From bottom-dwellers to giant-killers, Kings XI Punjab have come a long way in the past week alone. Placed eight with a solitary win from seven games, Punjab had one step already at the exit door. Since then they’ve bounced back in some style, beating each of the top-three – Royal Challengers Bangalore, Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals – to throw themselves back in the wide open race for the fourth playoffs spot. Two of those consecutive victories, against Delhi and Mumbai, were in Dubai, where in their upcoming final fixture at the venue they will take on Sunrisers Hyderabad, hoping to leave the city with fond memories and having further improved their playoffs chances.
Even though it is a battle of equals, rejuvenated KXIP will hold some advantage over SRH purely on current form. Their bowling is finally peaking and the death-overs show has improved significantly in the last four games. Mohammad Shami is back on the wicket-takers leaderboard, only behind Purple Cap holder Kagiso Rabada. More importantly, their middle order has come to the party with Chris Gayle and Nicholas Pooran making vital contributions. The Caribbean duo’s runs have not only bolstered a thin batting line-up but also afforded more freedom to their openers in the powerplay, as evidenced by KL Rahul’s spiking strike rate.
Glenn Maxwell, too, chipped in with the bat in the last victory, making 32 in a vital partnership with Pooran. This was Maxwell’s best with the bat so far in ten games, but KXIP will likely persist with the Australian all-rounder who has also made himself useful with the ball lately, sneaking in economical full quotas.
SRH, too, have endured a rollercoaster ride, their three-match losing streak midseason off offsetting the advantage of earlier victories. With their comfortable eight-wicket win against Rajasthan Royals, SRH displaced KXIP from the fifth spot in the point table on a better NRR.
Jason Holder’s inclusion has added firepower to SRH’s bowling as he picked up three wickets to set up the win. However, it would be runs from the bats of Manish Pandey and Vijay Shankar that would please Hyderabad the most, marching to a thumping eight-wicket win despite losing both David Warner and Jonn Bairstow cheaply in the powerplay to Jofra Archer. Incidentally, it’s KXIP’s openers who are having a dream run this season, the kind Warner-Bairstow pair enjoyed the past year.
The last time these two teams met in IPL 2020, SRH subjected the then best powerplay bowling side to 16 wicket-less overs, essentially snatching the game away from them before they could begin to chase. With KXIP on the rise, these two points might not be as easy for SRH as they were in the reverse fixture, but this will definitely be the easiest it’ll get for the remainder of the league stage, with their next three must-win games lined up against the top-three.