Preview: Mumbai Indians v/s Kolkata Knight Riders
Somehow, the League
manages to live on. After a tumultuous end to last season, where CSK
were on the verge of not playing the finals, the brigade is back for a long season—expected to be carried out in three separate countries.
The first match of the league has the defending Champions (Mumbai Indians) play 2012 Champions KKR at Abu Dhabi. Apparently, tickets were sold like hotcakes as soon as the venues and schedule for the first half of the season was declared—this will be the perfect chance for Middle-east cricket fans to get a live glimpse of the largest and most controversial cricketing spectacle on Earth.
Forget the chaos surrounding the circumstances for now, and let us concentrate—for a change—on the cricketing aspect of this season:
Two-time Champions League winners and League Champions will be led by blue-eyed boy Rohit Sharma, with Sachin Tendulkar as idol and mentor. They splurged at the auction for reasons not quite understood—but then, not selecting Maxwell and other million-dollar buys has proved to be beneficial so far. This time, though, they may have gone too far, letting go of in-form Australians Maxwell, Johnson and West Indian Smith. Since this is the first game of the season, it will be interesting to see the first-choice team, with no such thing as ‘Home’ or ‘Away’ for now.
Predicted 11: Michael Hussey, Aditya Tare, Rohit Sharma, Ambati Rayadu, Shreyas Gopal, Kieron Pollard, Corey Anderson, Pragyan Ojha, Harbhajan Singh, Malinga, Zaheer Khan.
On first glimpse, this looks like a Reject Indian XI, with ex-players like Harbhajan and Zaheer making up the numbers—but they have proven to be effective players in domestic T20 cricket over the years. Spinners will play an important role on this pitch. More so, the veterans might not be selected as often as earlier, but they will combine with Tendulkar to be mentors to the younger guys like Gopal, Saxena, Santokie and De Lange.
The squad looks a bit imbalanced with lesser specialist batsmen, but they have gone the all-rounder and bowler route, giving additional responsibility to Hussey and Sharma at the top.
X-factor: Look out for Santokie, already a revelation with his bizarre left-arm action, who can be a very useful variety bowler in this format. The sooner the management finds a permanent spot for him, the better it is for Sharma.
The Knight Riders have the core of their team still intact, retaining (and buying back) guys like Kallis, Ryan Ten, Narine and Yusuf Pathan (?). Gambhir remains captain, and he has a point to prove this time, still out of the international team. Watching Gambhir bat has become an annual sighting for Indian fans now, only in the IPL, this being his best chance to carve his way back into the Indian team. Their squad looks ominous, especially with the arrival of Morne Morkel and Pat Cummins. Bisla and Uthappa will fight for the wicketkeeper’s spot, a problem of plenty for a team that isn’t used to consistency. This is a team of all-rounders.
Predicted 11: Gambhir, Uthappa, Kallis, Pandey, Bisla, Shakib/Ryan Ten, Pathan, Vinay Kumar, Narine, Morkel, Chawla.
On the bench: Ryan Ten, Cummins, Russell, Lynn, Umesh Yadav.
Their bench strength is tremendous, giving them the option of dropping and picking players at will—but they have to be careful not to damage the morale of the lesser Indian players. It will be a toss-up between Shakib and Ryan Ten, depending on the pitches they play on, while Narine and Kallis will be perpetual fixed spots. Morne might not play every game on the slow pitches, with guys like Umesh played to give them more all-rounders to pick from.
Prediction: Impossible to tell, but let’s start with a KKR win, because they look like the more well-rounded team—albeit with a fragile explosive middle-order prone to collapses.
By Rahul Desai