By Debdoot Das
After several disastrous seasons in the Indian Premier League (IPL), Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) finally got into their stride in 2012 after winning the title and reclaiming it in 2014.
The defending champions may not look the best side on paper but they sure carry the potential to defend and again hold aloft the coveted trophy.
The Gautam Gambhir-led side has a quality mix of youth and experience and have come through tough situations holding their nerves. The vociferous skipper will leave no stone unturned to seek what they achieved in the last edition.
The skipper has new armoury to bank on, but he would still want his old guns to fire.
Though the Knights have not made many changes to their squad, they have brought in former Pakistan cricketer Azhar Mahmood and South African off-spinner Johan Botha as replacements for New Zealand all-rounder Jimmy Neesham and Australian middle-order bat Chris Lynn.
KKR’s most extravagant buy this season is Bengaluru off-spinner K.C. Cariyappa, who stuck a jackpot commanding a price of Rs 2.4 crore at the auction. Termed as a “mystery spinner” the 17-year-old has not even featured in a first-class game.
The team’s spin spearhead West Indies spinner Sunil Narine, though cleared by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for his suspect bowling action, has been barred by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
He has to go through bio-mechanical tests in Chennai before he is allowed to play in the tournament. The management has threatened to pull-out if the champion right-arm spinner is not allowed to take part.
This time too, all eyes will be on top-order batsman Robin Uthappa, who was a revelation for his side last year amassing 660 runs from 16 matches at an astonishing average of 44.00, took home the Orange Cap for being the highest run-getter in the tournament.
Giving the spinning department might will be veteran Australian chinaman Brad Hogg who picked 10 wickets from nine matches in 2012, when he turned up for the Rajasthan Royals.
Sheldon Jackson, the Saurashtra batsman, also has been roped as the second choice wicket-keeper.
Leading the pace attack will be South African spearhead Morne Morkel, Australia’s Pat Cummins, and India’s most successful bowler in the World Cup Umesh Yadav.
As defending champions the men in purple will go out all guns blazing to defend their title, it is the general-in-chief Gambhir who has to mix the aggression with required calmness and see to it that his team does not falter.
The KKR squad/STATS:
Gautam Gambhir (captain), Sunil Narine, Robin Uthappa (wicketkeeper), Piyush Chawla, Yusuf Pathan, Umesh Yadav, Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav Veer, Pratap Singh, Kuldeep Yadav, Sumit Narwal, Sheldon Jackson, Aditya Garhwal, KC Cariappa, Vaibhav Rawal, Manish Pandey.
Shakib Al Hasan, Morne Morkel, Pat Cummins, Ryan ten Doeschate, Andre Russell, Brad Hogg, Azhar Mahmood, Johan Botha.
Team Schedule – Home: vs Mumbai Indians (April 8), Royal Challengers Bangalore (April 11), Rajasthan Royals (April 26), Chennai Super Kings (April 30), Sunrisers Hyderabad (May 4), Delhi Daredevils (May 7), Kings XI Punjab (May 9)
Away: Kings XI Punjab (April 18), Delhi Daredevils (April 20), Sunrisers Hyderabad (April 22), Chennai Super Kings (April 28), Royal Challengers Bangalore (May 2), Mumbai Indians (May 14), Rajasthan Royals (May 16)
IPL record: 2008-6th, 2009-8th, 2010-6th, 2011-4th, 2012-1st, 2013-7th, 2014-1st