Everything hinges on a single encounter today as New Zealand powerhouse Otago Volts take on the Rajasthan Royals at the Sawai Man Singh Stadium in Jaipur tonight.
In terms of permutations and combinations, the Jaipur side has the most to lose should they go down tonight. In the event of a loss, the team would have to face MS Dhoni and the Super Kings in the semi finals, a prospect that they would not want to entertain.
On top of that, they will have to play the penultimate round away from the SMS ground, which has been a virtually impregnable fortress for the Rajasthan side. So nothing but a win will be the desirable result for them, and skipper Rahul Dravid will have to be at his inspirational best to see his side through.
For the Otago side, a win will not only assure them a semi-final berth, but will also dump reigning IPL champions Mumbai Indians out of the tournament. Thus, the stakes are high for both the teams, and it may come down to which side wants it more.
The Royals’ squad boasts of a well-balanced line-up, with Shane Watson, Stuart Binny, Ajinkya Rahane and Sanju Samson providing stable support to their skipper. The likes of Ashok Menaria and Brad Hodge too have to pull up their socks and provide the fireworks down the order if they have to put up a competitive total on the board.
With the ball, Kevon Cooper and Vikramjeet Malik will lead the attack; the former has been in red-hot form for the Royals. Pravin Tambe has been the surprise package, marshalling the spin attack fairly well, while James Faulkner has the ability to turn the game with both bat and ball, along with Binny and Watson.
The Volts, on the other hand, also possess one of the best batting line-ups in the tournament at present. Brendon McCullum, despite performing well in the warm-up matches, has gone off the boil a bit, but teammates Neil Broom, Jimmy Neesham and Dutch all-rounder Ryan ten Doeschate have held the batting together.
Derek de Boorder has been tidy both behind as well as in front of the stumps, so Otago will prefer that at least two of these six fire in unison tonight.
Bowling can be a bit of a concern for the Kiwi side; however, pacer Ian Butler has been a revelation on the slow tracks. Michael Bracewell and veteran seamer Neil Wagner can also be quite a handful for the Royals with their mix of spin and seam.
In addition, off-spinner Nathan McCullum forms a potent combination with Nick Beard, and the Jaipur batsmen will look to score maximum runs off them.
Conditions on offer
The pitch at the Sawai Man Singh stadium has traditionally offered assistance to both batsmen and bowlers.
Given the amount of batting depth in both sides, it will be the dew factor that may influence McCullum to chase as it is also a night game.
Regardless of the team that wins the toss, it will be a cracker of a contest on cards.
The Volts managed to secure a victory out of a tied game against the Titans, so they have proved that they can hold their nerves.
But the Rajasthan Royals, looking for redemption after the sordid spot-fixing saga, are a determined lot, and will go all-out to finish at the top of the table.
My money, as always, will be on the home team to win – solely due to the presence of an inspirational skipper in Rahul Dravid. Game on!