Call it peaking early and then fading away, or whatever. Kings XI Punjab feel the pressure to qualify for the play-offs and make a rare feat of being among the top four, something that they have achieved only twice in the 10 previous editions including a runners-up finish to Kolkata Knight Riders.
Coming to Mumbai at the back of an embarrassing 10-wicket loss to rejuvenated Royal Challengers Bangalore in Indore on Monday night, the Ravichandran Ashwin-led KXIP face a must-win last two league games knowing very well that a loss at the Wankhede on Wednesday is curtains for them.
Though KXIP have a two-point advantage over Mumbai Indians, it is the Rohit Sharma-led defending champions that begin favourite in Match No. 50 of this year's IPL under lights. Sharma's Mumbai Indians are known for their knack of winning matches after disastrous starts in the past editions and this year is no different.
KXIP have won five of their first seven matches and only one in their last five. On the other hand, MI began with four last-over defeats in their first five games, winning only two in their first seven. But when pushed against the wall, they won three of their last five including the one against KXIP in their first-leg clash in Indore less than two weeks ago.
On the other hand, MI may have hit the right straps at the right time. Their middle-order has not let them down even though Suryakumar Yadav and Evin Lewis have been scoring heavily at the top. Unlike KXIP, MI's middle-order has been well served by the likes of Ishan Kishan, the Pandya brothers though Rohit Sharma's form is a bit worrying.
Sharma and his team know for a fact that a loss on Wednesday will mean curtains for them. They have hung by the skin of their teeth all this while. It is now or never for MI.
As much as it is the same scenario for the beleaguered Kings from the north.
The reasons for KXIP finding themselves in the position that they are in are too much reliance on their opening duo of KL Rahul and Chris Gayle and the failure of their middle-order comprising Karun Nair, Mayank Agarwal, Marcus Stoinis, Aaron Finch and a few others that they have not been able to find a dependable set of batsmen once Rahul and/or Gayle are back in the pavilion.
Mayank Agarwal's pathetic average of 12.00 after having a humungous Ranji Trophy season for Karnataka, the otherwise dangerous Finch losing his big-hitting touch since arriving for the IPL a little late due to his marriage, and the constant changing and chopping of their middle-order batsmen have not helped KXIP's cause in any way.
Such has been their middle-order woes that the tally of 908 runs by openers Gayle and Rahul are still eight runs more than the combined total of 900 by the rest of the batsmen in the season. So deploring has KXIP's middle-order been that the batting average of batsmen Nos. 3 to 6 is 17.63, the lowest among the eight teams, with only one fifty.
Among the 10 fifty-plus scores by KXIP batsmen, nine have come from the blades of Gayle and Rahul, the lone fifty by a middle-order batsman coming from Nair (50 against DD in their opening fixture).
KXIP may have individual brilliances. Apart from Rahul and Gayle, they have the Purple Cap holder in Andrew Tye (20 wickets) and the best bowling figures by pacer Ankeet Rajput (5/14 against SRH) but these mean nothing if their efforts are not complemented by their middle-order and can't take the team over the line.