After a few inconsistent years, a loaded Kolkata Knight Riders team is back and looking forward to defending a league title, writes Osman Samiuddin.
Indian Premier League: Kolkata Knight Riders hoping to see the light again
If the IPL does have a heart, and sometimes it is easy to imagine that such a moneyed behemoth does not, then it resides strong and loud inside the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR). Somehow, they are the most human of franchises.
It is not clear why this should be. Maybe it is because they have made so many mistakes, or that sometimes they have just been so bad that you have to feel sorry for them, or that they have sought out not just the biggest names going, but the ones you feel so much about (Sourav Ganguly, Chris Gayle, Shoaib Akhtar).
Maybe it is also because Shahrukh Khan is the touchy-feeliest owner in the league, his emotions out there every single game, every single season. And last season, of course, they went and won it, arguably the most popular winners since the Rajasthan Royals won the inaugural season.
On paper, KKR have a squad and the kind of depth which is likely to be the envy of most franchises. The big names do not stop: Jacques Kallis, Gautam Gambhir, Yusuf Pathan, Brendon McCullum, Brett Lee, Eoin Morgan, Sunil Narine, Shakib Al Hasan to name but eight. Most of them are solid format players.
But defending titles is never an easy thing and KKR were awful in the Champions League last season (where they were the first team to be eliminated). Additions to the squad have not been huge, but they have still got the personnel for a good follow-up season.
Star foreign signing
Though he is not a new signing, Brett Lee's expanded role as bowling mentor (taking over from Wasim Akram, who is unavailable this year) is a key development, not only for its effect on the other bowlers, but how it affects his workload.
But the key addition this year has to be the off-spinning Sri Lankan all-rounder Sachithra Senanayake. He was picked up for a cool US$625,000 (Dh2.3m), mostly, it seems, on the basis of his performances in Sri Lanka's top 50-over competition (he picked 18 wickets at under 12). He is said to possess a killer doosra and alongside flavour of last season, Sunil Narine, forms an ominous spin attack.
Star Indian player
Gautam Gambhir has had a rough few seasons in international cricket, all the uncertainty of his earlier playing days coming back to haunt him. But last season was a golden one for him in the IPL. He was comfortably the side's leading run-getter, with the best strike rate among his top order and hit more fifties (six) than the rest of the side combined. Expect his form, and thus his leadership, to be a big factor in fortunes this year as well.
KKR have generally been among the more abysmal sides in the IPL. For the first three seasons, they could not finish higher than sixth (in an eight-team league) and in 2009 were bottom of the pile. But they have been getting better.
Before their win last year they made it to the eliminators after finishing fourth through the league, though they then lost to Mumbai Indians at the first step. Thirty-six wins, 35 losses and one tie seems to capture their inconsistency over five years.
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