When IPL 7 kicked off in Abu Dhabi last month, not many would have predicted the emergence of Kings XI Punjab as title contenders.
The George Bailey-led side remained unbeaten in the UAE leg and finished table toppers after the league stage. But fortunes can change quickly in this format.
After earning the reputation of being the best chasers, Punjab faltered against the Kolkata Knight Riders on Wednesday while chasing 164.
A batting line-up that includes Glenn Maxwell, David Miller, Virender Sehwag and Bailey fell cheaply when it mattered. They lived to see another day, but KXIP won’t be the favourites in the second qualifier against Chennai Super Kings at the Wankhede on Friday.
In contrast, the Super Kings, aiming to play their sixth IPL final, cruised to a seven-wicket victory in the eliminator against Mumbai Indians.
Batting has been the key factor behind their success this season. The openers, Dwayne Smith, Faf du Plessis/Brendon McCullum, have given them solid starts while the middle order has carried it forward. With skipper MS Dhoni coming down the order, finishing a game hasn’t been a worry.
Against Mumbai, the Super Kings chased down the target in a classical manner.
The team is enjoying a purple patch with all their batsmen, including Dwayne Bravo’s injury replacement, David Hussey, in fine form. The side also tweaked the batting order a bit and sent regular opener McCullum at the fall of the second wicket on Wednesday.
“I think that was the masterstroke from (Stephen) Fleming. Faf was batting well in the last two-three games. Today (Wednesday) also he hit the ball really well. Baz (McCullum) is one of the best openers we have. But that plan really worked for us and hopefully we will do well against Kings XI and KKR (who are already in the final),” said Suresh Raina after his match-winning knock of 54 not out against the Mumbai Indians.
Playing an extra game by missing out on the top-two spot also worked for the CSK.
“It was a blessing in disguise (to not finish in the top two). KKR and Mumbai played well in the last two games. In T20, these things happen.
“But in this format you need to focus more on your strengths, look at your team and see what you need to do. Whenever big days come, you have to go out, enjoy yourself and express yourself. We did that,” said Raina.
It has been a fairytale of sorts for Kings XI so far, but to enter their maiden IPL final, their bowlers, led by Mitchell Johnson, will have to punch above their weight to control the Super Kings.
“They have a balanced side. The good thing about their side is that they have retained most of their players. If you look at it that way their core team is pretty much the same. But on paper, our team is balanced too,” said Kings XI’s Cheteshwar Pujara.