OK, the tediously long, yet in a strange way cant-take-your-eyes-off-it, yet-will-not-remember-it-the-next-day, league phase of IPL 2013 is done and dusted. It is down to four games now, four of the best teams in this season's IPL. [READ: Qualifier 1- CSK vs MI Preview]
Some will say, Royal Challengers Bangalore deserved to be in the top four, even if only to watch the gloriously brutal batting of Chris Gayle; however, if there is one thing that is certain, it is the fact that the league table does not lie, especially after playing 16 games each.
So, Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians, Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad deserve to be there and take a shot at the title.
Two of the teams have won the title already - three if you count the fact that the Sunrisers are in a way the phoenix risen from the ashes of the Deccan Chargers - while Mumbai Indians, one of the biggest spenders and filled with superstars are chasing the IPL trophy like it is the Holy Grail.
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The first match of the playoffs will be the Qualifier 1, which will be played between the top two sides in this season -- CSK and MI.
It is essentially a semifinal for both sides, but without the ultimate fear of being knocked out of the tournament. The winner will go directly into the IPL 2013 finals, while the loser will have another shot at making the summit clash.
CSK vs Mumbai Indians is an intriguing game. Two of the glamour sides with essentially two of the most popular players in India on either team. MS Dhoni will hunt for yet another title, while Sachin Tendulkar, after realizing the dream of winning the World Cup, will want to add the IPL as well before he walks into the sunset as one of the greatest ever to grace the game - of course there is plenty of time for that yet!
The Mumbai Indians will feel they are due a bit of luck in this tournament, but in CSK they will come up against a mean machine that just know how to win - a Manchester United of the IPL if you will.
The second game of the playoffs -- the Eliminator -- will be played between the Rajasthan Royals and the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Neutrals will be torn between sympathy for the Royals, especially Rahul Dravid, and anger at three of their players being caught for spot-fixing.
However, with Dravid in the side, a true gentleman of the sport of -- the artist previously known as the gentleman's game - cricket, a lot of the supporters will be inclined to see the great man guide his side to a brilliant and improbable title.
The two sides are pretty evenly matched, with the Sunrisers having the better bowling and the Royals the superior batting.
Whoever wins this match will come up against the losers of the match between CSK and Mumbai Indians in the Qualifier 2. It's sometimes tricky for the loser of the first match to immediately find their feet and overcome the emotion of losing out on a straight flight to the final.
On the other hand, the winner of the Eliminator will be high after a win, and momentum in T20 cricket does count for a lot.
Finally, and most importantly, we come to the final -- the winner of Qualifier 1 vs the team that have a huge smile on their faces after Qualifier 2.
Eden Gardens will be the setting and there is no better ground to hold the showpiece game of the IPL. As everyone knows, in a final it is anybody's ball game; the team that keep their nerves best will win.
So will it be the team in Yellow, Blue, a Darker Blue or that weird Ash colour that will walk up to the podium and lift the wonderfully glinting golden IPL trophy?
Playoffs schedule: Qualifier 1: CSK vs MI at Feroz Shah Kotla (Tuesday). Eliminator: Rajasthan Royals vs Sunrisers Hyderabad at Feroz Shah Kotla (Wednesday). Qualifier 2 (Friday) and Final (Sunday) to be played at the Eden Gardens.
Predictions: Qualifier 1: CSK. Eliminator: Royals. Qualifier 2: Mumbai Indians. Final: Mumbai Indians.
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