After a thrilling climax to the group phase, the 2015 Indian Premier League moves into the playoffs this week with the trophy now coming firmly into view for the four teams still remaining. On Tuesday the top two sides, Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians, meet in the first qualifier, with a place in the final at stake for the winner and a second chance against the victor of Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals awaiting the loser on Friday.
The match in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium pitches the two most consistent sides in the IPL’s history against each other. For CSK it is especially familiar territory. The team has made it into the playoffs in each of the IPL’s eight seasons, winning the trophy in 2010 and 2011 before finishing runners-up the following two seasons.
This season their progress has been impressively serene. Led by India limited-overs captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Super Kings were the only team to have secured a playoff berth ahead of the final round of fixtures. Yet, after winning six of their first seven matches, they finished the season with just three victories from their concluding seven fixtures.
And, already having to travel to Mumbai’s own home for the first qualifier, Super Kings’ prospects are further dented by the absence of their top run scorer in this IPL season, Brendon McCullum. The New Zealand captain has traveled to England ahead of the first test match between the countries, which starts on Thursday. Super Kings coach and fellow Kiwi Stephen Fleming admits his team face an uphill struggle.
“It's a tough game as now it becomes home and away rather than a semifinal at a neutral venue,” he said, reports the Times of India. “It's a difficult game and a tough place to win but that's what we are here for. We didn't expect an easy game in a play-off match and we have got a tough one. McCullum's absence will impact a lot. He's an excellent player.”
Mumbai have reason for optimism as they look to avenge their loss to Super Kings in last season’s playoffs eliminator. In contrast to their opponents, Mumbai started slowly in losing their first four matches, but then tasted defeat just twice more to finish phenomenally well. That form means that, despite England batsman Alex Hales joining the squad in place of the injured Corey Anderson ahead of the big win over Sunrisers Hyderabad, MI could again stick with an unchanged lineup. Whatever the case, captain Rohit Sharma is confident that his side's clinching of a place in the top two will enable them to play on the front foot.
“Finishing in the top two obviously gives us a chance to play fearlessly,” he told the IPL’s official website. “I feel we have played good games till now but the playoffs will be a different ball game. You can’t afford to make too many mistakes but knowing you have a second chance it gives us the license to play fearless cricket.”
Start time: 10:30 a.m. EDT.
TV channel: For viewers in the United States, Dish and Mediacom will offer pay-per-view coverage, with subscriptions available through your set-top box or contacting your provider.
Live streaming info: ESPN Cricket will provide live-streaming coverage of every match via a subscription that now costs $29.99.