The Sunrisers Hyderabad won three matches in a row to make the playoffs whereas the Royal Challenges Bangalore lost their last four games, and were lucky to scrape into the top four. Following are the key battles, tactics and players that could affect the result of the Eliminator on Friday.
Remove the obstacle called Padikkal
The Sunrisers' attention will no doubt be on Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers whose batting fortunes continue to dictate the success for the Royal Challengers. However, one man who has played a big role in the seven wins for the Royal Challengers this IPL is Devdutt Padikkal, who has made the most runs in a season by a debutant in the history of the tournament.
Padikkal, an attractive left-hand batsman, has scored 298 runs at a strike rate of 125.20 in the seven wins while making 174 runs at nearly 129 in the seven defeats. To counter Padikkal, the Sunrisers have Sandeep Sharma, one of the best bowlers in the powerplay this IPL.
Sharma has picked nine wickets in the first six overs this season, with four of them of left-hand batsmen, conceding just 57 runs in 54 deliveries to them. The away swing and the slower ball will remain his attacking options and will challenge both Royal Challengers openers - Padikkal and one of the two Australians: Josh Philippe or Aaron Finch.
Padikkal's weak point has been the short delivery; he has scored just 46 runs off 48 short balls while getting out twice. Jason Holder, who is likely to bowl with the new ball, has the pace and height to trouble Padikkal with short-pitched deliveries.
Attack Sandeep early
Sharma's modus operandi has been to bowl three out of his four overs in the powerplay. So far he has bowled seven overs in the middle phase at an economy rate of 6.85 and nine overs at the death where he has leaked runs at 10.44 per over. If the Royals Challengers top order can attack Sharma early on, it can disrupt the Sunrisers' bowling plans. The openers could charge at Sharma to try and negate his swing, and unsettle him by making him bowl to their strengths rather than letting him to dominate.
Can Kohli break the Sandeep jinx?
Seven times Sharma has got the Royal Challengers captain in the IPL, the most by any bowler. If Sharma pitches the ball a bit too full or short, Kohli picks him for runs. But it's the good-length deliveries from Sharma that have troubled Kohli the most, dismissing him as many as five times in the IPL, while conceding only 17 runs off 23 balls.
Should Kohli just wait for the loose deliveries or walk to the other end and exercise patience? With Kohli having tough match-ups against Rashid Khan and Sharma, he needs to maximise against the other three or four Sunrisers bowlers.
Rashid v Kohli and de Villiers - the heavyweight title in the middle overs
The pressure will be on both batsmen, who bat in the middle overs, the phase where Khan prowls like a proud lion. Kohli has often been a suspect against the googly in the IPL, which is one of Khan's stealth weapons. Kohli has managed only 18 runs off 19 deliveries against Khan in the IPL, with one dismissal. The Sunrisers strike bowler has also got de Villiers twice in the IPL, allowing only 25 runs off as many balls.
Clearly then both batsmen will remain watchful against Khan who has delivered three of his most economical spells in the IPL this edition. The challenge, though, for both Kohli and de Villiers will be to provide a push in the middle phase where the Royal Challengers' run rate is the worst. In overs seven through 16, the Royal Challengers have the weakest scoring rate of 7.28, which has contributed heavily in their batting failures.
If the Royal Challengers have to raise a big target or chase one successfully, both Kohli and de Villiers will need to bat deep. That is why it is important their openers take the gamble and attack the Sunrisers' new-ball unit of Sharma, Holder and T Natarajan.
Beware of Warner-Saha partnership
The Sunrisers' run rate of 9.50 in the powerplay in the last seven matches of the league phase is the best this IPL. David Warner has regained his ruthless touch in this period and in their wins in the last three matches, Wriddhiman Saha has played a massive hand with two quickfire half-centuries while opening. Both batsmen have also been key performers in IPL playoffs in the past, so the Royal Challengers bowlers would want to be at their absolute best in order to keep them in check.
How to stop Warner?
Bowl Washington Sundar in the powerplay. In the last contest between these two teams, Warner paid for his greed. Having hit Sundar for a six on the first delivery the offspinner bowled in the match, Warner went for another big hit and was caught promptly at midwicket. It was the first time Warner had lost his wicket inside the powerplay to a spinner, since 2016 against Sunil Narine.
The importance of removing the prized wicket of the best batsman early on cannot be overstated. In the 22 instances Warner has been out inside the powerplay, the Sunrisers have lost 12 times in the IPL.
Sundar has strong numbers in the powerplay: 115 runs off 120 deliveries at an economy rate of 5.75, which is second only to Jofra Archer so far this tournament. Sundar has kept Warner in check so far during their one-on-one contests too. On the three occasions he has bowled against Warner so far, Sundar has given away just 28 runs off 24 deliveries, including 11 dot balls while picking his wicket once. So this will be one of the most important match-ups in the contest.
Win toss - say 'chase'!
The last five matches played in Abu Dhabi have been won by teams chasing. It's a no-brainer then that both Kohli and Warner will want to field after winning the toss. Overall, too, teams chasing have won 12 out of 20 matches at this venue, which has seen a lot of dew in recent games.
Kohli will also hope that his luck at the toss changes: he got the toss in his favour six out of the 14 matches in the league phase. Warner, meanwhile, has had a better record of winning 10 out of his 14 tosses.
The Royal Challengers have also lost two of their four matches in Abu Dhabi and both those defeats happened in the last week, including their last league match, against the Delhi Capitals. The Sunrisers have played three matches at the venue, winning just once. One of their two defeats came in the Super Over against the Kolkata Knight Riders.