Two days ago Kings XI Punjab resisted what would have been a miraculous chase by Rohit Sharma. Yesterday Chennai Super Kings let Brendon McCullum and Brad Hodge pull off another reply. The result: Punjab are still alive and Chennai are not entirely safe. Chennai, with 15 points and a very good net run-rate, can still afford one more mistake, but with their negative net run-rate Punjab (14 points) have made their last error if they are to enter the final four.
If Chennai… win, they will seal their place in the semi-finals. lose, they still are most likely to make it because of a superior net run-rate. share points, they ensure their passage to the final four.
If Punjab… win, they finish ahead of Chennai and cement their semis spot lose, they will have to hope Kolkata defeat Rajasthan and Bangalore lose theirs by a huge margin (their net run-rate is behind Bangalore's by 0.17). share points, hope Rajasthan don't win their match, and there is an outright result in the match between Deccan Chargers and Bangalore.
The last two conditions, though, will have become clearer by the time Punjab start because Rajasthan would have finished their game by then.
Form guide (completed matches, most recent first)
Chennai Super Kings: LWLWW
When Kolkata chased 189 successfully against his side, MS Dhoni termed it as some of the worst bowling in the IPL. It might not quite be the worst (Kolkata's effort against Bangalore takes the cake), but Chennai's death bowling is definitely a concern. Remember how Suresh Raina bailed them out against in their previous game against Punjab?
Kings XI Punjab: WWLWL
Their opening combination is the problem. Karan Goel has averaged 15.5 with a top-score of 38, Sunny Sohal 16 with a top-score of 43, and Simon Katich 17.12 with a top-score of 50.
Watch out for
Ramesh Powar v Matthew Hayden: Adam Gilchrist, for long Hayden's opening partner, learnt in the last match not to fall for Powar's flight. Because the ball dips, drifts, and breaks. Hayden, though, is fresh off countering Shane Warne in what has been Chennai's most crucial win so far.
The time for experiments is over. Expect Hayden to be back. Jacob Oram should face competition from George Bailey. One out of M Vijay and Parthiv Patel should make the XI.
Chennai: (probable) 1 M Vijay/Parthiv Patel, 2 Matthew Hayden, 3 MS Dhoni (capt./wk), 4 Suresh Raina, 5 Albie Morkel, 6 Jacob Oram/George Bailey, 7 S Badrinath, 8 Sudeep Tyagi, 9 Shadab Jakati, 10 L Balaji, 11 Muttiah Muralitharan.
How Punjab will be hoping Mahela Jayawardene regains his fitness, because Luke Pomersbach has not been able to reprise any of his form from the previous year. They have to make the call between Karan and Sohal too. If only they could find a local batsman to replace Pomersbach, they could play both Brett Lee and Yusuf Abdulla.
Yuvraj Singh has taken six wickets in the tournament, all in hat-tricks.
Yusuf Abdulla has taken 14 wickets in nine games, and his replacement, Brett Lee, has given away runs at 5.93 an over.
Punjab have yet to beat Chennai in any of their games over the last two seasons. The closest Punjab came was in their match this season, only to be denied by Raina's bowling at the death.
Punjab tried unsuccessfully thrice last season. The first of those games was a high-scoring one, with both teams surpassing 200, but it was a merciless 116 from Michael Hussey that helped Chennai home by 33 runs. The second game was more competitive, but an inspired spell by L Balaji, who took 5 for 24, shut Punjab out by 18 runs.
The semi-final between the two teams was one-sided, with Raina and Parthiv Patel striking half-centuries to hand Chennai a nine-wicket win.