It's that time of the season. No team is as yet out of the playoffs race, at least in theory, but it might take just a result or two for some of them to slip out of contention. The "some of them" subset presently includes the Rajasthan Royals, who have four wins from ten games, and the Sunrisers Hyderabad, who have three wins from nine.
These two teams are closely matched in many ways, one of them being a tendency to lose matches they should win. The Sunrisers suffered one such heartbreak - Super Over and all - in their last match against the Kolkata Knight Riders, while the Royals recently had a winning position snatched away by AB de Villiers and another - they needed 39 off 30 balls, with five wickets in hand - squandered by their own batsmen.
Those chances are lost. Whatever last chances remain cannot go ungrabbed.
In the news
Kane Williamson injured his adductor muscle during the Sunrisers' last match against the Kolkata Knight Riders. It's not yet clear if he's fully recovered.
What's at stake
Sunrisers Hyderabad Played 9, Won 3, Lost 6
The Sunrisers have five games left and have a positive net run rate. They can afford to lose one more game but with the Royals and Kings XI Punjab picking up momentum, the Sunrisers would not want to be left behind. A win against the Royals would put them in fifth place with a healthy net run rate. The Sunrisers still have games against the top three teams remaining and would not want to leave it too late.
Remaining fixtures - Royals, Kings XI, Capitals, Royal Challengers and Mumbai Indians
Rajasthan Royals Played 10, Won 4, Lost 6
By beating the Chennai Super Kings convincingly, the Royals have put themselves in a position to make the playoffs. However, like most of the lower-ranked teams they need to win three out of their next four games. Beating the Sunrisers will take them to 10 points. The Royals are also behind in terms of net run rate (-0.591) and would need to win convincingly in at least two of their next four games to challenge the likes of the Sunrisers and Kings XI if it comes down to that number. Three of the next four matches for the Royals are against teams they are competing with for a playoff spot and every win for the Royals will pull the others down.
Remaining Fixtures - Sunrisers, Mumbai, Kings XI and Knight Riders
At the same ground, on October 11, the Sunrisers posted a below-par 158 despite losing just four wickets, but seemed poised to win when the Royals slipped to 78 for 5 in their chase. Riyan Parag and Rahul Tewatia, however, took the game away with an unbroken sixth-wicket stand of 85 from 47 balls, finishing it with a ball to spare.
Rajasthan Royals: 1 Ben Stokes, 2 Robin Uthappa, 3 Sanju Samson (wk), 4 Steven Smith (capt), 5 Jos Buttler, 6 Rahul Tewatia, 7 Riyan Parag, 8 Jofra Archer, 9 Shreyas Gopal, 10 Ankit Rajpoot/Jaydev Unadkat, 11 Kartik Tyagi
Sunrisers Hyderabad: 1 David Warner (capt), 2 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 3 Manish Pandey, 4 Kane Williamson/Mohammad Nabi/Fabian Allen/Jason Holder, 5 Priyam Garg, 6 Vijay Shankar, 7 Abdul Samad, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Sandeep Sharma, 10 Basil Thampi/Khaleel Ahmed, 11 T Natarajan
Unable to run normally as a result of his injury, Williamson opened the batting against the Knight Riders in a bid to make use of the powerplay field restrictions and hit as many boundaries as possible. He did just that while scoring 29 off 19 and giving the Sunrisers a start that should have brought them a comfortable win. Though the result didn't materialise, the Sunrisers could look to continue that approach, possibly with Williamson remaining at the top of the order to try and exploit the field restrictions. David Warner, who hasn't been in the best ball-striking form of late, is adept at placing the ball into gaps and sprinting twos - if he stays in the middle order, he could use the middle-overs fields and large outfield in Dubai to his advantage while getting set.
Williamson opening could also help the Sunrisers combat Jofra Archer, who has bowled 27 balls to Warner in T20 cricket and dismissed him three times while only conceding 23 runs. Williamson, on the other hand, has scored 27 runs off 15 balls from Archer, without being dismissed.
If Williamson isn't fit, the obvious swap for him would be Mohammad Nabi. The Afghanistan allrounder has only played one game this season, for no fault of his, and would probably be a regular at some other franchises. The Royals, though, only have two left-handers in their top seven in Ben Stokes and Tewatia, and may not therefore be the best match-up for Nabi's offspin. This could perhaps prompt the Sunrisers to pick Fabian Allen instead. In addition to his explosive lower-order hitting (his overall T20 strike rate is 164.89), Allen bowls left-arm spin (economy rate 7.43) and is a gun fielder.
Of all batsmen to have faced at least 40 balls this season, Archer (193.61) has the second-best strike rate behind Kieron Pollard (200.00). He's only faced 47 balls through the tournament, though, so the Royals could look to bat him a little higher than they usually do, especially since he's hit nine of those 47 balls for sixes. They don't have to play him in the top six, necessarily, but No. 7 - especially if they are batting first - might be a good place for him, with someone like Parag or Tewatia to follow.
Stats that matter
The Sunrisers haven't won a single game while chasing this season, losing on all four occasions when they have bowled first.
Since starting his season with two fifties on the trot, Sanju Samson has only scored 77 runs in eight innings, at an average of 9.6. He'll be facing his favourite opponents, though. In 15 matches against the Sunrisers, he has 449 runs at an average of 40.81, including an unbeaten 102 - one of two hundreds he's made in the IPL overall - last year.
Of all bowlers who have sent down at least 100 balls across the two phases this season, Archer has the best economy rate over the powerplay and middle overs (4.66), just ahead of Rashid Khan (5.35).
Ankit Rajpoot is one wicket short of 100 in T20s.
Steven Smith is one six short of 100 in T20s.