After mediocre performances in the first three editions of the IPL, Kolkata Knight Riders finally gave their fans something to cheer about a fourth-place finish. The Gautam Gambhir-led franchise will now aim to kick-start their season on a high when they take on last year's wooden-spoon holders Delhi Daredevils in the second match of IPL 5 at the Eden Gardens on Thursday.
Delhi can be termed underachievers, considering their performance in the last four seasons, but after having added to their squad considerably in this year's IPL auctions, there is reason to believe that they won't fare as poorly. With the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Mahela Jayawardene, Andre Russell, Doug Bracewell and Ross Taylor in their ranks Delhi look a balanced outfit. If these players play to potential, Delhi can consider themselves title contenders.
Batting is the team's biggest strength, but Delhi will be without Pietersen, Jayawardene and David Warner until the end of April as they are busy with international commitments. Taylor, who fractured his arm during the South Africa series, is a non-starter. In their absence, the likes of Venugopal Rao, Naman Ojha, Aaron Finch, Robin Bist - who had an outstanding Ranji Trophy season this year – and Gulam Bodi will need to do the job for Delhi under the captaincy of Virender Sehwag.
Irfan Pathan could be the game-changer for Delhi as his hard-hitting in the death overs and gentle medium pace can play a crucial part. On the bowling front, Morne Morkel and Umesh Yadav, who had a good tour of Australia, will be the key to Delhi's fortunes. Varun Aaron, who missed the entire Australian tour and the Asia Cup due to a stress fracture on the back, will be keen to make a good impression. There is also the South African allrounder Roelof van der Merwe, a matchwinner with bat and ball.
Delhi's opponents, KKR, played it safe and were content_cn with a couple of acquisitions at the auction. Unlike Delhi in IPL 4, Kolkata had a string of good performances and followed it up with decent showing in their Champions League Twenty20 debut. Besides Gambhir, KKR's batting will rely on Jacques Kallis, who was the team's highest run-scorer last season, new signee Brendon McCullum, Manoj Tiwary, Eoin Morgan, Yusuf Pathan and Ryan ten Doeschate.
Kolkata's bowling looks similar for to the last edition barring the addition of South African fast bowler Marchant de Lange, who was ahead of the season. Brett Lee will lead the attack once again and could share the new ball with Laxmipathy Balaji, while Kallis' experience as an allrounder is certain to perk up Kolkata. Where KKR will have to take a call is deciding which four overseas players to accommodate. McCullum and Kallis are sure to slot in as top-order batsman, with Lee the third player as strike bowler. That means one of Shakib Al Hasan, Eoin Morgan and Ryan ten Doeschate will vie for one place. Morgan – out of favour with England’s selectors – proves a reliable batsman in the middle overs; Shakib, the No. 1 allrounders in ODIs, is a match-winner with bat and ball; and ten Doeschate, the Netherlands allrounder, is also a utility player.
Both teams are strong on paper. It remains to be seen how they perform on the field.
Delhi Daredevils: 1 Virender Sehwag (capt), 2 Aaron Finch, 3 Venugopal Rao, 4 Naman Ojha (wk), 5 Robin Bist, 6 Gulam Bodi, 7 Roelof van der Merwe, 8 Irfan Pathan, 9 Morne Morkel, 10 Umesh Yadav, 11 Varun Aaron
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Brendon McCullum (wk), 2 Jacques Kallis, 3 Gautam Gambhir (capt), 4 Eoin Morgan/Shakib Al Hasan, 5 Manoj Tiwary, 6 Yusuf Pathan, 7 Laxmi Ratan Shukla, 8 Rajat Bhatia, 9 Brett Lee, 10 Iqbal Abdulla, 11 L Balaji