By Nishad Pai Vaidya
For three seasons, the Kolkata Knight Riders were all about glitz, glamour, controversy and, of course, Sourav Ganguly. The performances on the field didn’t match the hype off it and one felt that it was a classic case of underachievement. However, a complete shake-up at the 2011 auction and the creation of a new-look side under Gautam Gambhir changed the make-up of the franchise. The qualification for the play-offs during the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2011 and an encouraging campaign in the Champions League T20 (CLT20) promises to herald a victorious era for one of the most popular sides in the competition.
Gambhir’s leadership is a one of the major reasons for Kolkata’s change in fortunes. Even before 2011, they had a strong side with a number of stars, but simply flattered to deceive as a unit. Under Gambhir, they have been able to knit a team and put the right blocks in place. Even when he has led India, Gambhir has shown tremendous skills and alertness to the situation. His major strength is big-match temperament.
Like Mumbai, Kolkata have been very smart during the auctions and have added a few strong players to their side. Brendon McCullum returns to the franchise with mixed memories ranging from the brilliance of the 158 not out in the IPL opener to the disastrous 2009 season as captain. Sunil Narine, the West Indies off-spinner, is building his reputation as an effective limited-overs bowler. Marchant de Lange has been fantastic in his appearances for South Africa and is a good prospect for the future.
Kolkata were lucky that they didn’t have to tweak their Indian pool of players. Gambhir, Yusuf Pathan and Manoj Tiwary form the crux as the big Indian names in the line-up. Players like Laxmipathy Balaji, Rajat Bhatia, Iqbal Abdullah, Manvinder Bisla, Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Jaydev Unadkat are some of the best from Indian domestic cricket and have done well in the IPL in the past. When combined with the international stars, Kolkata becomes a string unit that can challenge the best on their day. People often talk about the impact foreign players have on a team, but the importance of the domestic players can be equally decisive.
Jacques Kallis is the front-runner to open the batting as his calm presence at the top helps set the tone for the innings. With his solidity at one end, the batsman at the other can take his chances and play some aggressive shots. McCullum should open the batting as the solidity of Kallis would be complemented by the exuberance of the New Zealander. Gambhir, Tiwary, Pathan should form the rest of the batting. Eoin Morgan would be an option, but could lose out to McCullum.
Kolkata’s numerous all-rounders are their biggest strengths as these multi-dimensional players are imperative in a T20 game. Ryan ten Doeschate, Shakib Al Hasan, Bhatia and Shukla can effectively contribute in both departments. If one adds Kallis and Pathan, the list looks even more threatening. Shakib is fresh from his success in the Asia Cup and would compete with ten Doeschate for the foreign player’s spot (all-rounder) spot. The Dutchman too cannot be ignored as he has proven his worth for Kolkata whenever the opportunity has come his way.
Brett Lee would spearhead the bowling attack that has Balaji, de Lange, James Pattinson and young Indian pacers such as Pradeep Sangwan and Jaydev Unadkat. Abdullah and Narine would be the spinning options with the former making a huge impression during the previous season. It would be interesting to see who Kolkata pick as their specialist bowlers keeping the numerous all-rounders in perspective.
Brad Haddin departure from Australia’s tour to West Indies isn’t great news for Kolkata as he may not turn up for them this season. Nevertheless, McCullum’s addition gives them a solid wicket-keeping option and they have a Bisla who can also don the gloves. In the meantime, they can try to look around for a replacement for Haddin. However, they have enough resources and a replacement wouldn’t do much to change their side.
Shah Rukh Khan’s appeal is sure to win Kolkata millions of supporters beyond the frontiers of Bengal. The team’s motto “korbo, lorbo, jeetbo” has become a part of IPL folklore and is one of the most popular jigs. During the last season, Kolkata nearly lived up to it with a good performance. Is season five their time for glory?
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)