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CSK, RCB edging the battle for play-offs?

CSK, RCB edging the battle for play-offs?

With Delhi and Kolkata all but through to the play-offs, it's a close fight between five other teams for the remaining two spots.

With just a few games to go until the league stage of this year’s IPL comes to an end, it is still difficult to draw a clear picture of the four teams that will get a shot at glory in the tournament. Delhi Daredevils and Kolkata Knight Riders have set the pace at the top, but in what has been one of the most open seasons of the IPL, it is tough to predict which teams will join them in the next round.

Of the remaining seven teams, five teams – Chennai Super Kings, Royal Challengers Bangalore, Rajasthan Royals, Kings XI Punjab and Mumbai Indians – are still in the hunt for the remaining two spots, with Pune Warriors and Deccan Chargers having played themselves out of content_cnion. Different minds have different predictions, but at the moment Chennai and Bangalore look the most likely to grab the ticket. Mumbai, Rajasthan and Punjab, though good sides capable of beating anyone on their day, look slightly fragile in comparison to their southern counterparts.

Mumbai were expected to do well, having won the Champions League T20 last year and added more big names to their line-up this season, but inconsistency has been their undoing so far. Neither of their stars has performed on a regular basis, barring Lasith Malinga, who still needs some support from the other end. Kieron Pollard is yet to fire, while Sachin Tendulkar has had only one half-century to his name in 8 matches since returning from injury, against Chennai at his home ground. Rohit Sharma and Ambati Rayadu have been the topscorers for their side, however neither has a very impressive strike rate, and it is no wonder that the big scores have eluded Mumbai more often than not.

Rajasthan are another side that have struggled for consistency. Bowling allrounder Kevon Cooper is now back home, though Shane Watson, joining them at the eleventh hour, has evened things out, with the Australian compiling 134 runs and picking up 3 wickets in just 3 games so far. However, Rajasthan’s batting relies largely on openers Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul Dravid, who have been in fine form. However, whenever these two departed early, the other batsmen have failed to spend time on wicket. Among the bowlers, Amit Singh and Brad Hogg are the leading wicket-takers with 10 wickets apiece, but their failure to strike at the crucial moments has hurt them.

Punjab have improved after a slow start, and have put in some good performances despite losing skipper Adam Gilchrist to injury. Pakistan allroudner Azhar Mahmood has been a big weapon of them, while Mandeep Singh, Shaun Marsh, David Hussey among the batsmen and Piyush Chawla, Ryan Harris and Parvinder Awana have produced at different moments. However, the team has found it difficult to maintain a balance between the bat and ball and at times have fallen prey to pressure in decisive moments, losing games when three points looked to be in the bag. Moreover, with Gilchrist set to return to the line-up, choosing the four foreign players and maintaining the balance of their side will prove to be a difficult call for Punjab.

Unlike the earlier editions, two-time winners Chennai are yet to set the field on fire. The batting has been over-reliant on Faf du Plessis, while none of the bowlers has been consistently on the mark. However, they have managed to keep themselves in content_cnion despite some insipid performances, and should they win their match against Rajasthan on Thursday, the defending champions could find themselves well-placed for the final run-in. There were signs in their previous game against Mumbai that the remaining batsmen are also finding form, and the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Albie Morkel, Suresh Raina and MS Dhoni can lift the team at any moment. Chennai also have the advantage of having been in identical situations in the past, and with their remaining games against Delhi and Kolkata – both of whom may have sealed their qualification by then – a seemingly daunting fixture list may just turn in their favour.

On the other hand, Bangalore boast of powerful names like Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Virat Kohli. Of these, Gayle and de Villiers have made the relative lack of form of the other two seem redundant. The West Indian, especially, has carried the team on several occasions, and much like last year, his blistering form could be critical for his side’s progress. Meanwhile, the bowling also has some able performers in Zaheer Khan and Vinay Kumar, and with the wickets getting slower, Bangalore can utilize this more than any other team to use their two legendary spinners, Daniel Vettori and Muttiah Muralitharan.

So Chennai with their experience, and Bangalore with their strength in depth, look the most likely in the present scenario to make the play-offs. Of course, these predictions can go totally wrong, given the unpredictable nature of Twenty20 where even one delivery is enough to turn a game on its head. In fact, the only thing one can be sure of is action-packed and close encounters, as the pressure cranks up at the business end of the tournament.