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KXIP seek maiden final berth
CSK are confident

Mahendra Singh Dhoni

Calcutta: Officially, Friday’s Kings XI Punjab versus Chennai Super Kings match, at the Wankhede, is being called Qualifier 2. However, it can also be called an ‘eliminator’ because, just like the winners of the match will qualify for the final, the losers’ IPL VII campaign will be over, they will be eliminated.

Such an explanation highlights how important the match is, how desperate the teams will be. It’s their last chance to book a berth in Sunday’s marquee tie. Failure will prolong the wait by at least an year.

There’s little to choose between the two teams. Both the Kings XI and the Super Kings have played impressive cricket in this year’s competition. While Kings XI, the table-toppers, have been the most dominant side, the Super Kings have kept their reputation of being the most consistent team intact.

Having said that, a victory will mean a lot for Kings XI simply because of the fact that they have never reached the final in the past six editions of the meet. They have waited a long time. This time they have put together a strong team — an intelligent mix of talent, not just an assortment of big names. They have played their hearts out this year, they have entertained fans and they are the deserving table-toppers.

Having come this far, they will be desperate to get a shot at the title. All their hard work will be up for test on Friday and none of Kings XI players, nor the management, will want that to go in vain. Some may say it’s a semi-final of sorts, but to the Kings XI, it will be as important as the final.

The Super Kings, who have won the IPL title twice, will have a different kind of resolve. They have always been a tough team, they never give up without a fight. Friday would be no different. Off the ground, the franchise has been passing through troubled waters for the last year or so. But that hasn’t really affected Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team. The Super Kings have looked as effective as ever.

Both the teams are coming off contrasting results. While the Kings XI were thoroughly beaten by the Kolkata Knight Riders in Qualifier 1, the Super Kings silenced a packed Brabourne Stadium as they overcame Mumbai Indians’ challenge in the Eliminator. But at this stage, momentum is an arguable topic. It’s all about one match. You lose, you’re out. So past record will not be a huge factor, mental toughness on the day will be.

For the Kings XI, Glenn Maxwell will carry the burden of expectations. The Australian’s booming bat has fallen silent in the last few matches. But one shouldn’t forget that it was Maxwell’s 90-plus gems which enabled the Kings XI to flatten the Super Kings twice this year.

Maxwell, the third highest run-getter with 539 runs this season, smashed 95 off 43 balls in Abu Dhabi last month to help Kings XI chase down a massive 206-run target set up by the Super Kings. The Victorian was even more dominating in their subsequent clash earlier this month at Cuttack, where he hit a whirlwind 90 off just 35 balls to power his team to an incredible score of 231.

There are, however, others in the Kings XI line-up who can make impact. Be it the Indians like Virender Sehwag, Manan Vohra or Wriddhiman Saha, or foreign recruits like captain George Bailey or David Miller, there are players who can make a difference.

Kings XI will have to be careful about the selection of their bowlers. Dropping young Sandeep Sharma against the Knights didn’t prove to be a very good idea. Much focus will also be on spinner Akshar Patel, who has been selected in the Indian squad to tour Bangladesh.

The Super Kings, like always, are packed with match-winners. Dwayne Smith, Faf du Plessis, Brendon McCullum, Suresh Raina… If everyone fails, there’s Dhoni himself. David Hussey has also been a great addition to their team.

On the bowling front, they do have Mohit Sharma, who currently leads the IPL VII wicket-takers’ tally with 22 scalps. But from what has been evident so far, bowling has been the Super Kings’ weak link. Much will depend on Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja to keep the big-hitters of Kings XI quiet.

In a nutshell, Friday’s match will be a clash of batsmen. Bowlers are likely to be at sixes and sevens.