Two teams that are packed with quality players find themselves at the bottom of the table for reasons that no one can explain adequately. Before the season began, if you had suggested that Delhi Daredevils and Pune Warriors India would be on the verge of failing to qualify for the final four, with only half the matches of the tournament done, you would have been laughed out of the house.
Delhi suffered terribly before the start of the tournament, with Kevin Pietersen, virtually their entire middle order, ruled out, and their back-up, Jesse Ryder, suffering a traumatic attack, but this should not have been insurmountable. In Mahela Jayawardene and David Warner, Delhi have quality at the top of the order. Virender Sehwag, fresh from being left out of the Indian team, had plenty to prove. In Unmukt Chand, Delhi have the most hyped young Indian batsman around. Their bowling attack has pace and spin, experience and freshness, and yet all this has added up to seven losses from eight matches.
If Delhi are at the bottom of the table, the one consolation they have is that they're next playing a team which hasn't fared much better. Pune have lost six of their eight games, and for both teams the road ahead is crystal clear. They need to win every match left to stand any chance of progressing.
"We understand the situation we're in and we have talked about it in the dressing-room," said Irfan Pathan, who has been one of Delhi's strugglers this season. With only 73 runs and 4 wickets from 8 matches, Pathan has failed to deliver to the levels expected of him. "We know that we need to win every game from here on, and that desperation can help us. I've always believed that there's no point in overcomplicating things when they're not going your way. There's no real reason the results should be as bad as they have been, but in cricket, you can't always put store only in the result. There are times when you bowl a perfectly good ball and still get hit for four. My method is to try and keep things as simple as possible."
For Pune, things have been anything but simple, especially because they've been unable to nail down a combination or captain. Angelo Mathews, Ross Taylor and Aaron Finch have all led the team at different times. With Yuvraj Singh in the mix, but clearly not being considered for the captaincy, you have a team that's short on direction and long on ambition.
Leadership aside, Pune are in an eerily similar situation to Delhi in that they have the personnel, both in batting and bowling, but have been unable to put together good allround performances. On days when the batting has come good, the bowling has been unable to penetrate, and vice versa.
In the last match they played, Pune were sent scurrying for cover by Chris Gayle's 66-ball unbeaten 175. In Twenty20 cricket, experienced cricketers will admit that there's not much you can do when a batsman of Gayle's class is in that kind of zone. Pune will take heart in the fact that it just can't get any worse than that.
Not much is known of the pitch at the Shaheed Veer Narain Singh Stadium in Raipur, which hosts its first match of repute. The weather, though, is certain to play a role, with even night temperatures expected to be in the high 30s Centigrade. The swirling winds that whip up dust bring little relief, and the fitness of both teams will be properly tested.
Delhi Daredevils: Mahela Jayawardene (capt), David Warner, Morne Morkel, Johan Botha, Roelof van der Merwe, Andre Russell, Jeevan Mendis, Virender Sehwag, Naman Ojha (wk), Manprit Juneja, Varun Aaron, Ajit Agarkar, Gulam Bodi, Unmukt Chand, Royston Dias, CM Gautam (wk), Kedar Jadhav (wk), Siddarth Kaul, Shahbaz Nadeem, Yogesh Nagar, Sujit Nayak, Pawan Negi, Ashish Nehra, Irfan Pathan, Aristh Singhvi, Venugopal Rao, Umesh Yadav.
Pune Warriors India: Yuvraj Singh, Aaron Finch, Steve Smith, Kane Richardson, Luke Wright, Mitchell Marsh, Abhishek Nayar, Ali Murtaza, Anustup Majumdar, Ashok Dinda, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Dheeraj Jadhav, Eklavya Dwivedi, Harpreet Singh, Ishwar Pandey, Krishnakant Upadhyay, Mahesh Rawat, Manish Pandey, Mithun Manhas, Parveez Rasool, Rahul Sharma, Raiphi Gomez, Robin Uthappa (wk), Shrikant Wagh, T Suman, Udit Birla.