How did it come down to this for Kings XI Punjab (again)? After winning four out of their first six matches in IPL 2019, they managed just two wins in their next nine games to be ousted from the playoffs contention. They now run into Chennai Super Kings, who had knocked them out last season. Super Kings were the first to qualify for the playoffs this year, and they now have a chance to finish No. 1 and firm up their place in the first qualifier at their fortress Chepauk.
A two-two finish would still be within Super Kings' grasp even if they lose (by a slender margin) in Mohali on Sunday. However, they wouldn't want to let net run-rate decide their fate. While Dhoni is in stellar form and Suresh Raina returned to form against Delhi Capitals, there are still questions over Kedar Jadhav and Ambati Rayudu.
Shane Watson has had one match-winning innings at the top, but he should relish this Mohali track, where the bounce is largely consistent and the ball slides onto the bat. Kings XI's middle order is rickety as well, but that's partly down to mismanagement of resources. David Miller got 10 matches, but has scored only 213 runs at a strike rate of 129.87. Nicholas Pooran, a more versatile performer and an excellent player of spin, who deftly tackled sluggish surfaces in the Caribbean Premier League, has got only five innings this IPL, making 132 runs at greater strike rate of 155.29. Pooran v Super Kings' spinners could well turn out to be a mouth-watering contest.
In the news
Super Kings released their reserve wicketkeeper-batsman N Jagadeesan to turn out for his club Vijay CC in Chennai. Dhoni has been bothered by a back niggle and illness through this season, so should the team management rest him again, part-timer Rayudu will take over the wicketkeeping gloves.
R Ashwin unleashed his bag of tricks in his first IPL match as part of the opposition in Chennai, but New Zealand quick Scott Kuggeleijn adjusted to the slower-than-usual Chepauk pitch and muzzled Kings XI's middle order, defending 160.
Kings XI Punjab (probable): 1 Chris Gayle, 2 KL Rahul, 3 Mayank Agarwal, 4 Nicholas Pooran (wk), 5 Mandeep Singh, 6 Sam Curran, 7 R Ashwin (capt.), 8 M Ashwin, 9 Mohammed Shami, 10 Arshdeep Singh, 11 Mujeeb Ur Rahman/AJ Tye
Chennai Super Kings (probable) 1 Faf du Plessis, 2 Shane Watson, 3 Suresh Raina, 4 Kedar Jadhav, 5 MS Dhoni (capt & wk), 6 Ambati Rayudu, 7 Ravindra Jadeja, 8 Dwayne Bravo, 9 Deepak Chahar, 10 Harbhajan Singh, 11 Imran Tahir
- Pooran's release shot against spinners is the big loft over long-off. After mastering it in the CPL, he has also shown glimpses of the loft in IPL 2019. Super Kings could try to counter that by placing a straightish long-off - like they did back in the day against Mumbai Indians' Kieron Pollard.
- R Ashwin has had Rayudu's number in the IPL. He has dismissed Rayudu four times in 11 innings, while conceding 65 runs off 59 balls. So, there's a case for Ashwin to save himself for Rayudu in the middle overs.
- Harbhajan Singh v Chris Gayle is the more obvious match-up. The offspinner has got Gayle four times in 10 IPL innings. All told, Gayle has managed only 97 off 97 balls from Harbhajan in the IPL.
Stats that matter
- Mayank Agarwal has got to eight 20-plus scores this IPL, but he has been able to convert only two of them into half-centuries. And he has been dismissed seven times by spin in 12 matches.
- Kings XI's overseas seamers - Sam Curran, Andrew Tye and Hardus Viljoen - all have an economy rate of over 10 in the end overs. Among them, they have leaked 284 runs in 25 overs at the death.
- Dhoni's strike rate of 216 in IPL 2019 is his best since IPL 2015.
- Dhoni fancies batting against Kings XI. He has struck five fifties against them - his most against any opposition in the IPL.
- If Super Kings win on Sunday, it will be their 100th IPL victory. They will be the second team to get there after Mumbai Indians.
- Imran Tahir needs two scalps to reach 300 T20 wickets. Shahid Afridi, Sunil Narine, and Shakib Al Hasan are the only other spinners to have achieved this milestone before.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo