore, a thorough test for their rejuvenated half of the season.
And then there are the Rajasthan Royals, who will take on Chennai in their penultimate match of the season.
With Kolkata up next afterwards, their season - currently in free-fall - might cometo an abrupt halt.
© Cricket World 2015