The 2019 IPL has seemingly split into two groups, with early title contenders Chennai Super Kings, Kolkata Knight Riders and Mumbai Indians in the top bracket.
Beneath them are three teams that have made a mediocre start to their IPL season in the Kings XI Punjab, Sunrisers Hyderabad and Delhi Capitals, but there is hope for them yet.
For Rajasthan Royals and the Royal Challengers Bangalore, almost every match from here on in will be must-win if they are to seal unlikely progression to the play-offs.
Friday 12 April
Eden Gardens, Kolkata (16:30)
Kolkata Knight Riders 62/100
Delhi Capitals 13/10
The Capitals have the chance to get their campaign headed in the right direction if they can stop the red-hot Kolkata Knight Riders at Eden Gardens.
The Delhi franchise have benefitted from the excellent form of Kagiso Rabada, but will need their exciting core of young Indian batting talent to fire on what is expected to be a good surface.
The Knight Riders came unstuck against CSK last time out on a tricky surface, but when the going has been good for batsmen they have thrived.
Andre Russell can win matches on his own for KKR, but he also has plenty of back-up including West Indies compatriot Sunil Narine, who has thrived as a pinch-hitting opener.
The Capitals come into the contest on the back of a win against the hapless Royal Challengers.
Verdict: Knight Riders to defend their fortress.
Saturday 13 April
Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai (12:30)
Mumbai Indians 62/100
Rajasthan Royals 13/10
The Royals desperately need a win after a poor start to their bid to win a second IPL title in 2019, while the Mumbai Indians have found a way to win crucial matches and will pose a major challenge at the Wankhede.
Kieron Pollard played the kind of brutal knock that made him a crowd favourite in Mumbai when the Indians won a thriller against the Kings XI in midweek and if he is in the mood the ground is nowhere near big enough.
The Royals just haven’t fired yet this IPL and will be looking to their overseas stars Jos Buttler, Ben Stokes and Steve Smith to right that situation.
Skipper Ajinkya Rahane has borne the brunt of Royals fans’ frustrations for his perceived lack of impetus opening the batting.
Jasprit Bumrah has looked human on a few occasions this season but few bowlers can escape punishment at some point in this format.
Verdict: Mumbai Indians should take this one.
Saturday 13 April
IS Bindra Stadium, Mohali (16:30)
Kings XI Punjab 91/100
Royal Challengers Bangalore 91/100
A century from Lokesh Rahul was not enough for the Kings XI to win last time out, when Ankit Rajpoot and Sam Curran took a pounding after being targeted by Kieron Pollard at the Wankhede. They host the winless Royal Challengers Bangalore in Saturday’s second game.
The Kings XI will want to avoid a repeat of last season when their early challenge fell away dramatically – and they missed out on the play-offs.
RCB can only take things one game at a time right now, but will be desperate for a win. AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli have had their moments, but RCB are yet to deliver a complete performance.
In a tight contest, the Kings XI might have the edge with RCB currently enduring a horror run of six straight defeats.
Verdict: Kings XI to win this ‘royal’ showdown.
Sunday 14 April
Eden Gardens, Kolkata (12:30)
Kolkata Knight Riders
Chennai Super Kings
The Knight Riders folded on the tricky Chidambaram Stadium pitch in Chennai in the reverse fixture – and will want to prove they are genuine contenders by taking the Chennai Super Kings down a peg.
The Super Kings already have the air of champions, even if there have been some bumps in the road – and Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been immense.
It will be a battle of the Knight Riders’ aggressive top order and one of the best bowling attacks on display in the IPL. CSK have had a few low-scoring wins, but Eden Gardens should provide runs in spades.
Sunday is set to be scorching hot in Kolkata, which the team fielding first will need to brace for in this crucial clash.
Verdict: The Super Kings to keep their momentum going.
Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, Hyderabad (16:30)
The Sunrisers and the Delhi Capitals may be in the reckoning for the play-offs this season, but both sides will want to get more consistent results.
Former Proteas player Colin Ingram has made a sluggish start to the tournament, but is a proven match-winner in the format which prompted the Capitals to spring for him in the auction last year.
The Sunrisers will be eager for the fiery duo of David Warner and Jonny Bairstow to give them a strong foundation.
As the tournament moves into the second half of the round-robin phase, the cream of the IPL will begin to rise to the top. This game will carry pressure for both sides, who have expectant sets of fans.
The Sunrisers have a tremendous line-up of stars. It is hard to see how Kane Williamson would slot into their current set-up, but they have blown hot and cold.
Verdict: The Sunrisers to fire on all cylinders.
Written by @JonhenryWilson