New Delhi: The last week of league games in the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League is turning out to be a mathematician's delight. As many as five teams are mathematically in the race for three places among the top-four. And even though Bangalore lost heavily to Punjab on Tuesday, they are the only team who have confirmed their place in the play-offs.
Chennai too are expected to confirm their place in the last four on Wednesday, unless Kochi can pull out another rabbit from the hat and surprise the defending champions, who have won six games on the trot at the MA Chidambaram stadium and could get finally tangled in the law of averages.
Kochi had beaten Chennai in their previous match by seven wickets according to the Duckworth-Lewis method, and today's game is surely being seen as a revenge match. Kochi have also been weakened after skipper Mahela Jayawardene flew back to join the Sri Lankan team for national duty. Parthiv Patel, who will lead in his absence, has a tough job ahead. And the team will yet again depend heavily on opener Brendon McCullum and Brad Hodge.
While in the initial stages of the tournament, there was a clear group of leaders and laggards, the second half of the IPL has been the most closely-fought. Top teams have been knocked off their perch and individual brilliance has outshone and outclassed teams who were supposed to have won some matches without breaking into a sweat.
What has made the dash to the final stage even more invigorating is that the top two teams have double the chance to make it to the final of the event. The top two will play a qualifier, the winner of which will make it to the final. The loser of that qualifier will play the winner of the qualifier between the third and fourth place team. Clearly, it's not going to be enough to just finish in the top four. The dash actually is for the last two.
Coming back to the maths now, if Kochi beat Chennai they will move to 14 points. Punjab are also on 14 with one game to go and Kolkata are on 14 with two to play. If Punjab lose their last game against the Deccan Chargers and Kolkata go down in both then there are three teams in a tie for the fourth place with only net run rate separating them.
A win for Punjab will get them to 16 points and then Kolkata will be under pressure to win both their games. If the Knights beat Pune, they too will be on 16. They take on Mumbai in their final league game on Sunday. If Mumbai, currently on 16 points, lose their next game against Rajasthan, the Mumbai-Kolkata game will be a virtual quarterfinal.
A win for Chennai on Wednesday will remove Kochi from the equation and give them a place in the last four. A place in the last two will, however, not be confirmed till the very last day of the league match on Sunday as they play Bangalore.
Three teams - Rajasthan, Hyderabad and Pune - are now playing only for pride and will be looking to go out with a bang. If these three teams can hold their own and upset the title contenders, they would ensure sleepless nights for the big teams and their fans. This is the closest-ever race we've witnessed in the IPL. What a finish it's going to be. Right down to the wire.
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