Underachievers in the last four seasons, both Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Daredevils would look to reverse their fortunes when they kick start their IPL 5 campaign against each other at the Eden Gardens on Thursday.
Both the teams have the right ingredients, which are needed for a perfect Twenty20 recipe, but the biggest challenge before them would be to make winning a habit this season and pose serious threats to the likes of Chennai Super Kings, Mumbai Indians and Royals Challengers Bangalore.
For Kolkata skipper Gautam Gambhir, who has been stripped of Indian vice-captaincy, the tournament would mean a lot personally as he would be eager to let his leadership skills do the talking, besides contributing at the top of the order.
The Knight Riders look a far more settled side this time around after roping in former player and New Zealand’s explosive opener Brendon McCullum, and their $700,000 catch in West Indian offspinner Sunil Narine, who promises to be the one to look out for.
For Trinidad and Tobago in last season’s Champions League Twenty20, Narine was at his best scalping 10 wickets and gave away a miserly 4.37 runs per over.
Most top batsmen found it difficult to read the off-spinner and in the Indian conditions Narine is expected to revel alongside Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan, one of the finest all-rounders in the world at the moment.
To add to it, the return of McCullum, who smashed a 73-ball 158 for the Knight Riders in the very first IPL match of season one four years back, is certain to bring smiles back on the faces of the fans of the Kolkata outfit.
McCullum is expected to partner Jacques Kallis at the top with Gambhir dropping to the No 3 position. The middle-order will have an in-form Manoj Tiwary, who would be desperate to be prove a point to the Indian team management after having denied a single opportunity during the entire triseries in Australia and the subsequent Asia Cup in Bangladesh.
In Yusuf Pathan, the Knight Riders have one of the most feared hitters and the team would be hoping for his bat to do all the talking this time around after a fairly quiet outing last year.
Apart from Pathan, the Knight Riders also have a host of exciting all-rounders in Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Rajat Bhatia, Dutchman Ryan ten Doeschate and Shakib.
The Knight Riders also have balanced bowling attack, which will be led by Australian speedster Brett Lee.
Under Gambhir and former coach Dav Whatmore, the Knight Riders looked a far more settled side last season what if they failed to qualify for the final yet again.
And Whatmore’s successor Trevor Bayliss, who coached Sri Lanka to the World Cup final last year, is regarded as a T20 specialist and he would also look to infuse the winning mantra into the Knight Riders’ camp.
“Trevor Bayliss has immense knowledge of the game (T20). The side is looking balanced under him. The biggest secret of this side is every member is enjoying each other’s company,” Knight Riders’ bowling consultant Wasim Akram said.
The Daredevils, meanwhile, would be desperate for a turnaround after finishing last in 2011 with just four wins to their credit.
The Daredevils, however, will be without the services of big names like Mahela Jayawardene, Kevin Pietersen and David Warner in the match as they are busy playing for their respective countries. Besides Kiwi Ross Taylor is also unavailable after he broke his hand during the third Test against South Africa recently.
With key players missing for the first half of the event, skipper Virender Sehwag will have to take the extra load in along with Naman Ojha and Venugopal Rao.
A lot of hopes will be pinned on their new signing, West Indies’ Andre Russell who would like to make an impact with the bat at the big stage.
Delhi’s pace battery looks dangerous with Morkel spearheading the attack consisting of comeback man Irfan Pathan, Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron.
The spin line-up, however, looks a bit raw with left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem leading the attack and which will also have Roelf van der Merwe.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (Capt.), Manoj Tiwary, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Yusuf Pathan, Rajat Bhatia, Chirag Jani, Debabrata Das, Iqbal Abdulla, Iresh Saxena, Jaidev Unadkat, Laxmipathy Balaji, Manvinder Bisla, Pradeep Sangwan, Sanju Samson, Sarabjit Singh Ladda, Mohd Shami Ahmed, Brad Haddin (wk), Jacques Kallis, Brendon McCullum, Eoin Morgan, Ryan ten Doeschate, Shakib Al Hasan, Sunil Narine, Marchant de Lange.
Delhi Daredevils: Virender Sehwag (Capt.), Ajit Agarkar, Irfan Pathan, Umesh Yadav, Puneet Bisht, Robin Bist, Naman Ojha (wk), Shahbaz Nadeem, Venugopal Rao, Vikas Mishra, Yogesh Nagar, Zafir Patel, Sunny Gupta, Tejashwi Yadav, Aavishkar Salvi, Kuldeep Raval, Manpreet Juneja, Pawan Negi, Prashant Naik, Aaron Finch, Andre Russell, Doug Bracewell, Glenn Maxwell, Gulam Bodi, Morne Morkel, Roelf van der Merwe.