The Kolkata Knight Riders – champions of the Indian Premier League (IPL) – gear up to take their challenge to the world stage. The Champions League T20 (CLT20) presents an opportunity to take on the best in the world and affirm a higher status. For years, Kolkata were a team all about glitz, glamour and certain off-field issues. However, under the leadership of Gautam Gambhir, they have become a no-nonsense unit on the field and are playing to its potential in recent times.
During the IPL 2012, Kolkata played like a team and were consistent throughout. Although they were dependent on Gambhir with the bat for most parts of the tournament, the other players showed the fire to step up at crucial intervals to take the team through. The best example would be that of Manvinder Bisla – who scripted a scintillating knock in the IPL final when they lost Gambhir early. One can see such performances at different stages during the IPL 2012 and that shows the number of match-winners they have in their side.
The best thing about Kolkata’s squad is the numerous all-rounders they have. Jacques Kallis, Rajat Bhatia, Yusuf Pathan, Shakib Al Hasan and Ryan ten Doeschate are multi-dimensional cricketers and can make a significant impact in both departments. Kallis, Shakib and ten Doeschate are simply world-class and it is a captain’s dream to have them in the side. If some of his bowlers are going for runs, Gambhir only has to look around and would instantly find other options.
When it comes to picking the four foreign players, it becomes a tough proposition for Gambhir. One would invariably have to leave out a world-class player. Sunil Narine, Brett Lee, ten Doeschate, Shakib, Brendon McCullum and Kallis are the foreign players and if the rules permitted, the captain wouldn’t hesitate to field all of them. Off these players, Narine and Kallis walk in as they have specific and well-defined roles in the side. Narine cannot be left out because of his deception factor and the fact that he can single-handedly win games for Kolkata. Kallis, on the other hand, is a stabilising factor and his presence is crucial to hold the batting together.
Bisla’s sterling show in the IPL final means that McCullum may have to warm the bench during the CLT20. The star of the IPL 2012 final can keep wickets and is a good opener. However, it would be a tough choice as McCullum is a dangerous player and had scored a hundred during the recently concluded ICC World T20 2012. There may be a temptation to play him, but the Kiwi may lose out due to the limit on foreign players. Bisla must perform to hold on to his place as Kolkata may leave no opportunity to get McCullum back.
Of the other foreign players, Kolkata must play Lee as he still has the fire to bowl quick. In South African conditions he can be useful and help the team early on. The other toss-up would depend on whether Kolkata wants the extra spinner or the medium-pacer. Thus, ten Doeschate and Shakib would in all likelihood compete for the fourth spot.
Gambhir, Bisla and Kallis form a good trio at the top. They would be followed by Yusuf Pathan and Manoj Tiwary. Pathan had a dismal IPL 2012 and would have a point to prove. He is a dangerous player and a consistent performance from him would do well to help Kolkata through. Tiwary too would want to prove a point to the Indian selectors – who have kept him on the bench for far too long. His case is truly bizarre and despite scoring runs he finds himself out of the Indian eleven. A fantastic and dominating performance might change matters – one only hopes.
Kallis may have to take on more responsibility with the ball as Laxmipathy Balaji and Lee are the only frontline fast bowlers in the squad. Shami Ahmed is in the roster, but is it unlikely they will field the youngster. Balaji must build on his performance from the World T20. His variations can be a handful and Kolkata must play him to provide variety.
It is actually very difficult to pick an eleven given the depth of talent. The likes of Debabrata Das, Iqbal Abdullah, Bhatia and Ahmed will battle for a few spots and it would all depend on the combination Kolkata want to field. Gambhir would be delighted looking at his squad, but there may be in a bit of a dilemma.
Kolkata claim to fight and win going by their popular motto “Korbo, Lorbo, Jeetbo.” First up against them are the Delhi Daredevils – a power-packed side that can rule the roost on its day. It doesn’t get bigger than this as the main round of the CLT20 braces for an Indian Dhamaka!
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_