With their eyes firmly set on the IPL 2018 Play-Offs, Ravichandran Ashwin-led Kings XI Punjab will host bottom-placed defending champions Mumbai Indians at the Holkar Cricket Stadium, Indore, on Friday. The three-time IPL champions are staring at an inglorious exit having brought up the rear so far, with only two wins in their kitty from eight games.
On the other hand, KXIP have won five out of their seven games, slowly but surely inching towards the Play-Offs.
Kings XI Punjab's season has been about collective performance. They don't have the 'Orange Cap' or 'Purple Cap' holders in their ranks but everyone has chipped in with impactful performances as and when required.
'Universe Boss' Chris Gayle (252 runs) came into the tournament with a bruised ego and battered the bowlers into submission with two half centuries and a hundred. Rahul (268 runs) also showed why he is rated so highly with the fastest ever 50 in IPL.
Afghanistan's rookie mystery spinner Mujeeb ur Rahman, with an economy rate of 6.51 and seven wickets, has been nurtured well by skipper Ashwin, who has marshalled his resources well.
The pace duo of Ankit Rajpoot (7 wickets at 6.27) and Andrew Tye (9 wickets at 7.78) have also done the job for the Preity Zinta co-owned outfit.
For Mumbai, the primary reason for six defeats in eight matches has been poor start by openers along with new ball bowlers leaking too many runs in Powerplay overs.
While Suryakumar Yadav, with 283 runs from eight games, has performed decently after being promoted up the order, Caribbean left-hander Evin Lewis (194 in 7 games) has not been able to replicate his form in international matches.
Skipper Rohit Sharma (196 in 8 matches) has shuffled his own batting position but his inconsistency has also hurt Mumbai Indians big time.
The opening stands in eight games has so far yielded: 7, 11, 102, 0, 1, 12, 69, 5.
A look at the statistics will reveal that they have got solid foundation in only two games of which they won the match against CSK.
The other problem that has plagued Mumbai has been the performance of their two all-rounders -- Kieron Pollard and Hardik Pandya.
With Pollard not fit enough to bowl, his contribution of 76 runs in 6 innings has been an issue. Hardik has also blown hot 'n' cold during the season with 111 runs, including a toiling 50 in the last game along with 11 wickets.
Left-arm pacers Mustafizur Rahaman (7 wickets) and Mitchell McClenaghan (9 wickets) have both been expensive at the start and back-end of the opposition innings with unimpressive economy rates of 8.34 and 8.66 respectively.
That has put immense pressure on Jasprit Bumrah (9 wickets at an economy rate of 7) and Hardik (11 eickets at 8.74).
The only silver lining for the Mumbai Indians this season has been the emergence of young leg-spinner Mayank Markande (11 wickets) . The teenager has shown admirable temperament against the biggest names.
However it will depend on the big guns as to whether IPL's most successful franchise makes it to the Play-Offs this time.
Kings XI Punjab: Ravichandran Ashwin (captain), Chris Gayle, Aaron Finch, KL Rahul (wk), Karun Nair, Mohit Sharma, Mujeeb ur Rahman, Barinder Sran, David Miller, Andrew Tye, Ankit Rajpoot, Axar Patel, Akshdeep Nath, Mayank Agarwal, Manoj Tiwary, Yuvraj Singh, Manzoor Dar Pandav, Pardeep Sahu, Ben Dwarshuis, Marcus Stoinis, Mayank Dagar.
Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma (captain), Suryakumar Yadav, Evin Lewis, Ishan Kishan (wk), Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya, Kieron Pollard, Mayank Markande, Mitchell McLenaghan, Mustafizur Rahaman, Jasprit Bumrah, Akila Dananjaya, Ben Cutting, JP Duminy, Rahul Chahar, Sharad Lumba, Adam Milne, Siddhesh Lad, Md Nidheesh, Mohsin Khan, Anukul Roy, Pradeep Sangwan, Tajinder Singh, Aditya Tare (wk), Saurabh Tiwary.
Match starts 8pm IST.
(With PTI inputs)