For Kings XI to even have a chance of sealing the fourth and last playoff berth, they need Mumbai Indians to lose to Delhi Daredevils in the first game on Sunday. If Mumbai win, Kings XI are out.
However, even if Mumbai lose, Kings XI will not only have to beat Chennai Super Kings, but beat them by a big enough margin for their net run rate (presently -0.490) to surpass Rajasthan Royals' -0.250.
Just how did Kings XI Punjab end up here? They had won five of their first six games this season. They had a formidable opening partnership, a thinking captain with the ability to outwit oppositions, and a mystery spinner who made batsmen twitch at the prospect of facing him.
But then, KL Rahul started becoming their man for every situation. In the first half of the season, Rahul had Chris Gayle and Karun Nair firing at the other end. But they have both cooled off in the latter stages. Kings XI's middle order (Nos. 4 to 7) have totalled 674 runs in 13 matches at an average of 18.72. Only Rajasthan Royals have fared worse. The bowling has largely revolved around Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Andrew Tye, who has taken a bagful of wickets in their recent defeats.
The upshot was that Kings XI lost six of their last seven games.
In the news
Mujeeb missed Kings XI's last two matches after being hit on his bowling hand against Kolkata Knight Riders last week. He had his bowling hand strapped and underwent a fitness test on Saturday evening. Brad Hodge, the Kings XI coach, was hopeful he would clear the test and be available on Sunday. Yuvraj Singh had his left knee strapped but had a long stint in the nets.
In his first match of the season, Gayle blasted a 33-ball 63 to set Kings XI up for a tall score. Defending 197, Kings XI had CSK at 113 for 4 in the 14th over. But MS Dhoni fought a bad back to mount a stunning late assault as CSK pillaged 50 runs between overs 17 and 19. However, Mohit Sharma, defending 16 in the final over, gave away just six runs off the first five balls to deny CSK.
Chennai Super Kings: 1 Shane Watson, 2 Ambati Rayudu, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 5 Sam Billings, 6 Ravindra Jadeja, 7 Dwayne Bravo, 8 Deepak Chahar, 9 Harbhajan Singh, 10 Shardul Thakur, 11 Lungi Ngidi
Kings XI Punjab: 1 KL Rahul (wk), 2 Chris Gayle, 3 Aaron Finch, 4 Karun Nair, 5 Yuvraj Singh/Manoj Tiwary, 6 Axar Patel, 7 Marcus Stoinis/Mujeeb Ur Rahman, 8 R Ashwin (capt), 9 Andrew Tye, 10 Mohit Sharma, 11 Ankit Rajpoot
Kings XI have a strong case for opening with spin, perhaps even from both ends. Ambati Rayudu has scored 7 off 8 balls against Mujeeb, 26 off 31 balls against Yuvraj Singh, and 64 off 57 balls against Ashwin, while perishing to him four times in 10 innings. Rayudu has fared slightly better against Axar Patel, but the allrounder has dominated Shane Watson, whom he has dismissed five times in as many innings while giving away only 25 runs in 28 balls.
Against MS Dhoni, though, Kings XI would do well to keep their spinners away. In T20s, Dhoni has 63 off 37 balls against Axar, 59 off 36 against Yuvraj, 51 off 37 against Gayle, and 16 off 11 against Ashwin. And he hasn't been dismissed by any of them.
Stats that matter
For a must-win match, Kings XI wouldn't be too encouraged by their overall record at Pune: one victory and five defeats in six matches.
Harbhajan Singh is set to play his 250th T20 match. He will become the fifth Indian to the mark, after Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Rohit Sharma and Gautam Gambhir.
Dhoni is nine runs away from 4000 runs in the IPL. Dhoni is eighth on the IPL charts, and is just behind Gayle who is six away from the landmark. Virat Kohli is the all-time leader, with 4944 runs in 163 matches.
If he goes past 15, Rayudu will become only the second CSK batsman to breach 600 runs in a season. Michael Hussey piled up 733 runs in 17 innings in 2013.
Tye and Mujeeb have accounted for 53.5% of all the wickets taken by Kings XI's bowlers. The figures are similarly lopsided for the batsmen. Rahul has amassed 652 runs himself, while the rest of their top seven batsmen have contributed 588 runs.
Four of the five bowlers with the highest economy rate in the last five overs this IPL belong to these two teams. Mohit has been the worst among them, going at 12.4 an over, followed by Dwayne Bravo (11.7), Chris Woakes (11.5), Mujeeb (11.0), and Shardul Thakur (10.9).
KL Rahul. Do you even need a reason?
You may need one to pick Harbhajan, though, so here you go: Harbhajan is likely to give you early wickets. He has given away 111 runs off 122 balls against Gayle and dismissed him four times. Against Rahul, his record is 31 runs in 33 balls for two dismissals, and against Karun Nair he has conceded 20 off 21 balls for four dismissals. Moreover, in T20s in Pune, Harbhajan has seven wickets in seven matches with an economy rate of 5.8.
"We are a new team with a new captain and we have learnt a lot from lessons of success and failure. I think, realistically, our middle order hasn't fired as much we would have expected and we are too reliant on a couple of bowlers who have kept us in the game. We haven't had consistency across the whole IPL. When our match-winners haven't fired, nobody has been able to pick up the pieces."
Kings XI Punjab coach Brad Hodge