After flying starts to the sixth edition of the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), Chittagong Vikings and Dhaka Dynamites lost their way in the middle before making it to the playoff stage as the third and fourth teams respectively.
Those poor performances mean that Mushfiqur Rahim's Vikings and Shakib Al Hasan's Dynamites are just one underwhelming display away from being booted from the tournament as they prepare to face off in the first eliminator at the Sher-e-Bangla National Stadium in Mirpur today.
The winner will have one more shot at a place in the final when they face the loser of Qualifier 1 to be contested between top-ranked Rangpur Riders and second-placed Comilla Victorians in the day's second fixture.
Dhaka started off the tournament as one of the hot favourites and won their first four games but then fell to five consecutive defeats before beating Khulna Titans in the last league match. Dhaka lost both league games against Chittagong and much will depend on whether Shakib can deliver with the bat, which he has not done to the extent he is capable of so far.
Shakib has taken 21 wickets in 12 games but managed to score just 275 runs at an average of 25. Dhaka also have big hitters like Andre Russell, Keiron Pollard and Sunil Narine in the ranks.
Chittagong will also rely on their in-form skipper Mushfiqur, who has struck three half-centuries while scoring 418 runs in 12 games. The Vikings will be boosted by the return of South African all-rounder Robbie Frylinck, who missed the last few games due to injury. Mosaddek Hossain, who is also in good touch, survived an injury scare yesterday and was later declared fit to play.
Meanwhile, both Mashrafe Bin Mortaza's Rangpur and Imrul Kayes's Comilla will look to seal a place in the final today. Rangpur are on a roll, having won five consecutive matches. They will also have a world of confidence when taking on Comilla, who they shot out for 63 and 72 in their league clashes.
Rangpur, however, will miss two of their most explosive stars in the injured Alex Hales and AB de Villiers, who completed his six-match contract by the end of the league phase. In their absence, they will depend heavily on Rilee Rossouw, who is the top run-scorer of the edition with 514 runs at 85.66 and five fifties and a hundred. The incomparable Chris Gayle has not done much so far, having hit just one fifty, but he has a penchant for big-match performances and if he does what he did to Dhaka with 146 in last season's final, Comilla will be in big strife.
For Comilla, Tamim Iqbal will once again need to fire with the bat alongside their arsenal of foreign stars like Shahid Afridi, Evin Lewis and Thisara Perera. All of them have the ability to change the game irrevocably when they fire, which they need to do to avoid a repeat of the last season's Qualifier, when Comilla were beaten handily by Rangpur. On the bowling side, young off spinner Mahedi Hasan, pacers Mohammad Saifuddin and Wahab Riaz have been terrific with the ball for Comilla and will need to put their best feet forward today.