The task is simple for Mumbai Indians. Win six matches on the spin or relinquish their IPL title. Paul Krishnamurty is tipping for them to rise to the first part of the challenge...
"At risk of over-reacting to anyone being skittled by Rashid Khan et al, Punjab's latest loss did expose a middle-order weakness that could hurt later in the tournament."
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Kings XI Punjab
Despite a catastrophic collapse against Sunrisers last time, Kings XI remain well on course for the play-offs. Three wins from seven should be enough. However at risk of over-reacting to anyone being skittled by Rashid Khan et al, that loss did expose a middle-order weakness that could hurt later in the tournament. They also slumped in the previous match but 143 proved enough.
Their success is fundamentally built upon their freescoring openers. Chris Gayle - surely the signing of the season - remains a devastating gamechanger and don't understate the contribution from fellow opener KL Rahul. 268 runs from his seven innings at 170, at a higher strike rate than the Universal Boss himself has managed.
The bowlers have also proved significant, five of whom have gone for 8.0 or less. Led by skipper Ravi Ashwin, this is easily the best Punjab attack in many a year and they have their own brilliant Afghan spinner in 17 year-old Mujeeb Ur-Rahman.
Rooted to the foot of the table, the defending IPL champions must win all of their last six games to reach the play-offs. Numerous disastrous moments or spells brought this situation to bear, but Mitchell McClenaghan's final over against RCB will be hard to forget. The last three balls yielded 21 runs and they went on to lose by 14.
Repeatedly finishing innings poorly, either with bat or ball, has cost them but it would be no surprise to see this pedigree line-up catch fire now. They have come with a late rattle before and, relatively speaking, the pressure is off.
Is a very low total overdue?
Over halfway through the season, this IPL has been a run-fest. Whatever the venue, though, beware of assuming the trend will persist. Pitches deteriorate as the season progresses and spinners take a greater hand. We've only seen two scores below 130 so far, and only four below 140. Those run lines can usually be laid at around [1.15] and [1.08] respectively - 120 or more is invariably around [1.04]. These long odds bets do come off on occasion - Delhi were all out for 67 in Mohali last year - so the strategy is worth following in general from now.
The exchange odds point to an almost perfectly even contest, with Kings XI trading at [1.95] compared to [2.04] for Mumbai. A month ago the visitors would have been huge at that price but the short-term formbook points firmly to Punjab, having won all three home matches. In expectation of a much improved performance, Mumbai reluctantly get the nod but keep stakes small.
Gayle is naturally the favourite to top-score for Punjab at 5/2, closely followed by Rahul at 13/5. They've dominated this market so far but, were both openers to be dismissed cheaply, all sorts of middle order finishers come into the equation. Marcus Stoinis and Axar Patel are both interesting at 10/1 and 20/1 respectively.
If looking for an equivalent outsider for Mumbai, Hardik Pandya or Ben Cutting could appeal at 11/1 and 20/1. However I expect one of their big-guns to come out all guns blazing and make an overdue impact. Evin Lewis is favourite at 5/2.
Follow Paul on Twitter @paulmotty
IPL 2018 Profit/Loss:
Lay 140 or more 1st Innings Runs 6u @ [1.15]
Lay 130 or more 1st Innings Runs 6u @ [1.08]
Lay 120 or more 1st Innings Runs 12u @ [1.04]