By design the format of this Indian Premier League (IPL) is such that a logjam is inevitable mid-table at the business end of the league phase. Teams are more or less evenly matched; there isn’t much to choose between them right through the course of the two-month-long tournament. (Follow IPL 2022 full coverage)
Though new entrants Gujarat Titans (GT) have broken from the pack and confirmed their entry into the playoffs with 18 points, there are seven teams fighting for the remaining three spots in the top four. Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians are the only teams in the 10-team field whose exit after the league phase has been confirmed.
While Lucknow Super Giants have 16 points from 12 games, Rajasthan Royals and Royal Challengers Bangalore have 14 points each from 12 and 13 games respectively. Delhi Capitals (12 matches), Kolkata Knight Riders (13 matches) and Punjab Kings (12 matches) are on 12 points each while Sunrisers Hyderabad appear the least likely of these teams to make the playoffs with just 10 points from 12 matches.
Their 54-run defeat to KKR in Pune on Saturday night, fashioned by Andre Russell’s all-round show, was their fifth on the trot. They had 10 points from seven matches at one stage and looked certain to make the top four, but their campaign has derailed in recent days. With the league phase ending next Sunday, there are now just nine games remaining for the playoff spots to be decided. Lucknow, Rajasthan and RCB will consider themselves frontrunners to make the cut at this stage.
Lucknow can move to 18 points and confirm their playoff berth if they beat Rajasthan on Sunday. A win for Rajasthan would mean both teams will have to wait a little longer though they will have 16 points each.
In previous seasons, 16 points had generally assured a playoff berth. Given the fixtures remaining this season, it is possible that Lucknow, Rajasthan, RCB and either Capitals or PBKS end up on 16 points each. DC and PBKS face each other on Monday. In such a scenario, one of these teams will still miss out on the playoffs on the basis of net run rate (NRR).
As of now, these teams have their fate largely in their own hands though. The same can’t be said for Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad, both of whom can only reach a maximum of 14 points and hence need other results to go their way.
From KKR’s perspective, they need to beat Lucknow in their last game while hoping that RCB lose their final game to Gujarat Titans and neither Delhi nor Punjab go beyond 14 points. That way, there can be a four-team tie on 14 points each, allowing KKR to squeeze into the playoffs, provided their NRR is superior to the other teams in the fray. Sunrisers can also reach 14 points if they win their next two games, against Mumbai Indians and PBKS. Their net run rate of -0.270 is a handicap though, and will need a substantial boost.
The 2011 season—the only other season when 10 teams participated—makes for an interesting comparison. Back then, RCB topped the table with 19 points (one no-result), followed by Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians with 18 points each. KKR was the fourth team to qualify, with 16 points. That no team was able to advance with 14 points—which has been enough in as many as seven editions (two teams qualified with 14 points each in 2010 and 2020)—suggests that 16 is the magic number teams need to target this season.
The intense battle to make the playoffs doesn’t involve heavyweights CSK and MI. Both have been regulars in the playoffs over the years, but their role will be limited to playing party poopers for some teams this time around. CSK could wreck RR’s chances when they play on Friday while Mumbai have SRH and DC in their sights.
Whichever way these matches pan out, the race for the playoffs is likely to go down to the last couple of games and keep everyone hooked to the action till the very end.