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IPL 2013 Season Preview: Kolkata Knight Riders

There is an old saying that goes, “when it rains, it pours.” For the first 4 years of the competition, the Kolkata Knight Riders didn’t have much to show except for putrid performances on the field and controversies off it. But the last couple of years have changed it all. With the Sourav Ganguly era firmly behind them, 2011 saw the team reach the play-offs, and then the rain finally came pouring down on the parched and tormented souls of the team from the ‘City of Joy’ as they lifted their first ever IPL trophy last season.

Kolkata Knight Riders teammates celebrate their victory after they won the DLF IPL Twenty20 Champions Trophy in a final match against Chennai Super Kings at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on May 27, 2012. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. MOBILE USE WITHIN NEWS PACKAGE. AFP PHOTO/Manjunath KIRAN        (Photo credit should read Manjunath Kiran/AFP/GettyImages)

Kolkata Knight Riders teammates celebrate their victory after they won the IPL Trophy against Chennai Super Kings at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on May 27, 2012. (Getty Images)

If getting to the top from the blatantly grief stricken times of the early years was tough, the task of staying there will be ever more daunting. With wins comes expectations and pressure to perform. They will now have a target on their back as one of the teams to beat in this year’s competition.

 The Top Order: a steady house of two

Jacques Kallis has been instrumental in lending solidity at one end of the crease so that others in the top order like Gautam Gambhir and  Brendon  McCullum could play with the full freedom and authority that they enjoy.

Gautam Gambhir always likes to lead from the front and would be keen make a point to the selectors. “Form is temporary but class is permanent” isn’t it? Kolkata would wish to see the old Gambhir, who ended up as the second highest scorer in the tournament.

Will the Gautam Gambhir of old return? (Getty Images)

Will the Gautam Gambhir of old return? (Getty Images)

With those two names off the list, its time for soul searching for the Knight Riders. Brendon McCullum has never really triggered any sort of assault worth remembering for KKR ever since the blitzkrieg 158 off 73 balls. The same can be said of Eoin Morgan, whose time in the competition has been a real struggle, with a 66 off 51 balls against the now defunct Kochi Tuskers the only real innings of note.

Will the Knights go back to the old guard of Brad Haddin for some sort of production or will the unpredictable Manvinder Bisla find his niche? With 8 games at Eden Gardens (the lowest scoring ground in the IPL), you may be forgiven for not expecting  fireworks from this top order.

 The Middle Order: The Achilles’ Heel

Two Indian batsmen who will play a major influence on the fortunes of the team are Manoj Tiwary and Yusuf Pathan. Both were off colour in last year’s edition and yet the team went on to win it all. Imagine the force Kolkata would be if these two stepped up.

The hard-hitting Baroda lad has been able to conjure up a paltry sum of 477 runs in his 27 innings for Kolkata at a meagre average of  23.85. Tiwary was a wonderful surprise for Kolkata in 2011, where he amassed 359 runs on an average of above 50.

The last of the big names in the middle order brings us to one of the most talented cricketers in the sub-continent: Shakib Al-Hasan. The Bangladesh skipper has been the epitome of inconsistency. Kolkata would certainly enjoy better fortunes if the talented southpaw shows the form that took him top the of the ICC all-rounder rankings.

The likes of Debabrata Das, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Ryan Ten Doeschate and Ryan McLaren are the other options.

The Unpredictable Seamers

Brett Lee spearheaded the Kolkata pace attack last time around but he had only 7 wickets to his name, which left too much for the rest of the bowling attack. With the Aussie taking over the bowling mentor role from Wasim Akram this time around, the chances of seeing the talented James Pattinson in the purple of KKR are high.

Last time around, one department that the Knights struggled to fill in was the Indian pace bowler spot. The often erratic Laxmipathy Balaji was the best answer to the problem. But this time around, they seem to have a genuine prospect on hand in the form of Shami Ahmed, who recently made his bow for the Indian national team.

The all-round talents of last year’s second highest wicket-taker for the team in the form of Jacques Kallis and Ryan McLaren provide further options.

The Spin Attack: Ammunition Aplenty
Sunil Narine was the pick of the KKR bowlers last season. (Getty Images)

Sunil Narine was the pick of the KKR bowlers last season. (Getty Images)

With Sunil Narine at the forefront, KKR have one of the most potent spin attacks in the tournament. If one mystery spinner was not enough, the defending champions went out and bought Sachithra Senanayake in this year’s auction to double the trouble for their opponents.

If these two aren’t enough, they have Iqbal Abdullah and the spinning talents of Shakib Al-Hasan to call up. Even Yusuf Pathan can chip in from time to time and was the team’s second highest wicket-taker in 2011.

With 6 games to be played on the slow turner of Eden Gardens, the Knights certainly are building a side with home conditions to back it up.

Verdict

The all-round talent of a number of players in the squad makes the team selection flexible and in accordance with the prevailing match conditions. That was the reason why this team won 7 of its 8 away games last season. With the additions of Ryan McLaren, Sachithra Senanayake and Shami Ahmed to the squad, it should only get better.

With two foreign player slots likely to be occupied by two bowlers, except if Ryan McLaren gets the nod to fill in the seamer slot the third slot is nailed on for Jacques Kallis, which leaves only one slot up for grabs for the rest, which should be Shakib’s to lose. If the Bangladeshi plays to his full potential, it really prompts the team to a new level. If required, Kallis can chip in as the new ball bowler like he did last season to accommodate the likes of Senanayake.

KKR have an extremply balanced theam and are odds on to tretain their title. (GEtty Images)

KKR have an extremely balanced team and are odds on to retain their title. (GEtty Images)

At the end of the day, the Knight Riders have one of the, if not the most, balanced teams in the competition and it has been the biggest factor to their successes in the past couple of years. Filled with match winners throughout the line-up, and coupled with some steady heads around the field,  it makes East India’s team one of the favourites.

Management and Staff

Coach: Trevor Bayliss (Australia)

Fielding coach: Trevor Penney

Team director: Joy Bhattacharjya

Home Ground: Eden Gardens, Kolkata and JSCA International Cricket Stadium, Ranchi

Total no of Players: 23 (12 Indian + 11 Overseas)

Squad: Brad Haddin, Brendon McCullum, Brett Lee, Debabrata Das, Eoin Morgan, Gautam Gambhir (c), Iqbal Abdulla, Jacques Kallis, James Pattinson, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Manoj Tiwary, Manvinder Bisla(wk), Shami Ahmed, Pradeep Sangwan, Rajat Bhatia, Ryan McLaren, Ryan ten Doeschate, Sachithra Senanayake, Sarabjit Singh Ladda , Shakib Al Hasan, Sunil Narine and Yusuf Pathan.

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