With just two preliminary round matches remaining, the 2023 edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is all set for a thrilling finale which will explode into a flurry of action on Sunday that will eventually unravel the mystery of which team completes the lineup for the Playoffs, starting in Chennai on Tuesday (May 23).
Three teams -- defending champions Gujarat Titans, four-time winners Chennai Super Kings and Lucknow Super Giants -- have clinched their berths in the Playoffs. Gujarat Titans are at the top of the pile with 18 points from 13 matches while Chennai Super Kings and Lucknow Super Giants are tied at 17 points each with CSK securing the second spot based on their better Net Run Rate -- 0.652 as compared to 0.284 of LSG.
Three teams -- Royal Challengers Bangalore, Rajasthan Royals and Mumbai Indians -- are tied on 14 points and in this same order. What is more important is that Rajasthan Royals have completed their quota of 14 matches and therefore are unable to improve their position further.
Thus, in the race for the fourth Playoff spot, Mumbai Indians have a slight edge as they face bottom-placed Sunrisers Hyderabad while RCB take on a tougher opponent in table-toppers Gujarat Titans.
The equation is simple for both RCB and MI -- they have to win their respective last league match and hope that the other team suffers a defeat. For example, if MI win and RCB lose, the former will qualify for the Playoffs and vice-versa. Rajasthan Royals will qualify only in case both Mumbai Indians and RCB lose their final preliminary league matches.
Currently, RCB have an NRR of 0.180, Rajasthan have 0.148 while Mumbai Indians are lagging behind with an NRR of 0.120. In case both MI and RCB lose, their NRR will change and RR will be hoping that to be enough to overtake RCB and get into the Playoffs.
The NRR of RCB and Mumbai Indians will change after their respective matches, thus MI will be aiming to secure a massive win against SRH at the Wankhede in the afternoon match while hoping that RCB lose against GT.
They will also pray to the Almighty that even if RCB win, the overall impact on their NRR is not much -- the five-time champions thus overtaking RCB and finishing fourth.
Ditto for Royal Challengers Bangalore. The Faf Du Plessis-led side will be looking to win against Gujarat Titans and hope that MI lose to SRH. In the worst-case scenario, Bangalore will like Rohit Sharma's side to register a narrow win so that its impact on their NRR is not enough and RCB thus remain in the fourth position in the points table.
The current position of the points table makes it clear that this was one of the closest races for Playoff spots with a majority of the 10 teams still in the hunt till the last two rounds of matches. SRH and Delhi Capitals were the only teams out of contention.
On Saturday, CSK clinched the second place in the standings by beating Delhi Capitals by 77 runs, which greatly improved their NRR and LSG's narrow one-run win against Kolkata Knight Riders did not improve their NRR match thus they had to remain satisfied with the third spot.
The Lucknow-based franchise has thus made it to the Playoffs for the second successive season in their second year of existence, achieving the same third position that they gained in 2022.
So, Sunday's two matches will unravel the mystery of the points table with the fourth position finally settled.
Even if we keep aside the thrilling race for the Playoff spots, the IPL 2023 highlights the success story of three teams that could consider themselves winners at the end of the preliminary stage itself.
Gujarat Titans look the best of the lot considering the way they have perched themselves at the top of the table after the first few rounds and have maintained that position. Gujarat have so far bagged the most points and have won nine of their 13 matches.
They have banked on their strong bowling unit to overcome their opponents. Mohammad Shami owns the Purple Cap with 23 wickets from 13 matches. His teammate Rashid Khan too has taken 23 wickets. For GT, Shubman Gill is the top scorer with 572 runs. They are the punters' favourite for winning their second successive title.
CSK is the second team that could consider themselves a success. The top two placed teams meet in the Qualifier 1 and the team losing that match will get another chance of making it to the final against the winner of Eliminator. Getting into this position is definitely a big achievement for them considering their poor campaign in IPL 2022.
The M.S. Dhoni-led team can take pride in their brilliant campaign considering that they had finished ninth in the standings last season. They have made a brilliant comeback this season, putting themselves in a prime position to fight for their fifth title.
Mumbai Indians too can consider themselves as winners as they had finished 10th and last in the standings in 2022. Now, with one match to go, they are still in the hunt for a place in the Playoffs.
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