Divided Kochi need to come together
The Big Picture
Kochi Tuskers Kerala are the most faction-riddled team in the IPL. Made up of a consortium of owners who never seem able to see eye to eye, they were the last franchise to enter the IPL family, and if it weren't for the charitable attitude of the BCCI, which offered the franchise numerous ultimatums only to keep extending the deadlines every time, Kochi's innings would have never started.
The franchise still stands on a weak footing off the field. On the field, however, men of honour are carrying the Kochi flag: Mahela Jayawardene is an able leader; VVS Laxman is a proud and honest man; Muttiah Muralitharan is a legend. Geoff Lawson is a capable coach, who led Pakistan to the final of the inaugural World Twenty20 in 2007. Kochi's biggest challenge is for the warring owners to give players space they need to perform, otherwise the entire unit will implode in no time.
A story goes that Mahela Jayawardene was picked as the captain of the team by a powerful owner, a fan of the Sri Lankan, even before the franchise came into being. Jayawardene enters tournament on the back of a memorable century in the World Cup final and he was one of the only two players to notch a ton for his previous franchise - Kings XI Punjab. He also was their best batsman in the third season of the IPL. He will be Kochi's beacon.
Ravindra Jadeja has a lot to prove. He was banned last season after he decided to bargain his own price and in the process contravened the IPL's code of conduct. Kochi have bought him for big money. Jadeja is a good player, a superb fiddler, but by no means a proven allrounder. He is work in progress. In the absence of any established allrounders, he could become Jayawardene's go-to men if he can keep his feet on the ground and put in the hard work.
Brad Hodge, Brendon McCullum and Owais Shah have used experience wisely to keep them prosperous in the Twenty20 format. Their batting styles differ: Hodge is an accumulator, McCullum the aggressor, Shah, a finisher. It is highly unlikely that all three will play together, but at least one of them is certain to feature in the team. Between them and Jayawardene they will form the batting trust of the team.
Big name in
Sreesanth will be Kochi's brand ambassador and this will be the first time he has been asked to pilot a bowling attack. Instead of him looking to others as an example, he will now need to be the source of inspiration for the other fast bowlers. Temperamental, ignorant, aggressive - Sreesanth has a lot to offer and lot to learn.
Below the radar
Steven Smith could be the X-factor. Primarily a batting allrounder, who bowls handy leg spin, Smith is a bundle of energy on the field. The Australians have shown faith in him as their next allrounder and Smith has shown guts and vigour and proved to be a fast learner. His 77 in the second innings at Headingly, in his second Test, in the defeat to Pakistan turned heads. More influential was his match-winning performance in the inaugural Champions League in 2009, where, along with Bret Lee, he led New South Wales to victory over Trinidad & Tobago. If Kochi pick him, he will not stay quiet.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo