After the Delhi Capitals' nine-wicket loss
to the Mumbai Indians, Mohammad Kaif
, the team's assistant coach, said that the players were feeling the pressure. At one point this season, the Capitals were leading the points table with seven wins from nine matches but since then have lost four games on the trot, jeopardising their playoff chances.
With the Mumbai Indians restricting them to 110 for 9 on Saturday and then chasing down the target with 34 balls to spare, the Capitals' net run rate (NRR) has also taken a hit - it has slipped below the Kings XI Punjab's NRR.
"The players are feeling a bit of pressure," Kaif said after the match. "That's going to happen, we expect that. Losing matches back to back is not an easy thing. But we are trying to keep the team together. At some stage, you are going lose form and struggle. We are still backing our main players and, hopefully, they will come good in the next match.
"We didn't expect that it might come down to NRR. We had won some good matches and thought we would qualify easily but now we have to fight it out against RCB."
A win against the Royal Challengers Bangalore may still see them finish second on the table but, according to Kaif, the side perhaps took it easy after a good start to their campaign.
"I think this was going to happen," Kaif said. "We had a good start and [we] probably relaxed a bit in the middle. And of course, injuries to Ishant [Sharma] and Amit Mishra meant losing two of our main players and we had to try uncapped Indian players. That's why we couldn't get the XI going.
"It's a tough tournament. Teams have gone through the initial phase losing lots of matches. Now they are coming back, finding the rhythm and we probably losing the rhythm right now. But we are looking forward to the next match, beat RCB and qualify for the top four."
In the absence of Ishant, the Capitals have struggled with their fifth bowler. Tushar Deshpande impressed in his first outing but picked up a solitary wicket at an economy of nearly 12 in the next four. Cracks have emerged in their batting as well. With Prithvi Shaw losing form, the Capitals tried Ajinkya Rahane but he too failed to impress.
That resulted in the Capitals making three changes against the Mumbai Indians. Allrounder Harshal Patel came in for Deshpande, Shaw replaced Rahane and, given the presence of three left-handers in the Mumbai Indians' top six, legspinner Praveen Dubey was brought in for left-arm spinner Axar Patel. But the win that would have sealed a playoffs spot remained elusive.
"We thought playing a legspinner was probably the right way to go," Kaif said. "We got back Prithvi Shaw, he had a couple of good knocks initially in the tournament. If he gets going, we all know what Prithvi Shaw can do on his day. [We were] just trying to find out the best combination. Having lost the last three matches, we thought this was the right time to change a bit here and there.
"But right now, we cannot go back and we don't have much time to sit and plan things out properly. We are just going to go and focus on the next match."
Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo