Calcutta: Will this Indian Premier League (IPL) season offer Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel or will the wait, to finish at least in the top-two of the premier T20 event, be prolonged once again?
These questions can only be answered at the end of the season. If the first three seasons saw the KKR players being inconsistent and lacking temperament in vital situations, last season came as a welcome relief to their supporters.
A new ray of hope and optimism swept the camp as KKR finished fourth last year. But then, you cannot live in the afterglow of your past achievements as KKR seek to start this season with a victory against the Delhi DareDevils at the Eden on Thursday.
KKR’s coach Trevor Bayliss felt it was imperative to start with a win. “A win in the first match always boosts your confidence. Within the first 15-16 days, we have to play five to six matches. So, our aim will be to win most of these matches so that we can develop a momentum,” Bayliss asserted.
Virender Sehwag, on Wednesday. A Telegraph picture
The two teams, who will take the field on Thursday are a study in contrast. Prior to last year, KKR have always ended at the bottom half of the table. Delhi, on the contrary, have always been the frontrunners until they had a free fall in IPL-IV, finishing last.
However, Delhi have made amends this time with some valuable transfers and purchases, which have given them a more balanced look. Still, on the eve of their opener, the Delhi team are in a spot of bother as majority of their stars will be missing from action. The likes of Mahela Jayawardene, Kevin Pietersen and David Warner are busy with their national engagements while Ross Taylor is ruled out with a broken left arm.
India under-19 captain, Unmukt Chand, too, is away on national duty and Varun Aaron is still doubtful after nursing a back injury. “It is disappointing,” was how Delhi’s head coach, Eric Simons, summed up the situation at the media conference on Wednesday.
Their batting will rely heavily on captain Virender Sehwag, Aaron Finch, Naman Ojha and Yogesh Nagar. Sehwag, who is not among the runs and is coming off a back and shoulder injury, will be eager to return to form.
The DareDevils’ bowling seems to have lesser problems. The pace trio of Umesh Yadav, Morne Morkel and Doug Bracewell can spell doom for the KKR batsmen while all-rounders Irfan Pathan and Venugopal Rao can also come in handy.
KKR, on the other hand, have a problem of plenty. With a balanced side, they will be out to prove their mettle. They will also be buoyed by the fact that most of their players are in fine form. Partnered by one of the best all-rounders Jacques Kallis, Gambhir will lead the pack from the front against his former team.
Manoj Tiwary is expected to give solidity to the batting line-up. He will look to prove his worth after having warmed the bench for the national side for the past 12 matches. The return of one of the former knights, Brendon McCullum, only makes them stronger. His ability to stand behind the wickets will give Gambhir more options.
In-form all-rounders Shakib-al Hasan, Yusuf Pathan and Laxmi Ratan Shukla are likely to form the core of the middle-order. While Shakib is coming on the back of his superb showing in the Asia Cup recently, Yusuf has recently returned to the India fold with his decent showing in the domestic season.
KKR’s bowling, too, has a lot of variety. Brett Lee, Lakshmipathy Balaji and Shami Ahmed will be ably supported by Kallis, Shakib and Shukla. Ahead of the clash, the KKR team management also seemed to be happy with the Eden pitch, which created a lot of controversy last season.
“The pitch looks to be flat, hard and nice. I hope it behaves well on the match day,” Bayliss said.
Kolkata Knight Riders (likely): Gautam Gambhir, Jacques Kallis, Brendon McCullum, Manoj Tiwary, Yusuf Pathan, Shakib-al Hasan, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Brett Lee, Iqbal Abdulla, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Shami Ahmed
Delhi DareDevils (likely): Virender Sehwag, Naman Ojha, Robin Bisht, Aaron Finch, Andre Russell, Venugopal Rao, Irfan Pathan, Morne Morkel, Roelof van der Merwe, Shahbaz Nadeem, Umesh Yadav
Umpires: Kumar Dharmasena, S. Asnani
TV: Subrat Das
Match Referee: Graeme Lebroy