New Delhi – The Indian Premier League heads for a thrilling climax this week when the play-offs take place to determine the champions of this season's popular Twenty20 tournament.
The fifth edition of the glitzy cash-rich event is already being hailed as the most exciting ever despite off-field troubles as packed houses watched enthralling cricket over the past six weeks.
The final spot in the play-offs was decided in Sunday's penultimate match of the 72-game league as defending champions Chennai Super Kings sneaked through while Royal Challengers Bangalore were stunned by unfancied Deccan Chargers.
Table-toppers Delhi Daredevils will take on number two Kolkata Knight Riders in the first play-off in Pune on Tuesday, with the winner advancing to the May 27 final in Chennai.
The Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings, the third and fourth teams in the league, will face-off in Bangalore on Wednesday with the losers being knocked out of the race.
The loser of the first play-off will then meet the winner of the second in Chennai on Friday to determine the second finalist.
“The play-off system rewards consistency over seven weeks,” said IPL chairman Rajiv Shukla. “One bad day in the office does not ruin a team's chances.”
The winner of Sunday's title clash at the Chidambaram stadium in Chennai will pocket $2 million and the runner-up will get $1.5 million.
The third-placed team will get a direct entry into the Champions League to be held in India in October between the top domestic Twenty20 clubs from around the world.
Delhi Daredevils, led by Virender Sehwag and featuring Sri Lankan veteran Mahela Jaywardene and South African fast bowler Morne Morkel, have shown consistent form by winning 11 of their 16 league matches.
But the Knight Riders will fancy their chances on a slow Pune wicket ideal for their West Indies spinner Sunil Narine, whose haul of 22 wickets this season is second only to Morkel's tally of 25.
“You can't predict what will happen in a T20 game, but we have faith in ourselves,” said Knight Riders skipper Gautam Gambhir. “We want to win this one for the people of Kolkata.”
Mumbai Indians, featuring the inspirational Sachin Tendulkar, bounced back after a shaky start to finish third and set up an intriguing clash against India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings.
“We must not waste the second life given to us,” said Dhoni. “We must execute our plans well because Mumbai will come hard at us.”
Among a series of scandals to hit the tournament has been police charges against Australian Luke Pomersbach, who played for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, over allegedly molesting a woman and beating up her fiance.
Five Indian players signed to IPL teams were also suspended after an undercover TV report alleged they were prepared to take money for spot-fixing. – Sapa-AFP