As the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League enters its play-off stage, two of the four teams will be hoping for an encore, while two will be eyeing revenge.
In a repeat of their last league games on Sunday, defending champions Chennai Super Kings will take on Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai on Tuesday, while Mumbai Indians will face Kolkata Knight Riders at the same venue on Wednesday. With Bangalore and Mumbai having won their matches on Sunday, the question is whether the tables will be turned on both these sides or do they still have enough cards held close to their chest to unleash yet another victorious strategy.
Bangalore's strategy is called 'Gaylestorm'. The Royal Challengers have won every game that he has fired in and even though the others have chipped in to do their part and the bowlers have picked up the wickets as well, Gayle rules the collective consciousness of all RCB fans. Bangalore's success in this edition of the IPL is synonomous with Gayle and they know just one more of that knock on Tuesday will see them get a three-day warm-up period ahead of the final on Saturday.
Chennai, on the other hand, have a more balanced side and a captain who has the uncanny knack of pulling it off when it matters the most. Chennai's prime concern on Tuesday will be to survive Gayle. If they can dismiss the West Indies batsman cheaply, Chennai's chances of playing the final at home on Saturday will get a momentous boost. In fact, Gayle's wicket will be the single-most important event that can shift the momentum in favour of the Super Kings.
The other important player to be kept under check from Banaglore is Virat Kohli. The 22-year-old has displayed great maturity and his skill to see the team home especially during a chase is key to Bangalore's fortunes if Gayle departs early.
Chennai will hope that the law of averages will not affect them for a second successive game and that the loss on Sunday was only an aberration.
Meanwhile, in the other game, Mumbai definitely has the edge playing at home. They got out of jail at the Eden Gardens on Sunday and Ambati Rayadu's 'Miandesque' moment put paid to Kolkata's hopes of leapfrogging into the second slot on a better net run rate than that of Chennai. More than Mumbai winning the game, it was Kolkata who lost it.
The Knight Riders, however, have looked like a better team unit. While Jacques Kallis, Manoj Tiwary and Gautam Gambhir have shone, the others too have played an equal part in Kolkata's success. Also, Kolkata's bowling this time around looks like a more intentful and variable unit. If Kolkata can just hold their nerves, they will surely be on the plane to Chennai.
While the play-off format has come in for praise from most quarters, it is too favourably stacked in favour of the team that wins the first qualifier on Tuesday. However, the team that will win the eliminator on Wednesday, will have to win a qualifier on Friday to play the final on Saturday. It does look a bit unfair considering that all the teams have played an equal number of games to make it to the last four stage. And so the team playing the eliminator will have to win three games on a trot to win the IPL this time. But doing that and knocking the top team off its perch will probably, therefore, make the title and the win that much sweeter.