Kolkata seek turnaround in tournament opener
Friday, April 8
Start time 2000 (1430 GMT)
If India hadn't done well in the World Cup, would it have led to viewer fatigue ahead of the IPL? And since they won, will it translate to an enthusiastic fan base, and even creation of new fans for the game? This IPL will answer that question. There is another question that has been hovering around since the creation of IPL. Have the teams succeeded in creating loyal fan bases? This is the fourth edition and one should ideally see the early signs of loyalty but many teams, barring Chennai Super Kings, have changed their personnel so much that it will be interesting to see how the fans respond. Is fans' parochial affection to the region/city bigger than their love for the players?
For what it's worth, this IPL starts off with a lovely battle within a battle, an ad writer's dream. MS Dhoni, the man who led India to the World cup win, v Gautam Gambhir, the man who played a big hand in that final. It's not as big as the Dhoni v Tendulkar contest, but it's a mouth-watering prospect nevertheless. So far, Chennai have showcased a winning ethos while Kolkata have provided pathos. From seeking glory in the first season and searching for redemption in the second, Kolkata were fighting to avoid humiliation in the last edition. Will this season offer the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel?
Chennai have ensured they didn't lose too many personnel, a move that will have gladdened their fans and their marketing team, and they still are one of the stronger sides in the tournament. In the past, they relied a lot on the spinners and their seam attack largely depended on Doug Bollinger. This year, they have added Nuwan Kulasekara and Tim Southee and that seam attack looks far more potent. The batting will miss the services of Michael Hussey until the end of Australia's tour of Bangladesh and Anirudha Srikkanth might open in his absence, along open with M Vijay. The middle order is pretty established with the likes of Suresh Raina, S Badrinath, MS Dhoni and Albie Morkel.
Kolkata Knight Riders have been looking for a fresh start ever since the nightmarish first season and this season will start on the same premise. Can Gambhir and the new faces turn things around? Ryan ten Doeschate, Jacques Kallis and Eoin Morgan will add great value to a middle order that has often proved brittle in the past. Add to that the menacing presence of Yusuf Pathan, and you are looking at a pretty formidable batting line-up.
Kolkata might be forced to play all their available overseas players tomorrow. The likes of Brett Lee, Brad Haddin and Shakib Al Hasan will feature only at the end of Australia's tour of Bangladesh. For Manoj Tiwary, who has decisively slipped under the national radar, this season offers another chance to prove a point or two. Shreevats Goswami, the wicket-keeper batsman who struggled to get a game with Royal Challengers, might get an opportunity to prove his worth.
Anirudha might get a chance to open for Chennai in Hussey's absence. It will be interesting to see if they pair Suraj Randiv with R Ashwin. They are more likely to turn to Shadab Jakati, who has done a good job in the past as a back-up spinner. There is also the interesting sub-plot of S Badrinath. If he performs well, as he has done in the past, the city populace will once again sigh at the alleged "discrimination" against him in the national scene.
In the spotlight
Yusuf Pathan's reputation was built in the IPL and he carried that confidence on to play a couple of furious match-winning knocks for India in ODIs. He was replaced by Suresh Raina near the end of the World Cup and will be itching to showcase his brutal power in this year's IPL. He has the shots, he has the heart - unlike some, he doesn't retreat further into crease every ball in anticipation of the bouncer - and he has the ambition.
Eoin Morgan is that rare commodity in England cricket: an excellent limited-overs batsman. He can unfurl the craziest of the innovative shots and is difficult to contain. He could potentially be the engine of Kolkata's middle order.
In Hussey's absence, M Vijay will have to take up the burden of scoring against the new ball. His career path has been fascinating: he shrugged off the tag of a Test batsman to play some screaming knocks in the shortest form of the game but the criticism against him is that he either goes too slow or plays too many shots. The critics have demanded maturity in his shot selection and his progress will be closely monitored.
With 520 runs, Suresh Raina was the third highest run getter in the last year's IPL. Kallis, who played for Bangalore, was the second highest scorer with 572, behind Sachin Tendulkar.
Last year, Kolkata featured twice in the top four occasions of a team conceding too many extras. They gave away 20 extras against Chennai and 18 against Punjab.
With 13 wickets apiece, Shadab Jakati and R Ashwin were the top wicket-takers for Chennai last year. Kallis also took 13 wickets while Ashok Dinda, playing for Kolkata, picked up nine wickets.
"The batting line-up is as good as last year. IPL is not about less pressure. Batting slots are decided according to situation. When all are shuffled up and down the order, it's according to the situation. If we have to change the batting order, everyone has to be comfortable about doing it.."
MS Dhoni is confident about the might and flexibility of his batting.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo