By Karthik Parimal
The Champions League T20 featuring the best cricket clubs from all over the world gets under way today. Trinidad and Tobago, Ruhuna Rhinos, Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), Auckland Aces, Somerset and Leicestershire will first have to compete in the qualifying rounds in order to make it to the main stage.
KKR, who were ranked fourth in the fourth edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), have dangerous players in the battling like Yusuf Pathan, Ryan Ten Doeschate and Manoj Tiwary in the batting department, with the likes of Brett Lee, Iqbal Abdulla, Lakshmipathy Balaji and young Jaidev Unadkat powering up the bowling department. KKR also have Jacques Kallis and Shakib Al Hasan, two of the greatest all-rounders in contemporary cricket.
Unfortunately, KKR would miss their captain Gautam Gambhir, who is still recuperating from the concussion he suffered in England. Gambhir, was the costliest purchase at the IPL auctions earlier this year, when KKR bought him for a whopping $2.4 million. Under his captaincy, the KKR made it to the knock-out stages of the tournament for the first time in four years. In the absence of Gambhir, Kallis will be leading the side. The South African had a good outing in the recent IPL, scoring 424 runs in 15 matches, at an average of 35.33. He is also a very handy bowler and his experience will be very handy for KKR.
All eyes will be on young left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdulla, who stole the spotlight during IPL 2011. He also carved a niche for himself in the domestic circuit while representing Mumbai. The orthodox spinner made some handy contributions with the ball during the fourth edition of the IPL, and was the highest wicket-taker for the KKR, picking 16 wickets, at an average of 19.06. Abdulla was also the highest wicket-taker for India in the three matches he played at the Emerging Players Twenty-20 tournament held in Australia. His performances will be watched closely.
Spin has been a great asset in T20, and if Iqbal Abdulla can recreate the magic of IPL 2011 in the qualifiers of the Champions League Twenty-20 and help his team qualify, he can be a force to reckon with on turning Indian pitches, in the main round.
Another player to watch out for is Yusuf Pathan. He will be hoping to improve on his form, and the Champions League Twenty20 provides a perfect platform for him to knock again on the doors of the selectors for a place in the national squad. Although KKR spent a staggering US $2.1 million for his services, Yusuf Pathan didn’t deliver as expected in the IPL’s fourth edition, scoring just 283 runs in 15 matches, at an average of 28.30, with a highest score of 47. Later, he had a forgettable tour of the West Indies and was dropped for the series against England.
However, Yusuf is confident of staging a comeback. “I’m stroking the ball well and am sure that I will contribute for the team’s cause,” he said. In a practice match against the Hyderabad Cricket Association, Yusuf looked in good touch as he scored a quick 53 in just 38 balls. Yusuf will be glad to carry this form into the qualifiers.
Sadly for KKR, Eoin Morgan is due to undergo a shoulder surgery and will miss the entire tournament. He came up with some decent performances in the recently-concluded series against India.
Kolkata will also be without the services of Brad Haddin for the qualifiers.
KKR will face a formidable Auckland side in its first match and the road to the main round of the Champions League Twenty-20 isn’t going to be easy. Andre Adams, Martin Guptill, Robert Quiney and Lou Vincent are hard-hitters and their batting style is tailor-made for the shorter format. Kyle Mills and Daryl Tuffey can boost Auckland’s bowling strength.
The batting could be a matter of concern in the initial stages of the tournament considering the fact that Gambhir and Morgan are unavailable. But in this format, all that a team needs is a few good overs to change the momentum of the game. And KKR would be hoping the youngsters take centre stage.
(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. This 23 year old graduate student, pursuing his Masters in Engineering, could be an appropriate example of how the layers of what inspires, motivates and keeps one happy run deeply in our daily lives. He, unlike others, is not too disappointed about not making it big by playing for the country, but believes that he plays the sport every day with his heart by watching and writing on it)