Indian Premier League 2011 April 7, 2011

Solid nucleus for new-look Kolkata

Big picture

The IPL has not been a happy hunting ground for Kolkata Knight Riders. Despite the glamour of Shah Rukh Khan and the leadership of Sourav Ganguly, the franchise struggled on the field and was dogged by a string of controversies off it (who can forget the Fake IPL Player?). It was clear something had to be done to inject optimism and excitement into an increasingly frustrated fan base.

In the offseason, the owners hired a new chief executive, who proceeded to use the January player auction to remake the team, essentially starting over. Ganguly, Kolkata's icon, is gone. So are the other international stars - Chris Gayle, Brendon McCullum, Shane Bond. Stepping into their shoes are Gautam Gambhir, the new captain, Yusuf Pathan, Jacques Kallis and Brett Lee. Kolkata splashed out 62% of its $9 million budget on the first three of those players (50% on Yusuf and Gambhir alone), showing that they are serious about winning, at least in the auction room. It could well turn out to be money shrewdly spent though, as the foursome gives the franchise a nucleus of players who are unafraid of the big stage and have a habit of performing when it matters the most.

Key players

The big four of Gambhir, Yusuf, Kallis and Lee. Gambhir could bring a more laidback approach to captaincy than the passionate and often confrontational Ganguly, while Kallis provides reliability with both bat and ball. Yusuf and Lee supply the firepower, with bat and ball respectively.

Big name in

Gambhir may be the team's most expensive player and Kallis is an all-time great, but Yusuf Pathan is the game changing addition to the squad. His ability to hijack a match from the opposition, no matter what the situation, is priceless in this format. And if he can add a touch of consistency to his breathtaking hitting, Kolkata could well be challenging for the title come the end of May.

Big name out

Sourav Ganguly. The Prince of Kolkata found himself an unwanted orphan after the January player auction, ignored not just by his home team, but every other franchise as well.

Below the radar

The IPL could be the perfect stage for allrounder Iqbal Abdulla to display his many talents. Though only 21, Abdulla is no stranger to the pressure of expectations, having learnt his trade playing for Mumbai, the most demanding of India's domestic teams. Being around the likes of Gambhir and Kallis day in and day out for six weeks can only be good for his development.

Abdulla comes into the IPL on the back of a stellar Ranji Trophy season. He made 382 runs at an average of 47.75, notching up his maiden first-class hundred in the process. He was also his team's leading wicket-taker, picking up 27 wickets at an average of 22.11 with his left-arm spin. He was somewhat less successful in the Syed Mustaq Ali Trophy, India's domestic T20 tournament, averaging just 11 with the bat, but did take seven wickets at a strike rate of 16.20 and an economy rate of 4.84.

Last three seasons

Kolkata fans might want to look away as their team's results make for ugly reading. They have finished sixth, last and sixth in their three seasons, winning no more than seven games in a single season. The nadir came in 2009, when they won just three of their 14 games. That performance, coupled with the controversy surrounding the captaincy, led to the sacking of coach John Buchanan. The team was better in 2010 than the sixth-place finish suggests, and will look to move to the head of the class this time.

Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo