Two days from the Eden Gardens’ curtain raiser, there was camaraderie in the air. Both Kolkata Knight Riders and Royal Challengers Bangalore were close to full strength with the only notable absentees in the form of both skippers who had flown out to Mumbai for the trophy unveiling formalities.
Just as both units were easing through their drills on Friday (April 6), partners in crime for most of the year – Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav – took time out to gather in front of the Dr. B.C. Roy Clubhouse and engage in a chat.
Chris Woakes, Colin de Grandhomme and Umesh Yadav were all local boys in Kolkata last year, and the recent switch to RCB didn’t come in the way of a joyous reunion with the old KKR boys. But that jolly mood, of course, is only till they cross over and get onto the field.
There are challenges aplenty, especially for the hosts Knight Riders. With Gautam Gambhir at helm, the franchise didn’t just arrest a three-year landslide but bagged a couple of IPL titles too, in 2012 and 2014. Off the field, the team also managed to overcome the undeniable Sourav Ganguly hangover that prevailed in the city. And now, come the eleventh edition, KKR have undergone a sea of changes. Although they retained as many as five of their linchpins who are definite starters, the move to part ways with Gambhir was a significant move.
Dinesh Karthik, all of a sudden, finds himself filling in the big boots of Kolkata’s adopted son – Gambhir – from the last seven years. There will be no dearth of love for him though, for the City of Joy must have rejoiced the timely announcement of Karthik’s second arrival during the match-winning knock in the Nidahas Trophy final. The keeper-batsman showed a great sense of calm under pressure in Colombo, an aspect of his game he’d be eager to bring to the fore in KKR colours.
The other challenge for KKR will be to keep their first eleven on the park for as long as possible, given the injury frailties attached with a few of their top guns. Chris Lynn’s troubled shoulder and Andre Russell’s rustiness born out of a year-long suspension will be a key determinant in driving the team’s fortunes forward. So will be Sunil Narine’s bowling action that had been reported as illegal by the match officials during the recently concluded Pakistan Super League.
That aside, how the franchise utilise the promising youngsters at their disposal will also be vital. KKR snapped up three players from India’s Under19 World Cup-winning campaign, and it remains to be seen how the trio fit into the final XI.
RCB, this season, wear their most balanced look, with a lot of thought having gone into compiling its bowling unit. Woakes won’t mind starting on a pitch he has had success on. He was one of the chief wreckers of RCB – his new franchise – when they last played at the Eden Gardens and folded for just 49. Umesh too will be aware of the conditions.
RCB’s spin unit is well armed too, with Chahal, an in-form Washington Sundar and Pawan Negi – who bagged 16 wickets last season – donning the spinners’ roles. Batting, too, is in good hands, with Kohli, AB de Villiers and Brendon McCullum expected to lead from the front. There are a few scores to settle for Kohli’s boys, and the intensity with which he practised on the match eve, just before rains came lashing down, was indicative of what lies ahead.
What: Kolkata Knight Riders vs Royal Challengers Bangalore
When: April 8, 2018, Eden Gardens, Kolkata,8:00 PM IST
What to expect: Untimely thundershowers ensured there was little practice ahead of Sunday’s clash, and with a forecast for 80 per cent showers on the match day, there’s a high risk of the match being curtailed. Kolkata’s tryst with inclement weather is not a memorable one, with a T20I between India and South Africa having been called off after just a 30-minute shower, in 2015. However, under Ganguly’s leadership, the Eden outfield has been overhauled but a truncated game might not be the best of starts for the KKR loyalists.
KKR have a slight edge over RCB with 11 wins under their belt in comparison to nine wins for the latter. Last season, KKR had won both the home and away fixtures.
Kolkata Knight Riders: The hosts have done well to keep their strategy under covers, especially the one pertaining to Sunil Narine’s batting position. Whether or not, that element holds any surprise or value, will be a gamble worth watching. That, in more ways than one, should define Shubman Gill’s position in the eleven.
Probable XI: Chris Lynn, Shubman Gill, Robin Uthappa, Dinesh Karthik (c & wk), Nitish Rana, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Piyush Chawla, Mitchell Johnson, R Vinay Kumar/Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Kuldeep Yadav
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Kohli was chuffed with his squad’s balance coming into this season and also claimed that his bowling unit will take everyone by surprise, given their batting had been the talking point in the past so many years.
Probable XI: Parthiv Patel (wk), Brendon McCullum, Virat Kohli (c), AB de Villiers, Sarfaraz Khan, Chris Woakes, Colin de Grandhomme, Washington Sundar, Pawan Negi, Yuzvendra Chahal, Umesh Yadav
Did you know?
– AB de Villiers vs Piyush Chawla: Chawla has dismissed de Villiers four times – the joint-most he has gotten out to any bowler. Since 2013, Chawla has got de Villiers out twice in 14 balls.
– Narine vs Kohli: Kohli has scored only 52 runs off 51 balls from Narine since 2013 – the strike-rate of 101.96 is the lowest for Kohli against a bowler in IPL (30+balls). He has crossed 50 only once in seven innings at the Eden Gardens.
What they said:
“I think as a captain, I will be looking to stay as calm as I can. Lot of times I am sure I will be put under the pump and I have to be able to react in a calm manner without getting too emotional about it. That’s a good takeaway for me from that game [Nidahas Trophy, Final]. It gives me a lot of confidence in my batting skills. It’s important that I keep using that as an experience where I can propel to do better things in the future.” Dinesh Karthik, Captain, Kolkata Knight Riders.
“It’s not RCB’s batting versus KKR’s bowling. Our team is very balanced. You will be surprised to see our bowling dominating in this IPL. It will be a pleasant surprise for everyone to see RCB’s bowling coming along nicely this season, and not just relying on batting.” Virat Kohli, Captain, Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Kolkata Knight Riders (From): Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine, Robin Uthappa(w), Nitish Rana, Dinesh Karthik(c), Andre Russell, Shubman Gill, Mitchell Johnson, Piyush Chawla, Kuldeep Yadav, Vinay Kumar, Apoorv Wankhade, Rinku Singh, Shivam Mavi, Cameron Delport, Javon Searles, Tom Curran, Ishank Jaggi, Kamlesh Nagarkoti
Royal Challengers Bangalore (From): Quinton de Kock(w), Manan Vohra, Virat Kohli(c), AB de Villiers, Mandeep Singh, Colin de Grandhomme, Chris Woakes, Washington Sundar, Yuzvendra Chahal, Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Siraj, Sarfaraz Khan, Brendon McCullum, Parthiv Patel, Moeen Ali, Kulwant Khejroliya, Aniket Choudhary, Navdeep Saini, Murugan Ashwin, Pawan Negi, Corey Anderson, Aniruddha Joshi, Pavan Deshpande, Tim Southee