Two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), who have roped in some utility cricketers this season, look set to begin their Indian Premier League (IPL) season in style when they host Delhi Daredevils (DD) in an encounter at the Eden Gardens here on Sunday.
The Knights have somewhat stuck to the same squad which helped them lift the trophy in 2012 and 2014 but have managed to bring in the likes of all rounders Colin Munro, Jason Holder and John Hastings.
Delhi too have made some changes to their team from last year, adding England batsman Sam Billings and West Indies all rounder Carlos Brathwaite.
It was just last Sunday that Brathwaite smashed four consecutive sixes in the final over to gift West Indies the World T20 trophy at the Eden. A week later he will be in different colours trying the same for his franchise.
The KKR bowlers will be wary of his strengths and therefore might rely on spin to do the trick on a wicket that turns.
Tweakers Brad Hogg and Piyush Chawla might get drafted into the final XI, supported by Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan who bowls left arm off-spin.
Mystery spinner Sunil Narine is not likely to be back for the clash, as he has returned to his country after his father’s demise.
On paper, KKR’s pace arsenal is not the fiercest, but it is promising due to the presence of Umesh Yadav And Jaydev Unadkat. It will once again be led by South African fast bowler Morne Morkel, who clocks 145 kmph with ease in such conditions.
Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey have been two vital cogs in the KKR batting wheel. Both have scored plenty of runs in the IPL and skipper Gautam Gambhir will again look to them to deliver the goods.
Gambhir and Uthappa feature in the fifth and sixth position among the IPL’s leading run scorers and they would want to make it count this time as well.
“We are a very well balanced unit. We have great options which makes selection tough. Few new faces, which will give us a few new ideas and options. It is going to be exciting, we are looking forward to it,” KKR coach Jacques Kallis told the media here a few days ago.
Delhi have a mix of experience and youth going into the ninth edition of the league. They have retained players like Jean-Paul Duminy and Quinton de Kock who are tailor made for the T20 format.
They also have the youthful energy of Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson to look forward to. Pant has scored a lot of runs for the India U-19 team and might get his chance to open the innings in a few games.
The bowling unit will be led by wily old warhorse Zaheer Khan, who will also be leading the side. He will have the support from seasoned spinners Imran Tahir and Amit Mishra. The other fast bowlers in the side include Nathan Coulter-Nile, Mohammed Shami, and Chris Morris — who earlier used to play for the now suspended Chennai Super Kings (CSK).
Though Delhi have been sensational at times in the tournament over the years, they have never made it to the final and would ideally want to get off to a winning start.
But KKR will be playing at home, where a full house at the Eden can be expected and so the cheers and support might just give the men-in-purple an added advantage.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Kuldeep Yadav, Manish Pandey, Piyush Chawla, Robin Uthappa, Sheldon Jackson, Suryakumar Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Yusuf Pathan, Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Brad Hogg, Chris Lynn, Morne Morkel, Shakib Al Hasan, Jaydev Unadkat, Ankit Singh Rajpoot, John Hastings, Jason Holder, Colin Munro, Rajgopal Sathish, Manan Ajay Sharma.
Delhi Dardevils: Zaheer Khan (captain), Amit Mishra, Shreyas Iyer, Mohammad Shami, Saurabh Tiwary, Shahbaz Nadeem, Mayank Agarwal, Jayant Yadav, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Imran Tahir, Jean-Paul Duminy, Quinton de Kock, Pawan Negi, Chris Morris, Sanju Samson, Carlos Brathwaite, Karun Nair, Rishabh Pant, Sam Billings, Chama Milind, Pratyush Singh, Mahipal Lomror, Saeed Khaleel Ahmed, Akhil Herwadkar, Pawan Suyal
(Debdoot Das can be contacted at email@example.com)