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April 1, 2013
Big Picture"We can do a CSK" is the line coming out of the Kolkata Knight Riders' camp. However, in contrast to the consistent performances from more than one player that took Chennai Super Kings to consecutive titles in 2010 and 2011, Knight Riders have their shortcomings, evident during their dismal run during last year's Champions League Twenty20 in South Africa, where they earned a solitary (and irrelevant) victory before making an exit.
Annoyingly for Knight Riders, the difficult questions continue to persist. Gautam Gambhir and Jacques Kallis, the top two run-makers for Knight Riders, are fighting their individual battles to stay fit and find form. Gambhir, who is also the Knight Riders' captain, remains unsettled after a prolonged drought of runs that forced the Indian selectors to drop him for the home Test series against Australia last month. This tournament will be a litmus test for a cricketer well-known for his determination and character.
The IPL would be the first time Kallis plays active cricket since pulling a hamstring before the final match of the home Test series against Pakistan in February. Kallis who has had several niggles in the past year, failed to excel even in home conditions during the Champions League, compiling just 18 runs. He then failed during the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka, managing 24 runs in three innings across five matches.
The concerns only heighten with Brendon McCullum yet to join the squad as he is recovering from a hamstring injury. In any case McCullum's stint this season is a short one, since he is scheduled to depart after first week of May to lead New Zealand on their tour of England. Also missing till May 12 would be the Bangladesh allrounder, Shakib Al Hasan, who is set to tour Zimbabwe.
One big reason Knight Riders finished second to the Delhi Daredevils on the points table at the end of the league phase last year was due to their skewed win-loss records home and away. Though they had a fantastic away record with just one defeat in eight matches, they lost four times in seven completed home matches.
So, do Knight Riders reinvent themselves or follow the same path that led them to their maiden crown last season? Finding stability and a balanced team, two main attributes of Super Kings, will be the key for Knight Riders.
Key playersSunil Narine: The main catalyst behind Knight Riders' triumph last season, Narine will be itching to bounce back after being dropped from the home Test series against Zimbabwe owing to an ineffective performance in the away series in Bangladesh. Narine, who bowled an important spell of 3.4-0-9-3 in the World Twenty20 final, could once again be the confounding spinner who proved to be the best bowler of the 2012 season.
L Balaji: Gambhir dedicated the final victory in 2012 to the India and Tamil Nadu seamer, who was forced to sit out the summit clash. Balaji had an economy rate of 5.40 (against T20I career ER of 7.98) as he used his knowledge of bowling on Indian pitches to good effect, cramping the opposition batsmen for width while teasing them with his variations.
Trevor Penney: Not one of the most athletic fielding sides in the IPL, the team management identified that a successful fielding coach, in Penney, who serves in the same role with the Indian team, was necessary.
Big players inSachithra Senanayake: He was an unknown as recently as two months ago when Knight Riders bought him for an eye-popping $625,000. The idea, the team management said, was to pair him with Narine as the second part of the 'mystery twins'. Senanayanke, a tall Sri Lanka offspinner, is known for his bag of tricks including a good arm ball to which he recently added a lethal doosra.
Big players outMarchant de Lange: The young South African fast bowler suffered a stress fracture last June immediately after the IPL and was released by the franchise, who had bought him for $50,000 at the previous year's auction.
Below the radarEoin Morgan: Probably the costliest player on the bench in the history of IPL. Morgan entered the IPL for the first time in 2010 after the Royal Challengers Bangalore bought him for $220,000. Last year the Knight Riders paid $350,000 to buy the England batsman, known for his dynamic batting and match-turning knocks.
AvailabilityMcCullum is likely to depart around May 8 to lead New Zealand on their tour of England, with the first Test starting on May 16. Shakib is likely to join the squad after Bangladesh's tour of Zimbabwe, which ends on May 12.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Nagraj Gollapudi
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Stats highlights from the fourth ODI between India and West Indies in Dharamsala