The playoff spots in IPL 2020 was determined at the end of the last league match on Tuesday, with Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) outplaying the already qualified Mumbai Indians (MI) by 10 wickets to secure the fourth and final berth. MI (18 points) and Delhi Capitals (16) will meet in the first Qualifier on Thursday, while SRH and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB), who finished third and fourth respectively with 14 points each, will face off in the Eliminator on Friday.
Two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) came agonisingly close to making the playoffs, but SRH and RCB pipped them on net run-rate despite being tied on 14 points. This has been one of the most closely-fought IPLs as just two points separated third-placed SRH from bottom-placed Rajasthan Royals (RR) in the eight-team competition. In fact, the bottom-three teams – Kings XI Punjab (KXIP), Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and RR – all ended up with 12 points.
MI, the team to beat
Four-time champions MI have been the standout team. Unlike the previous editions, they got off to a good start in the first half of the competition despite the loss to CSK in the inaugural match. They got only better and look the favourites to clinch a record-extending fifth title. MI have all the bases covered with a strong top-order, powerful middle-order and a top-class bowling attack. To top it all they are a very good fielding unit too. The fact that MI did not really miss regular captain Rohit Sharma speaks volumes of the depth in their ranks. Kieron Pollard did a fine job as acting-captain when Rohit missed four games with a hamstring injury.
DC get back on track
DC began the tournament really well, but lost their way once wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant got injured. It upset the balance of the team. Though Pant returned later, DC lost the momentum and suffered four straight losses. However, the team led by Shreyas Iyer got their act together in the crucial fixture against RCB on Monday and secured the second spot. DC's success has a lot to do with the new-ball pair of Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje. The two South African pacers have been superb, while offie R Ashwin and left-arm spinner Axar Patel too have played their part to perfection. Shikhar Dhawan and Iyer have scored the bulk of the runs, while Pant and all-rounder Marcus Stoinis shone in the first half of the tournament. The poor form of young opener Prithvi Shaw and the fitness of Ashwin will worry the DC team management heading into the playoffs. The good news for DC is that they are assured of two chances to make it to the final since they finished in the top two.
Tough task ahead for RCB
Like DC, RCB too failed to build on the early momentum. Virat Kohli's men have suffered four straight losses and scraped through to the playoffs. Kohli needs to be at his best if RCB are to win their maiden IPL title. The Indian captain has not really got going this edition. Young opener Devdutt Padikkal, the ever consistent AB de Villiers and wily leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal have been the stars for RCB so far.
SRH peak at the right time
Former champions SRH sneaked through the backdoor as they scored three wins on the trot to edge out KKR. The inclusion of wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha and all-rounder Jason Holder have given them the much-needed balance. Captain David Warner, Kane Williamson, Manish Pandey and Rashid Khan are all match-winners on their day and the other teams will be wary of a resurgent SRH. They are peaking at the right time and have the firepower to go all the way.
Inconsistency hurts KKR
It was a strange season for KKR. The two-time champions began with Dinesh Karthik at the helm and saw England's World Cup-winning captain Eoin Morgan take over midway through the campaign. Though they made a late charge with a big win over RR in their final league game, it was too little too late. The poor form and fitness worries of star all-rounder Andre Russell had a huge impact on KKR's overall performance.
KXIP choke again
KXIP, who finished sixth, paid the price for losing three close games early on. Though the team led by K L Rahul did really well to notch up five wins on the trot, they lost to RR and CSK when it mattered the most. Rahul was simply sensational with the bat, but the inability of the middle order to accelerate the scoring and a mediocre bowling attack meant it was another disappointing season for KXIP. The KXIP management committed a blunder by holding back the dangerous Glenn Maxwell. Benching Chris Gayle, arguably the greatest T20 player ever, in the first few games did not help their cause either.
CSK fizzle out
It was a campaign to forget for CSK. Though they ended strongly by registering three wins on the trot, M S Dhoni's men were never really in the hunt. Fitness issues and poor form of key players such as Shane Watson, Dhoni and Kedar Jadhav meant CSK invariably struggled with the bat. However, young batsman Ruturaj Gaikwad demonstrated that he was CSK's future by smashing three fifties in the final three games.
RR fail to deliver
RR fell short yet again despite having quality players in their ranks. RR think-tank failed to get its tactics right by playing the explosive Jos Buttler in the middle order in the crunch games. In hindsight, they would have been better off playing Ben Stokes in the middle order and opening with Buttler. Jofra Archer bowled his heart out, but lacked support from the Indian pacers barring the young Kartik Tyagi. Captain Steve Smith too failed to get going when RR badly wanted him to fire and it was yet another disappointing campaign for the Jaipur-based outfit.