Both teams finished in the Top 4, advancing to the playoffs in 2016. And none of them made the final. This year, Kolkata Knight Riders has a few Indian bowlers who have been involved in Test cricket, while all their Indian batsmen have been out of the squad and hungry to prove themselves. This tournament is their only outlet, apart from Ranji cricket.
Titles: 2 (2012, 2014)
Captain: Gautam Gambhir
Coach: Jacques Kallis
Notable additions: Chris Woakes, Darren Bravo, Trent Boult, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Rishi Dhawan
KKR lost to Sunrisers Hyderabad last year in the eliminator, after squeezing in at fourth place in the group stages. Gautam Gambhir, their captain – one of only three to have won two titles at the helm – finished as their top scorer with 501 runs. He has been their most consistent player, and the batsman with maximum amount of fifties, even after he was dropped from India’s limited-overs setup for good. It seems like only yesterday that Shoaib Akhtar blew away opponents in the first two matches of KKR’s 2008 campaign, with Shah Rukh Khan waving for him in the stands, and Brendon McCullum propelling the tournament into the limelight with a stunning 158* in their first match against Rahul Dravid’s Royal Challengers Bangalore.
KKR have been consistent after their first few seasons, thanks mainly to their core group of experienced players – namely Gambhir, Jacques Kallis (when he was still their opener), Robin Uthappa (still on top), Manish Pandey and Sunil Narine. Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan is still part of the eclectic side, as is new spinning sensation left-arm chinaman Kuldeep Yadav and in-form Umesh Yadav – both of who bowled India to a series victory against Australia recently at Dharamsala. They’ve gone for pace this year, with Chris Woakes and Trent Boult being two of the smartest picks in the auction. They are full of all-rounders as usual, and remain one of the few teams that rely on an all-Indian batting top order. The loss of Andre Russell to a one-year suspension will hurt, given that he was one of their main bowlers last year, and best finishers in the middle order.
X-factor: Sunil Narine
He has been iffy for the last few seasons after yet another change to his bowling action – but remains their premier spinner and wicket-taker on his day. He is still difficult to pick, and has been performing well in the other domestic leagues across the world.
Predicted XI: Gambhir, Uthappa, Pandey, Bravo/Lynn, Pathan, Shakib/Woakes, Suryakumar Yadav, Narine, Boult, Umesh Yadav, Kuldeep Yadav
Prediction: Group Stages
Captain: Suresh Raina
Coach: Brad Hodge
Seasons: 1 (2016)
Notable additions: Jason Roy, Munaf Patel, Nathu Singh, Manpreet Gony
Key players: Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Bravo, James Faulker, Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja
The ‘babies’ of the league topped the league table last year but lost both their playoff games to be dumped out of the tournament. Perhaps another version of RCB, the Lions are extremely top-heavy, too, as well as all-rounder heavy, and have virtually no world-class strike bowlers now that Dale Steyn is injured. But their overseas players performed well last year, with Aaron Finch, Dwayne Smith and Dwayne Bravo proving their worth in gold – pulling them across a mid-season dip and finishing strong until the knockouts. Jadeja was a little low-key last season, but will be high on confidence after the Test series. Suresh Raina will want to use him effectively in the middle overs and frustrate opponent batsmen with his economical bowling. They have a problem of plenty at the top though. Dhawal Kulkarni was their leading wicket-taker last year, above Bravo.
X-factor: Jason Roy
The swashbuckling English opener has been in prime form all season, smashing the Indian bowlers all around when England toured a couple of months ago. He was one of their bright sparks, and was snapped up by a team with three overseas openers already. It may not make sense, but it shows that Dwayne Smith and Aaron Finch may just be benched if Roy finds his groove early on.
Predicted XI: Jason Roy, McCullum, Raina, Karthik, Ishan Kishan, Bravo, Faulkner, Jadeja, Dhawal Kulkarni, Shivil Kaushik, Praveen Kumar
Prediction: Group Stages