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 knock out 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.
For Pune, a defeat will be dangerous if Sunrisers win their game against Gujarat Lions on Saturday and clinch their play-off place with 17 points.
In case Sunrisers lose, then Supergiant can still make it to the play-offs despite a defeat against Punjab.
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 ICC Champions Trophy.
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.
Kings XI Punjab: Glenn Maxwell (Captain), Martin Guptill, Wriddhiman Saha (WK), Shaun Marsh, Darren Sammy, Manan Vohra, Axar Patel, Varun Aaron, Sandeep Sharma, Mohit Sharma, Ishant Sharma, Rahul Tewatia, Gurkeerat Singh Mann, K.C. Cariappa, Matt Henry, Anureet Singh, Armaan Jaffer, Marcus Stoinis, Swapnil Singh, Rinku Singh, Nikhil Naik, T. Natarajan, Pardeep Sahu.
Rising Pune Supergiant: Steven Smith (Captain), Mahendra Singh Dhoni (WK), Rahul Tripathi, Ajinkya Rahane, Manoj Tiwary, Ben Stokes, Dan Christian, Adam Zampa, Shardul Thakur, Washington Sundar, Ankush Bains, Lockie Ferguson, Jaydev Unadkat, Usman Khawaja, Milind Tandon, Saurabh Kumar, Iswar Pandey, Jaskaran Singh, Deepak Chahar, Rahul Chahar, Rajat Bhatia, Baba Aparajith, Mayank Agarwal, Ankit Sharma, Ashok Dinda.