CRICKET NEWS - The Indian Premier League playoffs begin Thursday in the UAE with last year's champions Mumbai as favourites and Virat Kohli's Royal Challengers Bangalore among the teams looking to cause an upset.
Surprise package the Delhi Capitals, who like Bangalore are aiming for a first title, will take on the Mumbai Indians in the first qualifier on Thursday with a place in the November 10 final at stake.
The losers of that match will get another crack at qualifying on Sunday against either Kohli's Bangalore or Sunrisers Hyderabad, who clash on Friday in an eliminator.
AFP Sport looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the four teams still standing in the world's richest Twenty20 league:
Rohit Sharma's four-time champions underlined their status as tournament favourites by being the first team to qualify for the playoffs as they topped the standings with nine wins in 14 games.
South African wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock has led the batting with 443 runs while getting key support from Suryakumar Yadav, Ishan Kishan and Kieron Pollard.
Pace bowlers Trent Boult and Jasprit Bumrah battered the opposition with a combined 43 wickets.
The 2019 champions had already qualified top of the table before they were hammered by Sunrisers Hyderabad on Tuesday and, despite fitness doubts over Sharma, are targeting back-to-back titles for the first time.
The Ricky Ponting-coached Capitals made a sensational start, winning five of their first six games, before losing four in a row but then beating Bangalore to reach the playoffs.
India opener Shikhar Dhawan is the key batsman and this year became the first player to score two consecutive IPL centuries. But Rishabh Pant, India's new batting hope, has been misfiring.
The South African pace duo of Anrich Nortje and Kagiso Rabada have been impressive with Nortje bowling the fastest ever IPL delivery, a 97 miles per hour (156 kph) thunderbolt, and Rabada leading the IPL wicket-takers with 25 victims.
Skipper David Warner came into his own with an unbeaten 85 off 58 balls to take Hyderabad into the playoffs on Tuesday.
The 2016 IPL winners benefited from the return of wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha, who hit two half-centuries in three successive wins to help them to third in the standings.
With West Indies all-rounder Jason Holder contributing and the deadly spin of Rashid Khan, who has taken 19 wickets, Warner will be hoping for the same result in this week's eliminator as in the 2016 final when Hyderabad beat Bangalore to lift the trophy.
Royal Challengers Bangalore
India captain Virat Kohli has never won an IPL title and it hurts. RCB finished bottom of the eight-team table last year, and after seven wins and seven defeats they scraped into the playoffs on run rate after losing their final match to Hyderabad.
Kohli leads a strong batting line-up, combining with young opener Devdutt Padikkal for 932 runs while South African veteran AB de Villiers has been the go-to man in crunch situations with an overall strike rate of 163.
Spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Washington Sundar will be key with their ability to choke an opposition team's run-flow while claiming wickets. Kohli insists his team are worth their place, but said he needs them to be "more brave" when chasing runs.