Rajasthan Royals

Position on points table: Fifth
Played: 7, Won: 3, Lost: 4, Points: 6

Squad changes from first phase
In: Glenn Phillips, Evin Lewis, Oshane Thomas and Tabraiz Shamsi
Out: Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer and Andrew Tye

Strengths
Rajasthan Royals' approach has been to generally bank on certain high-impact match-winners. In the first half of this season, Jos Buttler, Chris Morris and captain Sanju Samson all stepped up to keep the team mid-table. Despite the absence of Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes - who quit early in the tournament due to finger injury - the bowling has not suffered primarily because of Morris, who with 14 scalps is the second-highest wicket-taker in the tournament. While Morris, who fetched the highest auction price in IPL history, has been a catalyst, he has received strong support from the Saurashtra pair of Jaydev Unadkat and Chetan Sakariya. The duo showed discipline and smarts to pick 11 wickets each with an economy of 7.06 and 8.22 respectively.

2020 UAE strategy
Archer, who was the Player of the Tournament last year, was the key architect for Royals in IPL 2020, constantly picking up wickets in the powerplay. Rahul Tewatia and Samson also won a couple of games on their own with their bold displays with the bat.

Challenges for 2021
Royals have lost three first-choice overseas players, but have found able replacements who are in outstanding form. The big concern will be the form of their spinners - Tewatia and Shreyas Gopal - who were a major letdown in India taking just four wickets at an average of 81. Will the inclusion of Shamsi resolve that issue? Can Liam Livingstone and Lewis continue their hitting form in the UAE? The answers to the questions would decide whether they make the playoffs or not.

Potential XI: 1 Evin Lewis, 2 Yashasvi Jaiswal, 3 Sanju Samson (capt, wk), 4 Liam Livingstone, 5 Riyan Parag, 6 Shivam Dube, 7 Chris Morris, 8 Rahul Tewatia, 9 Kartik Tyagi, 10 Mustafizur Rahman, 11 Chetan Sakariya/Jaydev Unadkat

Punjab Kings

Points on points table: Sixth Played: 8, Won: 3, Lost: 5, Points:6


Squad changes from first phase
In: Aiden Markram, Nathan Ellis and Adil Rashid
Out: Dawid Malan, Riley Meredith and Jhye Richardson

Strengths
The Kings' openers - KL Rahul and Chris Gayle in 2018 and 2019, and Rahul along with Mayank Agarwal in 2020 as well as the first half of this IPL - have traditionally been the team's backbone for the past four years. That has not changed barring a spectacular performance from allrounder Harpreet Brar, who had a dream evening against Royal Challengers Bangalore.

2020 UAE strategy
Agarwal gave fast starts, Nicholas Pooran bookended innings with rapid finishes, Gayle proved why he remains a heavyweight and Mohammed Shami came into his own as a T20 bowler. There were also enthusiastic performances from the young uncapped pair of Ravi Bishnoi and Arshdeep Singh. However, Kings succumbed to pressure in at least three matches they should have won and paid the price. The poor performances from Glenn Maxwell and Sheldon Cottrell, too, hurt. Equally concerning was Rahul's sedate strike rate which hovered under 130 despite him finishing the season with 670 runs. Kings' planning and approach remained dishevelled on the back of continuous losses as they finished sixth only because of a better run rate than Super Kings and Royals.

Challenges for 2021
Four ducks in six matches for Pooran underlines Kings' problems in the middle order. The uncapped Indian pair of Deepak Hooda and Shahrukh Khan has promised a lot but not delivered convincingly. With the Australian pair of Jhye Richardson and Riley Meredith out of the second half of the IPL, Kings do not have any express quick barring Shami to take advantage of what are likely to be fresh and fast pitches. With six matches remaining and just three wins, Kings have an uphill task to qualify for the playoffs.

