IPL 2018 preview: New-look KKR aim to start afresh post-Gambhir era
Kolkata : A new-look Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), sans their most successful captain Gautam Gambhir, will look to outshine a strong Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) led by Virat Kohli in the inaugural match of this season's Indian Premier League (IPL) at the Eden Gardens here on Sunday.
Gambhir, who led KKR to IPL titles in 2012 and 2014, left the city-based franchise to join his home team Delhi Daredevils, prompting the KKR management to appoint seasoned campaigner Dinesh Karthik as skipper for the 11th edition.
Karthik, riding high after an unbeaten eight-ball 29 where he clobbered a last-ball six to singlehandedly guide India to a four-wicket victory over Bangladesh in the final of the Nidahas Trophy T20I Tri-series in Sri Lanka, will have his task cut out.
"I'm aware of the expectations. Whether there would be pressure, 'yes'. As a captain, you're expected to at least go to the playoffs, that's the least anybody can expect," Karthik had said in his first interaction with journalists as KKR captain.
It will be a litmus test first up for Karthik and his charges against RCB who once again look very strong on paper.
Kohli and Co. finished at the bottom of the pile last time and since the start of the IPL have come close to laying their hands on the elusive trophy thrice - in 2009, 2011 and 2016. But once again, the Bangalore-based outfit have put together an impressive squad.
The batting department in particular looks to be one of the best in the league. Led by the mercurial Kohli, RCB boast of proven IPL stars like AB De Villiers, Brendon McCullum, Corey Anderson and Quinton De Kock.
RCB have always been weak when it comes to their bowling unit. This time though, with the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal, Umesh Yadav, Washington Sundar and Tim Southee, they have looked to plug the gap.
"We are optimistic about the season. It's very very balanced side. In the 10 years that I've been here, I don't think we've ever had such a balance. We had initially but everyone firing together is also a massive factor," Kohli had said few days ago about his team.
As for the hosts, KKR will miss the services of Australian pace spearhead Mitchell Starc who has been ruled out with injured right shin. Fellow Aussie Mitchell Johnson will look to fill the void as will England all-rounder Tom Curran who has been roped in as Starc's replacement.
The purple brigade will once again pin their hopes of destructive batsman Chris Lynn to deliver the goods at the top of the order.
In the seven matches Lynn played last season, the 27-year old scored 295 runs at a strike rate of 180.98. Besides Lynn, vice-captain Robin Uthappa, who has been ever so consistent for KKR, will also have a lot of expectations riding on him like captain Karthik.
KKR, unlike RCB, have always been strong in the bowling department and this time also have wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla and the ever-effective Sunil Narine to bank on.
In the pace department, Johnson will be assisted by R Vinay Kumar, U-19 World Cup winner Kamlesh Nagarkoti, and all-rounder Andre Russell.
The trio of Lynn, Russell and Narine, who are their obvious choice as foreigners, are coming back from respective setbacks.
Lynn (shoulder) and Russell (hamstring) are recovering from injuries, while Narine remodelled his action after his latest pull-up. KKR also have Player of the U-19 World Cup Shubman Gill and pacer Shivam Mavi in their ranks besides Nagarkoti.
It will be also be interesting see how two of India's celebrated wrist-spinners Chahal and Kuldeep pit their wits against each other.
A well-rested Kohli, who is the only player to have represented the same franchise for 11 years, will also get help from India's 2011 World Cup winning duo of Gary Kirsten and Ashish Nehra as batting and bowling coaches respectively, in addition to retaining Daniel Vettori as their head coach.
KKR have kept faith in legendary South African all-rounder Jacques Kallis who is the head coach along with Aussie Simon Katich as batting coach only roping in Zimbabwean Heath Streak to replace Laxmipathy Balaji as bowling coach.
KKR go into the match with happy memories of bundling out RCB for the lowest ever IPL total (49) here last year, while in the return leg Narine smashed the tournament's fastest fifty (17 ball 54 ) as they made a double over Kohli's side in 2017.
KKR lead the head to head count by an impressive 12-9 record across 10 seasons.
KKR: Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Chris Lynn, Dinesh Karthik (captain), Robin Uthappa, Kuldeep Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Nitish Rana, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Mitchell Johnson, Shubman Gill, Vinay Kumar, Rinku Singh, Cameron Delport, Javon Searless, Apoorv Wankhade, Ishank Jaggi, Tom Curran.
RCB: Virat Kohli (captain), AB de Villiers, Sarfaraz Khan, Chris Woakes, Yuzvendra Chahal, Umesh Yadav, Brendon McCullum, Washington Sundar, Navdeep Saini, Quinton De Kock, Mohammed Siraj, Corey Anderson, Colin De Grandhomme, M. Ashwin, Parthiv Patel, Moeen Ali, Mandeep Singh, Manan Vohra, Pawan Negi, Tim Southee, Kulwant Khejroliya, Aniket Choudhary, Pavan Deshpande, Anirudha Ashok Joshi.