Eyeing a repeat of their success last season, Kolkata Knight Riders will open their title defence with a clash against a depleted Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League on 3 April.
Expectations will be high from the home side as they would aim to become only the second team to win back-to-back titles. Only Chennai Super Kings have won consecutive trophies (2010 and 2011).
For Delhi, who are yet to win the title, it would be a season to make amends as they look at life without English swashbuckler Kevin Pietersen who has been ruled out for the entire tournament due to a knee injury.
Delhi will also miss out on explosive Kiwi batsman Jesse Ryder who was to begin his USD 300,000 contract before a brutal assault in a Christchurch bar left him hospitalised.
Last season’s Purple cap holder, Albie Morkel (25 wickets), who bowled Titans to a semis place in the Ram Slam T20 Challenge in the South Africa domestic cricket, will also miss out on the opener.
And if that was not enough, Virender Sehwag is unavailable as he is down with back spams.
Having recovered from jaundice, KKR skipper Gautam Gambhir will be eager to start on a winning note under conditions best suited to them. It would be an important season for the India opener, who went through a rough patch and was discarded for the four-Test Australia series. The left-hander would be keen to be back among runs.
Among the foreign recruits, KKR will miss Brendon McCullum, who is down with a hamstring problem, while the recently-married Shakib Al Hasan is yet to report to the side. West Indian mystery spinner Sunil Narine, the second leading wicket-taker behind Morkel with 24 scalps, was instrumental in KKR’s success last season.
KKR will now hope to unleash another ‘mystery’ spinner in Lankan offie Sachitra Senanayake in the upcoming season. Jacques Kallis will lend experience to the middle order, while the home grown players of Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Manoj Tiwary, Manvinder Bisla and Debabrata Das would also come in handy.
KKR also have a balanced pace-spin attack. Brett Lee, who will double up as a bowling mentor in absence of Wasim Akram, will lead the pace attack with fellow Aussie James Pattinson.
Laxmipathy Balaji, who was most economical last season, will add variety to the attack along with the part-timers in Rajat Bhatia and Shukla.
Besides Narine and Senanayake, the team also has Indian left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdulla, who though would face competition for a place in the XI.
If the absence of the big names was not enough, the Daredevils would have to deal with the poor form of David Warner who will look to get into his rhythm.
Skipper Mahela Jayawardene is coming from an injury lay-off and he too would look to get into the groove sooner. In such a scenario, it’s the exuberance of U-19 World Cup winning skipper Unmukt Chand, who has two successive centuries for Delhi in the just concluded Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, that would come to fore.
West Indian big hitter Andre Russell will look to play the role of a finisher. Till Morkel joins the side, the pressure would be on the Indian trio of Ashish Nehra, Umesh Yadav and Irfan Pathan. That Yadav and Pathan are coming back after injuries would be a point of concern.
In the sixth season, nine teams will battle it out in a total of 76 matches, over a period of seven weeks with the summit clash slated for May 26.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Brad Haddin, Brett Lee, Debabrata Das, Eoin Morgan, Iqbal Abdulla, Jacques Kallis, James Pattinson, Laxmipathy Balaji, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Manoj Tiwary, Manvinder Bisla, Shami Ahmed, Pradeep Sangwan, Rajat Bhatia, Ryan McLaren, Ryan ten Doeschate, Sachitra Senanayake, Sarabjit Ladda, Sunil Narine and Yusuf Pathan.
Delhi Daredevils: Mahela Jayawardene (captain), Ajit Agarkar, Andre Russell, Arisht Singhvi, Ashish Nehra, C M Gautam, David Warner,Gulam Bodi, Irfan Pathan, Jeevan Mendis, Johan Botha, Kedar Jadhav, Manpreet Juneja, Naman Ojha, Pawan Negi, Roelof van-der Morwe, Royston Dias, Siddharth Kaul, Sujit Nayak, Shahbaz Nadeem Umesh Yadav, Unmukt Chand, Venugopal Rao and Yogesh Nagar.