While it's been said on many occasions in the past, Season 9 of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is actually turning out to be the most closely contested over the last eight years with six out of the eight teams still in contention with just about a week left to the end of the league stage.
Kings XI Punjab and debutants Rising Pune Supergiants are the two teams to have bowed out of the race to the playoffs, while Sunrisers Hyderabad are the closest among the remaining six to end up among the top four.
But that's only theoretically. Practically, Hyderabad may still get ejected despite topping the points table.
Here's how various scenarios line up for the six playoff contenders.
Mumbai might be No. 3 on the table at present, but a defeat in their last league match against Gujarat Lions would mean they remain on 14 points and their fate in the hands of results in other matches. Their poor net run-rate (NRR) of -0.082 might not help them get through if they end up tied on points. So they have to beat Gujarat to brighten their prospects and improve NRR.
Matches left: 1 (vs Gujarat Lions)
Kolkata Knight Riders
The other two-time champions in the bunch are Kolkata, who have two matches in hand with 14 points in the bag. If they manage to win both the games, they will cross most hurdles to enter the knockout stage.
Their positive net run rate of +0.280 means that they must win at least one of their remaining matches to get to eight victories, that's if they are at 16 points each with other teams and bank on NRR to take them through.
There could be another scenario where they lose both the matches and end up on 14 points but still make it to the last stage, based on NRR and favourable results in other remaining league fixtures.
Matches Left: 2 (vs Gujarat Lions, vs Sunrisers Hyderabad)
Royal Challengers Bangalore
Virat Kohli & Co would definitely be eyeing victory in their last two matches, which will give them 16 points and even better their already healthy NRR of +0.640. And like the two above teams, 14 point and other results in their favour may also take RCB through.
Matches left: 2 (vs Kings XI Punjab, vs Delhi Daredevils)
Hyderabad are in the most comfortable position with 16 points at top of the leaderboard. They have two matches in hand and need to win just one of those to enter the playoffs. Their NRR is the best right now at +0.413, which means even two defeats may get them through. However, in that case they need to ensure that their NRR doesn't take a beating.
Matches Left: 2 (vs Delhi Daredevils, vs Kolkata Knight Riders)
They started their debut season with a bang but are right now towards the middle of the table at No. 4 with 14 points but with a poor NRR of 0.737, which could turn out to be a thorn in the flesh when it comes to final standings. But if they manage to win both of their final two games, they will go through straight, while one victory would mean they rely on other results to stay alive.
Matches Left: 2 (vs Kolkata Knight Riders, vs Mumbai Indians)
The Rahul Dravid-mentored Delhi were eyeing one of their best season a while back but are now at No. 6 with 12 points and a NRR of -0.038. But the positive with them is that they have three matches in hand. If they win all, they will go through direct. Two wins will take them to 16 points and one to 14, in which case they would need big margins of victory to better their NRR in a scenario where they are locked on points with others.
Matches left: 3 (vs Rising Pune Supergiants, vs Sunrisers Hyderabad, vs Royal Challengers Bangalore)