Both Royal Challengers Bangalore and Punjab Kings seem to have finally figured out what their best combinations are. They've also won their last games and are looking to put together the kind of rollicking streak that can seal a playoff spot early in the IPL.
Royal Challengers are significantly closer to that - they're on 14 points with three games to go and have won their last two. Solving their domestic No. 3 conundrum by giving an extended run to Srikar Bharat
has brought stability, and the return of Shahbaz Ahmed
has been a move that's brought them closer to the team that dominated in the first half of the tournament.
For the Kings, the chance to push each of their middle-order players some spots higher in the absence of Chris Gayle
has created a sturdier batting since it has allowed Shahrukh Khan and Fabian Allen - bona-fide T20 finishers - to bat in more suitable positions. It also gives them flexibility in terms of bowling and all-round options, and although it's only been one game so far, this might finally be a way that they're able to break their reliance on the openers.
With the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Mumbai Indians losing their most recent games, the Royal Challengers only need to win one of their last three matches to qualify. Three wins will give them a chance to finish among the top two if the Chennai Super Kings or the Delhi Capitals slip up in their last couple of matches.
However, if the Royal Challengers botch up the last week and lose all three remaining matches, they could be eliminated, for as many as four teams could end up on 14 points, vying for two qualification spots.
A win for the Kings will keep them in the hunt to reach that all-important tally of 14 points. Even if they get there, though, they will need other results to go their way to qualify. A defeat will leave them clutching at the slimmest of lifelines with some very specific result requirements: apart from winning their own last match, they will need the Knight Riders to lose their two remaining matches and stay at 10, and for Mumbai to beat the Royals, who in turn should beat the Knight Riders. Then three teams - the Kings, Mumbai and the Royals - will finish on 12 points, with the Kings likely to have the best net run rate among the three and take the fourth spot.
In the news
appeared to be limping when he came in to bat against Kolkata Knight Riders on Friday. There is no official word on the type and extent of the injury.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: 1 Virat Kohli (capt.), 2 Devdutt Padikkal, 3 Srikar Bharat (wk), 4 Glenn Maxwell, 5 AB de Villiers, 6 Shahbaz Ahmed, 7 Daniel Christian, 8 George Garton, 9 Harshal Patel, 10 Mohammed Siraj, 11 Yuzvendra Chahal
Punjab Kings: 1 KL Rahul (capt, wk), 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Nicholas Pooran, 4 Aiden Markram, 5 Deepak Hooda, 6 Shahrukh Khan, 7 Fabian Allen/Harpreet Brar, 8 Ravi Bishnoi, 9 Nathan Ellis/Chris Jordan, 10 Arshdeep Singh, 11 Mohammed Shami
Strategy punt Mayank Agarwal has an incredible strike rate of 184 against Yuzvendra Chahal in T20s; but that has also come at a cost, with Chahal dismissing him four times in 37 balls. Royal Challengers could use Chahal in the powerplay to break that opening stand Harpreet Brar has gone for 6.1 this IPL in five innings, with a Player-of-the-Match performance against RCB in Ahmedabad earlier this year when he dismissed Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, and Glenn Maxwell. With Allen's injury a potential concern, the Kings could consider bringing Brar back into the XI in Sharjah, where spinners have dominated the second half of the tournament
Stats that matter Royal Challengers haven't beaten Kings since the 2019 season
Arshdeep Singh has gone wicketless in only two of his ten matches and is currently the Kings' leading wicket-taker this season with 16 scalps in 10 matches. He averages 16.2 for six wickets in the powerplay at an economy of 6.5, and 13.4 for eight wickets in the death overs at an economy of 8.7 AB de Villiers has faced only 19 balls in four innings since the tournament's resumption in UAE
Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo