Punjab Kings players during a practice session.
Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter
Punjab Kings will look to remain afloat with a victory over Chennai Super Kings in their must-win IPL match in Dubai on Thursday.
Punjab are lying at the sixth spot in the table behind Kolkata and Mumbai Indians, who have 12 points each.
Punjab are out of the race virtually but mathematically they can still make it to the play offs.
Punjab, Kolkata and Mumbai all have one game each in their hands.
If both Kolkata and Mumbai lose their match and Punjab go on to beat Chennai all three teams will be tied on 12 points each and run rate will come into play.
Punjab chances of going above Kolkata and Mumbai are almost next to impossible but mathematically they can still finish fourth if they notch up a victory with a huge margin.
They have been inconsistent in their campaign in the UAE leg of the IPL, losing three and winning two of the five matches played on the UAE soil.
Punjab have been unlucky on a few occasion as well. They lost quite a few matches from a very strong position. They failed to score three runs of the last over against Rajasthan Royals despite having eight wickets in hands.
If captain LK Rahul and Mayank Agarwal can give a good start to Punjab and set the tone for a big score they can fancy their chances of beating a dominant Chennai.
Punjab do not have much depth in their batting and it revolves around the opening pair of Rahul and Agarwal. Chris Gayle is out of the tournament for the remaining matches and Pooran is it yet to click.
Mohammad Shami is likely to spearhead the pace department as along with Moises Henriques and Arshdeep Singh.
Aiden Markram and Harpreet Brar may be used in the middle overs after the power play.
Chennai will look to get back to winning ways by heaping more misery on the beleaguered Punjab.
Chennai lost their last match against Delhi and were knocked off the top berth.
They are second in the table with 18 points.
Chennai will look to regain the top spot. The two teams who finish on the top of the table will play in the first qualifier. The winner of the first qualifier will directly book a berth in the final while the loser will have one other chance.
The third and fourth place teams will play in the eliminator. The loser of the eliminator will exit the tournament while the winner will take on the loser of the first qualifier for a berth in the final.
The winner of the second qualifier will play with the winner of the first qualifier in the final showdown.
Chennai are in stellar form right from the beginning of the UAE leg of the IPL. They have lost just two of their five matches in the UAE so far.
Chennai opening pair of Ruturaj Gaikwad and Faf du Plessis are in sublime touch.
The opening duo have given a good start to the Chennai almost in every match. Gaikwad has scored above 500 runs with the help of three 50s and one century.
He smashed a blistering century against Rajasthan to give Chennai a blazing start as they went on to post the highest total of the tournament in the UAE leg.
Du Plessis has also scored 400 plus runs in the tournament with the help of three 50s. The presence of Ambati Rayudu, Ravindra Jadeja, MS Dhoni and Dwayne Bravo makes middle order very formidable.
Chennai dropped Suresh Raina in the last match and brought in Robin Uthappa who scored painstakingly slow 19 of as many balls.
There middle order failed to click and they could muster just 137 runs in their allotted 20 over with Rayudu scoring a fighting 50.
After a faltering start, Rayudu and Dhoni shared a 71-run partnership to bring the innings back on track.
But they consumed to many deliveries and Chennai were short of 15-20 runs, despite having six wickets in hands.
Pace bowling will be taken care of by Josh Hazlewood, Shardul Thakur and Bravo while Chahar and Jadeja will lead the spin department.
In the second match of the double-header, Kolkata Knight Riders will take on Rajasthan Royals. Kolkata will look to boost their qualification chances with a victory over Rajasthan.
Kolkata are at the fourth spot behind Bangalore with 12th points but they are being closely followed by Mumbai Indians.
Kolkata openers Venkatesh Iyer and Shubman Gill are in the stellar form. The team will once again pin hopes on the opening pair to set the tone for a big total.
England captain Eoin Morgan, Rahul Tripathi, Dinesh Karthik, and Nitish Rana will consolidate the middle-order while Sunil Narine at number 6 will add depth to the batting.
Mystery spinner Varun Chakravarti and Narine will lead the spin charge.
Rajasthan are out of contention for the playoff after their loss against Mumbai. The defending champions hammered Rajasthan by eight wickets with 12 overs to spare after bowling them out for 91.
Nathan Coulter-Nile and James Neesham were the main wreker-in-chiefs as they shared 7 wickets between them to help Mumbai set up the convincing win.
Rajasthan batting line-up collapsed like a pack of playing cards and a did not look like a pale shadow of the same team, who chased down a target of 190 against Chennai.
However, despite being out of contention virtually and but still in mathematically Rajasthan can dent the hopes of Kolkata.
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