It was not surprising that the Kings XI Punjab cancelled its scheduled optional training on Saturday, the eve of its last (and the most crucial, given the stakes involved) league game of the Indian Premier League (IPL). Not because the players would have been following the Sunrisers’ tie against Lions but due to the workload of the squad in the last 10 days.
Despite having played five games with virtually no break, Kings XI Punjab will be as eager to win as the home team Rising Pune Supergiant going into the penultimate game of the league stage. Thanks to the standings, the game has been reduced to a virtual knock-out tie. The equation is quite simple: the winner of the match will join Mumbai Indians, Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad in the playoffs.
Glenn Maxwell's Kings will have plenty of reasons to feel confident going into the game. After all, its last two games were also virtual knock-out ties and the team overcame the odds in style. Maxwell would be hoping that he, along with the overseas specialists Martin Guptill and Shaun Marsh, continues to wage the long handle and that the all-Indian pace attack, led by the two two Sharmas – Sandeep and Mohit – continues to restrict the opposition batsmen in crunch situations. The fact that Wriddhiman Saha has joined the party with the willow augurs well going into the crunch match, as it reduces the pressure on Axar Patel to come good in all departments consistently.
On the other hand, Steven Smith's Supergiant will have little time to recover from a heart-breaking defeat in Delhi on Friday night, which has left it in a spot of bother. Coming off a five-day break, the Supergiant stuttered at the death despite cruising towards a moderate chase. However, the team would be hoping to ride on the support of a boisterous home crowd to act as the 12th man and help it cross the line.
Besides the support in stands, Smith's men will realise that the reliable all-rounder Ben Stokes and surprise package of the season Rahul Tripathi will need to be provided with valuable support in both the batting and bowling departments to make the cut.
The locals would be hoping that the pre-monsoon showers – which have greeted the city for two days in succession – will take a breather on Sunday evening to help them end the IPL season on a high. A full game will give Supergiant optimum opportunity to avoid being “so-near-yet-so-far”.
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