It's hard to think of the clash between Pune Warriors India and Kolkata Knight Riders at Subrata Roy Sahara stadium in Pune on Thursday (May 9) as anything more than a dead rubber.
Technically, Kolkata still have a chance to qualify for the playoffs, but it would need a series of collapses from quality teams, as unlikely as that might be, for Kolkata to make it through.
Having triumphed so emphatically in IPL V, Kolkata's fall from grace has been baffling. Five days back, they put in a professional display against Rajasthan Royals to win by eight wickets. They first restricted Rajasthan to 136 for 6 with some smart bowling and then overhauled the target with authority. The whole team fired in unison, the sort of display that earned them the trophy last year. However, four days later, they were back in their shoddy avatar away to Mumbai Indians, losing by a massive 65 runs.
Those four days outlined Kolkata's problems this season - poor form away from home and a lack of consistency. In their eight losses so far, six have come on the road, with their batting the cause of much worry. While Gautam Gambhir and Eoin Morgan have put in solid displays every now and then, the likes of Jacques Kallis, Manvinder Bisla and Yusuf Pathan, who has been tried in different positions, have failed too often.
Kolkata just haven't looked capable of putting up a score big enough for the bowlers to defend even if the bowling has been better than the batting, with Sunil Narine the pick of the lot.
Now, against Pune, will Kolkata put in a show of spirit, even with the playoffs a step too far? Or will they allow their campaign to ebb and fade away without a fight?
While the optimistic Kolkata fans can still afford to hope, the same can't be said of their Pune counterparts. Their season got over long back and they are now fighting to arrest a seven-match losing streak, which has rooted them to the bottom of the table, and attempt to end the tournament with some dignity regained. For the record, their last victory came away against Chennai Super Kings, who lead the table currently, on April 15.
Pune's failure to match the quality of their squad with on-field performances leaves them in real danger of finishing at the bottom of the table for the second year in a row. But with not much left for them in the tournament, this is an ideal time for Pune to play without inhibition and lay the foundations for next season.
From Angelo Mathews to Ross Taylor to Aaron Finch, Pune haven't had any stability even with their leadership, and that's possibly one of the reasons for their inconsistency and instability.
Finch has been in charge of late, but he hasn't managed a single win in his six games as captain. Finch and Robin Uthappa, however, have been Pune's biggest positives in an otherwise miserable tournament, and it's no coincidence that the two have fired together in Pune's only two wins this year.
But Pune need to address their middle order, which has failed far too often, and the bowling, which has a lot of room to improve, especially in the death overs. Tackle their problems head on and Pune can at least head into IPL 2014 with something to build on.
It may be little more than a dead rubber, but the sub-plots make it quite interesting.
Pune Warriors India: Aaron Finch (capt), Yuvraj Singh, Robin Uthappa (wk), Luke Wright, Steven Smith, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Ashok Dinda, Rahul Sharma, Ajantha Mendis, Ross Taylor, Kane Richardson, Mitchell Marsh, Abhishek Nayar, Ishwar Pandey, Parvez Rasool, T Suman, Shrikant Wagh, Angelo Mathews, Wayne Parnell, Ali Murtaza, Anustup Majumdar, Eklavya Dwivedi, Harpreet Singh, Dheeraj Jadhav, Mahesh Rawat (wk), Mithun Manhas, Manish Pandey, Krishnakant Upadhyay, Raiphi Gomez, Udit Birla.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (capt), Debabrata Das, Iqbal Abdulla, L Balaji, Manoj Tiwary, Manvinder Bisla (wk), Shami Ahmed, Pradeep Sangwan, Rajat Bhatia, Sarabjit Singh Ladda, Yusuf Pathan, Brad Haddin, Brett Lee, Eoin Morgan, Jacques Kallis, Ryan McLaren, Ryan ten Doeschate, Sachithra Senanayeke, Sunil Narine.