Can Gambhir's presence and leadership inspire a turnaround for KKR?
The competition's most consistent side takes on its most wretched as the Indian Premier League season IV gets underway with Chennai Super Kings (CSK) playing Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) at Chepauk on Firday.
Defending champion CSK has reached at least the semifinal stage in each of the three previous editions of the tournament. KKR has so far been the only team to have failed to make the last-four cut even once.
CSK has beaten KKR in four of their six previous meetings, but the format doesn't lend itself too favourably to drawing conclusions from recent history. The teams, especially after the auction-induced churning Kolkata was subjected to, appear to be equally matched on paper.
If Chennai has retained the unquestionable leadership credentials of M.S. Dhoni, Kolkata has included in its ranks the most expensive player of IPL IV — Gautam Gambhir, snapped up at $2.4 million — who will helm a team that's been perpetually torn by captaincy issues.
There was no place for Kolkata's original mascot, Sourav Ganguly, in any capacity in this edition, but its purchases — Yusuf Pathan, Jacques Kallis, Eoin Morgan, Brad Haddin, Brett Lee and Ryan ten Doeschate — are all potential match-winners. Lee and Haddin would be available after the Bangladesh series.
Kallis's is a game highly adaptable, Pathan a product waiting to combust and Morgan the definitive finisher. The Netherlands' ten Doeschate, in one innings against England in the World Cup, ensured that he would forever be regarded with wariness by the opposition.
For L. Balaji, who'll turn out in Kolkata colours for the first time, it will be an experience bowling against his erstwhile home side.
Chennai too is brimming with game-changers. It contains the flat-wicket firepower of M. Vijay and Suresh Raina, and the stabilising traits of Michael Hussey, S. Badrinath and Dhoni. Left-arm paceman Doug Bollinger will have to wait to be unleashed on the opposition, since the injured bowler is unavailable for the first few matches. In the absence of Muttiah Muralitharan, the off-spin of R. Ashwin will assume a more attacking role.
Dhoni has always put his trust in overseas players for pace duties and furthering that line of thought will be new inductee Tim Southee, New Zealand's WC sensation, who will look to continue his swinging success into the T20 format.
More than the imports —the number of whom per eleven is restricted to four — it will be the mix and match of local talent, and how efficiently the think-tanks manage the composition, that might prove decisive.
This article has been corrected for a factual error
Keywords: IPL IV