Time for Kolkata to make bigger leap
They have one of the world's fastest bowlers (Brett Lee); they have the most destructive batsman behind Chris Gayle in world cricket (Brendon McCullum); they have the most dependable batsman in all formats (Jacques Kallis); they have the world's best allrounder in ODIs (Shakib Al Hasan). And they are one of the most popular teams in the IPL, run by owners who rarely intrude on the team management. Probably, Kolkata are most balanced team in the IPL.
After the controversies and shenanigans in the initial years involving Sourav Ganguly's stubbornness and John Buchannan's radical coaching methods, Kolkata appeared more settled last year with a new captain in Gautam Gambhir. Dav Whatmore has left to coach Pakistan, and a fellow Australian Trevor Bayliss has come in as replacement. Rudi Webster has been hired as a mental skills coach to help youngsters in dealing with high-pressure situations that are frequent in the Twenty20 format. Essentially Kolkata possess the perfect package which could help them progress from the fourth position - their best in the IPL - they finished at last season. The time has come for Kolkata to shed the pretender's role.
Probably they can learn from Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal, the state where the franchise has its home base. Banerjee is known for her ruthlessness, her radical decision-making and her daring - qualities that the team can imbibe if it wants to win the title.
Jacques Kallis: Consider this: Graeme Smith is South Africa's top run-maker in Twenty20 internationals with 982 runs in 33 matches. Kallis has played half that number (17) but already has 573 runs. In fact, Kallis has more fifties in all-time Twenty20 history barring Brad Hodge - 23 against Hodge's 29. After the franchise bought him at the auction last year, Kallis repaid the owners by finishing as the team's highest run-maker. At 36, Kallis plays with the hunger of a rookie. His durability at the top of the order, his gift to combine patience with aggression, along with his nifty medium-fast bowling, make Kallis not only a go-to man but also one of the most dangerous players.
Gautam Gambhir: Gambhir's Test career as an opener might be facing a crisis, but in the shorter formats Gambhir is a force to reckon with and is India's top scorer in Twenty20 internationals. Last year, Gambhir was uncertain about opening along with Kallis, and might face the same problem with the inclusion of Brendon McCullum, but he could be the perfect No.3, a position from where he can not only anchor the innings and give it a right direction for the big-hitters to flourish at the end. The stakes are high for Gambhir: after being deposed as India vice-captain, he would like to let his performances catapult him back into the leadership role.
Yusuf Pathan: The IPL website has an illustration depicting Yusuf diving forward to take a catch while a banner floating on his back reads Pathan Palkhi (the Pathan palanquin). Indeed, Yusuf's broad shoulders and broad bat can carry his team's burden without breaking much sweat. But last year, Yusuf's influence was barely visible considering he would walk in at the fag end of the innings. He was then out of the Indian team due to poor form. Just like Gambhir, it is redemption time for Yusuf - to come out and play the role of the impact player and elevate himself back into the national reckoning.
Big names in
Brendon McCullum: It was McCullum who lit the IPL dynamite in 2008 with a blitzkrieg century (158 not out) in the tournament's inaugural match in Bangalore. He was bought by the now defunct Kochi franchise last year, but McCullum - Twenty20 international cricket's highest scorer (in fact he is the third highest run-getter in Twenty20 history) - is back to Kolkata and is likely to double up as a wicketkeeper in addition to walking in as an opener.
Trevor Bayliss (coach): Bayliss was Sri Lanka's coach in the 2011 World Cup when the team lost in the final to India and has replaced fellow Australian Dav Whatmore, who is now Pakistan's coach. Unlike the previous two Australian coaches with Kolkata, Bayliss' strengths are he remains low-key and virtually inconspicuous in the media. That way he can put in all his energies into the cricket, allowing players to make the headlines.
Big names out
There remains a question mark over the availability of Australia wicketkeeper batsman Brad Haddin, who has decided to take time off cricket to resolve some personal issues.
Below the radar
Sunil Narine Sunil Narine turned heads last year when he came to India with the Trinidad & Tobago to play in the Champions League Twenty20. The talent, the trickery in his offspin made coaches and teams wanting him on their roaster. Kolkata paid a handsome $700,000 to buy Narine in a stiff competition with rival franchises. Narine, who bowled impressively under pressure in the two Powerplays in his debut ODI against India last year in Ahmedabad (the only match West Indies won on their tour), finished as the highest wicket-taker in the recent drawn ODI series at home against Australia. Kolkata would hope Narine brings his current form against Australia to the IPL when he lands in May.
Iqbal Abdulla Abdulla won the IPL award for the best young bowler with his allround skills. A left-arm spinner, Abdulla was utilised smartly by Gambhir during pressure situations and the Mumbai player did not disappoint. Coupled with his good fielding and thrifty batting skills, Abdulla can once again play a leading role for Kolkata.
The only problem for Narine could be his availability with the first half of the IPL clashing with West Indies' Test series against Australia.
2011 in a tweet
New beginning, new energy, but fell painfully short of a top-3 slot
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo