In any tournament, the ideal scenario for a team would be to have qualified for the playoffs before the final round of fixtures. If that's not possible, the next best case would be to have your fate dictated by your own performance, instead of depending on other results. Sunrisers Hyderabad have the former and Kolkata Knight Riders, the latter, going into the final weekend of league matches. KKR will make the playoffs if they beat Sunrisers, simple. But the likelihood of qualification gets increasingly complicated if they can't.
KKR have picked up their momentum in the second half of the season to the point that they've won four of their last six matches. Their desperation has also been evident in this period, such as when captain Dinesh Karthik yelled vehemently at Kuldeep Yadav after a misfield in the previous game or when Chris Lynn tenaciously suggested he "didn't want to leave it to anyone in the end" in their chase against Rajasthan Royals. Now, the final hurdle awaits.
For Sunrisers, their diligence and preparedness early in the season was a pointer of just how to start the IPL. They won nine of their first 11 games, affording them room for error, workload management and experimentation towards the end of the season. However, Sunrisers have also lost their previous two games. So, they'll want their momentum back in the final league game. They'll have less than 48 hours to do so, following a night game in Bengaluru on Thursday.
A typically-clinical bowling performance from Sunrisers, led by Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Billy Stanlake, restricted KKR to 138 for 8 in the reverse fixture, at the Eden Gardens. Kane Williamson anchored the chase with a 44-ball 50 to lead Sunrisers' cruise, winning with an over to spare.
Sunrisers Hyderabad: 1 Shikhar Dhawan, 2 Alex Hales, 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Manish Pandey, 5 Deepak Hooda, 6 Shakib Al Hasan, 7 Shreevats Goswami (wk), 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Rashid Khan, 10 Sandeep Sharma, 11 Siddarth Kaul
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Chris Lynn, 2 Sunil Narine, 3 Robin Uthappa, 4 Nitish Rana, 5 Dinesh Karthik (capt & wk), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Shubman Gill, 8 Piyush Chawla, 9 Mitchell Johnson/Javon Searles, 10 Kuldeep Yadav, 11 Shivam Mavi
Rashid Khan, Sunrisers' best bowler this season, has struggled against left-handers. He has an economy rate of 10.1 and concedes a boundary every four balls against them. Against right-handers, those numbers improve drastically: an economy rate of 6.1 and a boundary conceded every 8.7 balls. Therefore, there may be a case of leaving Nitish Rana as a floating option, to come in when Rashid comes on if possible. Albeit left field, could there be a case of promoting Piyush Chawla as a second pinch-hitter in that scenario?
Stats that matter
Williamson has an outstanding strike rate of 150.3 in the middle overs (overs 7 to 15) this season. His death-overs strike rate, by comparison, is just 132.6.
In the IPL and T20Is since 2015, the average winning score batting first at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium is 139 for 8.
Karthik has an average of 81.5 in chases this season. He has scored 245 runs batting second, with a highest score of 45 not out.
Shakib Al Hasan is a valuable T20 player, and arguably an even more valuable fantasy selection. His utility increases at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium because of the sluggish nature of the pitch, which means both his bowling and batting add value.