Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo
When the IPL stopped midway earlier this year, Kolkata Knight Riders were struggling with two wins out of seven, but in the UAE they have won five games out of seven to seal a place in the playoffs barring a miracle from Mumbai Indians on the last day of the league stage. They have done so despite losing Lockie Ferguson and Andre Russell to injuries along the way. Come the Eliminator against Royal Challengers Bangalore, though, and they could have selection headaches as Russell is close to being match-ready.
"He had a fitness test yesterday," David Hussey, Knight Riders' chief mentor said. "I think he is maybe a game away so I think he will be pushing hard to get back in for the final [playoffs]. Which will be a huge boost not only for us but the competition. He is world class and he provides lots of entertainment."
Captain Eoin Morgan pointed to Russell's tendency to heal quickly. "We are taking it day by day," Morgan said. "We know that he heals quickly. He has proved that last year. He had a two-and-a-half inch hamstring tear last year and came back in two weeks. He is working incredibly hard and hoping we get through as is everybody else."
The Eliminator will be played on October 11, which gives Russell at least three days to recover.
When Ferguson was fit and ready, he took his place back immediately even though his replacement Tim Southee did a good job in his absence. In Russell's absence, Shakib Al Hasan has filled in nicely too. In the two games that Shakib has played, he hasn't been required to bat but has returned bowling figures of 4-0-20-1 and 1-0-1-1.
"Shakib Al Hasan coming in and performing the way he has made the job of replacing Russell a little bit easier," Morgan said. "Very difficult to replace him because you miss out on a genuine batter and a genuine bowler. Shakib has been terrific and has contributed massively in the last two games."
For Knight Riders to miss out on a playoff spot, Mumbai will have to beat Sunrisers Hyderabad by 171 runs or so, which is in the realm of impossibility. Even when they were consequential, Morgan didn't watch other games that could affect his side's chances, so it is unlikely he will be watching the last day of the league stages to make sure the formalities are done.
Hussey, though, said that the rest of the side will be watching, but from the sound of it, it looks like they won't be watching Mumbai but Royal Challengers Bangalore, whom they will be facing in their first playoff match unless Royal Challengers beat Delhi Capitals by 163 runs and qualify in the top two slots.
"We will watch it [the final day of the league stages] as a group," Hussey said. "Start formulating our plans, hopefully the result goes our way, but yeah pretty much one eye looking forward to the final [playoff] against Bangalore."