We are at the business end of the league stage of the 2020 Indian T20 League campaign and the league table is as open as it was before the season began on September 19.
Seven teams stand a chance to make it to the playoffs, but only four can make it through. Three of those seven will be in action on Thursday and Friday, and each will accept nothing less than a victory. The end of the season is where the big guns come through and showcase why they are revered as the game changers and below are the four players I believe that will be the X-factors for their respective teams in the next two matches:
Chennai – Faf du Plessis
Much like Chennai's season, Faf's bid for the Orange Cap too has fizzled out unceremoniously. He scored 299 runs in his first six outings with the bat and was keeping pace with KL Rahul at the top of the runscorers list. But since then, he has scored just 102 runs in six matches and has well and truly bowed out of contention. But Faf and Chennai still have two games left to show some fight and salvage a bit of pride at the end of the season and I'm certain the opener will be keen to finish the season the way he started it.
Kolkata – Sunil Narine
Sunil Narine will be the first to tell you that he’s had a sub-par campaign this season. Neither his 114 runs nor his five wickets are indicators of his tremendous ability with bat and ball, and he will be keen to put that right in Kolkata’s final two matches of the season. The equation for Kolkata is simple - win both matches and hope for a Punjab defeat - as it seems rather unlikely that they'll be able to bridge the 0.43 gap in net run rate between themselves and Punjab. Kolkata just have to control the controllable, which is a victory in each of their next two matches. And for that, they will need all hands on deck, especially the magical ones of Narine.
Punjab – Chris Gayle
Every analyst, fan and observer yearned for Chris Gayle's inclusion in the playing XI but when he finally made his season debut, it was seemingly too late for him to have an impact on Punjab's campaign. However, since his return, Punjab have won five straight games and are astonishingly in the fourth spot on the table, with their playoff destiny in their own hands now. In this five-game stretch, Gayle, who is batting at No. 3, has smashed two match-winning fifties and two quickfire 20s, which has been the key to Punjab's recent upheaval in form. Man of the match in Punjab's last game against Kolkata, the team had ridden the West Indian's sensational form and put themselves in a position to snatch an improbable playoff place. But the job's not done and Punjab cannot relent. I believe Gayle will have to ensure his team remains on top and in command by taking the opposition bowlers to the cleaners as he has in his five appearances so far.
Rajasthan – Ben Stokes
After a delayed start season with a slew of injuries and a disappointing run with the bat, Ben Stokes finally showed up for Rajasthan against Mumbai, smashing an unbeaten century to keep Rajasthan’s minuscule playoff hopes alive. Currently, at 10 points, Rajasthan can finish with a maximum of 14 points, which is what the team in second and third have at the moment. Victories by huge margins in their next two matches could give Rajasthan a glimmer of hope and they'll need all hands on deck, including Stokes'.
Feature image courtesy: Twitter / @IndianT20League