With eight league matches remaining before the playoffs, there are six teams vying for three spots in the final four. Delhi Daredevils' five-wicket win over Kings XI Punjab on Tuesday made them the first team to qualify for the final four, and they have to win just one of their remaining two matches to secure the top spot. Mildly speaking, the next five days of action is critical in IPL 5.
Punjab, following defeat at the Feroz Shah Kotla, must now win their last two matches to have a chance of making the playoffs. These two matches will be played in Dharamsala, Punjab's second 'home' ground, and their experience of playing in the Himalayan town in the past two seasons may give them reason for confidence.
One of their opponents in these two remaining matches is current titlists Chennai Super Kings, whose campaign has been chalky to say the least. Currently at fourth place on the IPL 5 points table with one match to go, MS Dhoni's team needs a win to stay alive. They will be riding on confidence, having won three straight matches, the last of which was a last-ball thriller. Should they fail to win, CSK will hope that Royal Challengers Bangalore, Rajasthan Royals and Punjab lose their remaining matches. That would ensure CSK's progression into the final four, even though they will remain on 17 points. Beating Punjab remains their goal, however. This is a team that has overcome the odds in past IPL editions, and they need look no further than 2010 when inspired by Dhoni they won a humdinger against Punjab at the nth minute to move into the knockouts. Eventually, that win spurred them on to their maiden IPL title.
Kolkata Knight Riders, at third place with two matches to play, have stumbled with two straight defeats to Chennai and Mumbai Indians. Another loss to Mumbai on Wednesday would unravel their campaign further, and should they lose to Pune Warriors India, then KKR will remain on 17 points. In that scenario there is the possibility of six teams going past them. Should they lose to Mumbai and Pune, Kolkata will want Delhi and Mumbai to win all their remaining matches to leave the other contenders below 17 points. So for KKR the road ahead rests on success. Victory in either of their two remaining matches will give them a strong chance of qualifying, as with a net run rate of +0.390 KKR will gain ground over other teams.
Mumbai, tipped by many as title contenders after winning the Champions League Twenty20 in 2011, will be out to ruin KKR's plans. They need just one win to move into the playoffs and should look to wrap that up against Kolkata rather than wait to travel to Jaipur to take on Rajasthan, who languish at No. 6 with 14 points.
Rahul Dravid's team will play Deccan Chargers away on May 18 before facing Mumbai at home on May 20, and need to win both these matches and hope Delhi win their last two matches while Punjab beat Chennai. That will leave Chennai, Punjab and Royal Challengers Bangalore under 18 points, and even then it won't guarantee Rajasthan promotion to the playoffs.
The last team vying for a final four spot is Bangalore, who also have two matches in hand – against Delhi in Delhi and Deccan in Hyderabad. Plenty rests on the shoulders of Chris Gayle, their explosive opener who is the leading run-scorer in IPL 5. Victory in both matches won't ensure RCB a spot in the playoffs, because should Chennai beat Punjab then they have a chance of moving ahead on the basis of a slightly better net run-rate. Should RCB lose even one match, they will struggle to stay alive. Will Gayle deliver? Fans of the Bangalore franchise will surely hope so.