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Mission Improbable: Capitals' obstacle course through the IPL playoffs

The Delhi Capitals players can't contain their emotions after winning their first playoff match BCCI

In the history of the IPL, only two teams have reached the final after having won the eliminator, and just one of them have gone on to win the tournament. Since the implementation of the playoffs system, Sunrisers Hyderabad are the only team to win the trophy after winning the eliminator. They did this in 2016, when they beat Royal Challengers Bangalore in the final. Chennai Super Kings are the only other team to start in the eliminator and make the final, which happened in 2012.

Batting collapses caused Delhi Capitals to lose points in the league stage and drop to third in the points table after they were on top for a while. Now, for them to make the final, a mighty task lies ahead.

Two knockouts in a week

Capitals will basically have to win their third game in seven days to win the tournament, and will have won four in nine days if they do pull it off.

Once again, only Sunrisers have achieved anything comparable at the back end of a tournament when they won four games in 11 days in 2016, before winning three in five days to seal the title. In the same season, Royal Challengers had a streak of five wins in 11 days, which was snapped in the final, even though they had three days off before that game.

Other teams have had comparable streaks. Kings XI Punjab won five away games in a row in the middle of the 2014 season, Rajasthan Royals had five wins in nine days in 2015, and Delhi Daredevils got four in eight days in 2012. All of these streaks had 50% or fewer games at home, so they were commendable feats, but none of them involved the pressure of the playoffs. In essence, Capitals will have to match one of the all-time great IPL performances to finish on top.

The tight schedule and travel

What makes Capitals' task even harder is that the playoffs are a packed affair, which could well leave them struggling by the end of it. Their run-chase against Sunrisers on May 8 was tense, but they only have around 44 hours to recover and prepare for the second qualifier. At least that game is at the same venue, Visakhapatnam, so they will not have to travel. If they beat Super Kings, though, they will have to board a flight the next day to Hyderabad, which will leave them just one evening and the next morning to prepare for the final. Meanwhile, Mumbai Indians, who qualified for the final after winning the first qualifier, would have had five full days in between their last game and the final.

Only 11 times in IPL history has a team gone on a three-match winning streak over five days or fewer when they played one game or less at home. So Capitals are trying to do something that is done less than once in a season.

They are punching up

Winning three matches in five days is tough enough, but it's even tougher when you are facing the toughest opposition. Capitals have already beaten Sunrisers, the fourth-placed team. Now, they have to beat the top two sides in the competition - Super Kings and Mumbai - back to back. Those two sides have proven themselves to be the best two teams in the league not just this season but also historically. Capitals lost both the matches against Super Kings in the league stage this year. With all this, they are up for a tough challenge going into the second qualifier.

With inputs from Shiva Jayaraman and Srinath Sripath