IPL 7 playoff preview: Uthappa in top form

Robin Uthappa is the make-or-break player in Kolkata's matchup with Kings XI Punjab. (Aijaz Rahi/AP)

Kolkata’s win streak is at seven and the defending IPL champion Mumbai Indians are peaking at the right time. Here’s what you need to know about the IPL 7 playoffs.

Kings XI Punjab vs. Kolkata Knight Riders

Kings XI Punjab
Kings XI Punjab topped the IPL7 regular season standings, posting an 11-3 mark led by batsman Glenn Maxwell. The 25-year-old Australian all-rounder scored 533 runs, the third-highest total in the league, although his output tailed off in the final four games of the year. Meanwhile, Karanveer Singh was the most efficient bowler in the league and buoyed an attack that stifled IPL7’s top offences.

Kings XI Punjab jumped out to a 5-0 start, and suffered their first defeat of the year to the Mumbai Indians. Mumbai would hand Punjab two of its three losses on the year, with the other one coming at the hands of playoff opponent Kolkata.

Player to watch: Glenn Maxwell
Maxwell contributed heavily to the team’s torrid start to the season, scoring runs in droves from the fourth spot in the lineup. However, Maxwell struggled mightily at the end of the year, scoring 16 runs in his last three matches, including a 0 against Rajasthan. If Punjab is to advance to the IPL final, Maxwell needs to regain his form from earlier in the year.

Kolkata Knight Riders
Kolkata finished second with a 9-5 record in IPL 7. Robin Uthappa set the league on fire, winning the Orange Cap for being the league’s highest scoring batsman with 613 runs — the next-highest scorer posted 535(Chennai’s Dwayne Smith). Moreover, Kolkata’s Sunil Narine led the league in wickets taken with 21.

After a shaky start to its campaign, Kolkata won seven consecutive matches to close out the regular season and are in top form entering the playoffs. After a 10-run loss to Rajasthan on May 5, the Knight Riders started destroying opponents, winning by at least five wickets in their next five games.

Player to watch: Robin Uthappa
The 28-year-old Indian batsman has played like a superstar for Kolkata in their bid for IPL7 supremacy, scoring 613 runs. Uthappa sets the tone of the game from his opening position, and has put Kolkata in ample opportunities to chase down lofty run targets all season long. To be clear, Uthappa is the make-or-break player in this matchup.

Prediction: With a seven-game winning streak intact and led by opener Uthappa in world-class form, the Knight Riders advance with a bye to the IPL7 final, shutting down the league’s top offence.

Programming alert: Catch live IPL 7 playoff action on Sportsnet World and Sportsnet World Online, with the first qualifier on Tuesday, May 27. | Full schedule

Chennai Super Kings vs. Mumbai Indians

Chennai Super Kings
Chennai went 9-5 during the regular season, good for third place in IPL7. Dwayne Smith scored 535 runs, which was second-best in the league. Moreover, the offence received secondary support from fellow batsmen Suresh Raina and Brendon McCollum and the Super Kings were the only team with three top-10 run-scorers.

Chennai had an extremely turbulent season, and were the streakiest team in IPL7. After an opening day loss to Punjab, the Super Kings rallied for six consecutive victories. However, they may have peaked at mid-season; after another loss to Punjab snapped Chennai’s winning streak, the Super Kings won their next two matches, then dropped three in a row before winning their final match against Bangalore.

Player to watch: Dwayne Smith
The 31-year-old West Indian all-rounder has been instrumental to both the team’s batting and bowling attacks. Smith, who was the league’s second-highest run-scorer, is counted upon to set a stellar pace as an opening batsman. While Suresh Raina, MS Dhoni and Brendon McCollum provide secondary offence, Smith is the driving force of the team and will be the key to Chennai’s success.

Mumbai Indians
The defending IPL champion Mumbai Indians exhibited signs of a champion’s hangover to begin the season, sputtering out of the gate with five straight losses. However, exhibiting a champion team’s spirit, Mumbai entered the playoffs on the last day of the season, pulling off a stunning comeback as captain Rohit Sharma and batsman Michael Hussey spearheaded a stunning effort.

It was only until May 3 against Kings XI Punjab did the reigning trophy holders record its first victory. Mumbai closed out the season with four consecutive wins, and is peaking just in time for the playoffs. The Indians exhibited their depth in the final stages of the IPL7 regular season, and have put the rest of the league on notice.

Player to watch: Rohit Sharma
Sharma was instrumental in leading Mumbai’s come-from-behind playoff run, and the Indians’ captain provides excellent supporting offence batting out of the third spot. Sharma has rallied his players behind him, and his batting heroics have led Mumbai to multiple comeback victories in IPL7. As the heart of the franchise and a pivotal batsman, Sharma will need another huge game to keep Mumbai’s title defence alive.

Prediction: Mumbai has strung together its best cricket at the right time, and its combination of talent and experience will help the defending champions into the semi-finals.

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