Potential XI: 1 KL Rahul (capt, wk), 2 Mayank Agarwal, 3 Chris Gayle, 4 Deepak Hooda, 5 Nicholas Pooran, 6 Shahrukh Khan, 7 Fabian Allen/Adil Rashid, 8 Ravi Bishnoi, 9 Arshdeep Singh, 10 Nathan Ellis, 11 Mohammed Shami

Kolkata Knight Riders

Position on points table: Seventh
Played: 7, Won: 2, Lost: 5, Points:4


Squad changes from first phase
In: Tim Southee
Out: Pat Cummins

Strengths
Knight Riders' spinners, as well as their aggressive batters like Andre Russell, Pat Cummins and Nitish Rana, showed their prowess in the first half of the season. Russell even took a five-wicket haul and was striking at 166. His 2021 CPL form augurs well for Knight Riders in the UAE. Varun Chakravarthy and Sunil Narine are their biggest weapons with the ball and are not dependent on conditions. While Narine opted out of the T20 World Cup, he has been in good form in the CPL with the ball in hand. Chakravarthy will walk in upbeat, too, having made it to the India squad for the T20 World Cup and it was in the UAE where he announced himself last IPL.

2020 UAE strategy
Knight Riders' all-round team approach seemed to be working for a while. Chakravarthy, who was the team's leading wicket-taker (17) dominated the match-ups while Shubman Gill and Eoin Morgan made an impact in the batting department. But the inconsistency of Dinesh Karthik, along with the failure of Russell the batter who also had to battle fitness issues meant Knight Riders lost out in the race for the play-offs, finishing fifth eventually.

Challenges for 2021
Slow, struggling starts by the top order followed by a stuttering middle order were the biggest concerns for the Knight Riders in the first half. They lost 12 wickets in the powerplay and averaged just 25.75. Gill and Morgan were striking at 117 and 112 respectively, with an average of 15.33 and 18.85. As head coach Brendon McCullum plainly put it, his team were "paralysed by the fear of failure". Can Knight Riders now overcome that fear?

Potential XI: 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Nitish Rana, 3 Rahul Tripathi, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Dinesh Karthik (wk), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Sunil Narine, 8 Prasidh Krishna, 9 Shivam Mavi, 10 Lockie Ferguson, 11 Varun Chakravarthy

Sunrisers Hyderabad

Position on points table: Eighth
Played: 7, Won: 1, Lost: 6, Points: 2

Squad changes from first phase
In: Sherfane Rutherford
Out: Jonny Bairstow

Strengths
It is hard to find positives in a team that has notched a solitary win, fielded 21 players - the most in the first half of the IPL - and dropped their captain David Warner. Still, the trio of Rashid Khan, Kane Williamson and Jonny Bairstow gave a semblance of stability to an otherwise struggling outfit which also was without T Natarajan, who had to quit early in the tournament to undergo knee surgery. Manish Pandey, too, batting as No. 3 showed a stable head.

2020 UAE strategy
It was Natarajan, Williamson, Warner along with Wriddhiman Saha that helped Sunrisers make the playoffs. All four of them are likely to feature in the XI this time around, too. The middle order that includes Abhishek Sharma, Abdul Samad and Priyam Garg also performed in crucial situations. Sunrisers would be hoping for a repeat of the same.

Challenges for 2021
The challenge for Sunrisers over the last few years has been straightforward: who are the four overseas players and how can the middle order contribute more? Credit to Warner and the bowling unit here that despite those twin challenges, the team has managed to make the playoffs consistently. The absence of Jonny Bairstow, who opted out, could prove to be a blessing in disguise as role clarity becomes a lot more stable. But Pandey and Vijay Shankar's form remains crucial. On the bowling front, too, Sunrisers' fast men have been short of form including Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who averaged 56.7 in the first half of the season.

Potential XI: 1 David Warner, 2 Wriddhiman Saha (wk), 3 Kane Williamson (capt), 4 Manish Pandey, 5 Kedhar Jadhav, 6 Vijay Shankar, 7 Sherfane Rutherford/Jason Holder, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Sandeep Sharma, 11 T Natarajan

Gaurav Sundararaman is a senior stats analyst at ESPNcricinfo