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KKR A Brand New Squad
After wallowing in mediocrity in the first three IPL seasons, the Kolkata Knight Riders appeared to have turned the corner last year.
With a brand new squad and a new captain, they succeeded in making the last-four stage in IPL 4.
And having further bolstered their foreign contingent at February's mini-auction, the Kolkata franchise will be hoping that it will be a breakthrough year for them in the world's premier T20 league.
KKR's experiment with Australian coaches continues with Trevor Bayliss taking over the reins from Dav Whatmore, who had succeeded the controversial John Buchanan after the first two seasons.
Bayliss' arrival at the Eden Gardens, home to KKR, coincides with the return to the fold of Brendon McCullum and the welcome addition of West Indies' 'mystery' spinner Sunil Narine and South African quick bowler Marchant de Lange.
Skipper Gautam Gambhir has at his disposal a star-studded line-up, which includes an array of top-class all-rounders, that is the envy of all other teams.
KKR also have two of the most destructive power-hitters in McCullum and Yusuf Pathan who can turn a game on its head in a matter of a few deliveries.
Their batting has depth as well as solidity, while the bowling department has quality and variety.
Skipper Gambhir, therefore, won't have personnel issues to deal with. His main worry is the Eden pitch. The slowness of the 'home' track almost cost them a berth in the final four last time.
KKR won only four of their seven home games, but fared much better on the road, picking up four more wins to clinch the last qualification spot.
Bayliss and Gambhir would like to improve their home record, more so because each team will have to play 16 matches in the league phase, instead of 14 like last season.
No wonder, Gambhir air-dashed to Kolkata earlier this week to brief the Eden curator about his team's needs, and much would depend on how the playing surface holds up over the next seven weeks as the action hots up.
Desperate for IPL glory, the KKR management has also roped in renowned sports psychologist Rudi Webster to work with the squad and sharpen the players' mental skills.
Indian angle: Gautam Gambhir (Capt.), Yusuf Pathan, Manoj Tiwary, Lakshmipathy Balaji, Jaydev Unadkat, Rajat Bhatia, Manvinder Bisla, Iqbal Abdulla, Laxmi Shukla, Chirag Jani, Debabrata Das, Sarabjit Ladda, Sanju Samson, Pradeep Sangwan, Iresh Saxena, Shami Ahmed.
Foreign players: Jacques Kallis, Marchant de Lange, Brett Lee, Brendon McCullum, Eoin Morgan, Sunil Narine, James Pattinson, Shakib Al Hasan, Ryan ten Doeschate.
KKR have six top-quality all-rounders, ideally suited for T20. It's a well-balanced squad with the right mix of youth and experience. The batting looks well-stacked and also packs a punch, while the bowling has depth as well as variety with 3 genuine quicks (Lee, Pattinson, De Lange), an array of cunning medium-pacers and five street-smart spinners.
Barring Gambhir, Yusuf and Tiwary, the quality of Indian players in KKR ranks is quite mediocre. A plethora of medium-pacers who like to take the pace off the ball means there could be a sameness to their attack that is hardly desirable.
They also lack a genuine spinner who can turn the ball appreciably.
Starwatch: Those who can make the difference
Gautam Gambhir ($2.4 million): The IPL's costliest player has the ability to hit over the top early on and, also, anchor the innings if required. It makes him a key player at the start. As a leader, he likes to take the fight to the rivals.
Yusuf Pathan ($2.1 million): He fired in bits and starts last season. This could be his big opportunity to show that he is worth every cent of his $2.1 million tag.
Can win matches with his big-hitting and is a useful part-time bowler too.
Brendon McCullum ($900,000): The Kiwi is back in KKR after having spent a season with the now-disbanded Kochi Tuskers.
He adds fire at the top and solidity behind the wickets and will like to play a big role this season too.
Sunil Narine ($700,000): He was the surprise package in CLT20 last season and can be KKR's trump card.
His accuracy and variations not only get him wickets but also tie batsmen down. But can they fit him in the XI?
Content courtsey: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com