Gambhir’s leadership and a potent bowling group are the team’s strengths

High level of motivation, incisive bowling attack and the ability to soak in the extra pressure of being the reigning champion will make Kolkata Knight Riders a team to watch out for in the sixth edition of the Indian Premier League.

Having scaled the pinnacle after four seasons of experimentation, KKR wears a settled look as it prepares to defend the title.

Knight Riders’ journey through the years has been one of fascinating stories. Billed as the favourite owing to the involvement of two dominating characters, principal owner Shah Rukh Khan and former India skipper Sourav Ganguly, KKR went through a gamut of emotions before hitting the right chord that fetched the team its maiden crown last season.

A sixth place finish in the inaugural year was marked more by the spat between captain Ganguly and coach John Buchanan. The team’s fortunes plummeted to a new depth in the second year — finishing last when the tournament moved to South Africa.

Practical sense prevailed in the third year with the skipper having a larger say in all team matters; KKR regained the sixth place.

Pinched hearts of the owners and parched throats of the legion of KKR supporters forced a rethink of team strategy. New coach Dav Whatmore advocated a philosophy that curbed individual domination and encouraged collective performances.

In came captain Gambhir, the peerless Jacques Kallis and a few more to bolster the coach’s ideas.

Remarkable turnaround

There was a remarkable turnaround in KKR’s fortunes as the team began to click. It finished fourth and qualified for the CLT20 that season.

Trevor Bayliss took over from Whatmore in the fifth year and fine-tuned the side to a winning combination. Under him the team became focused.

Gambhir not only led from the front but also shrewdly exploited the team’s bowling strength to the hilt.

New recruit West Indian Sunil Narine was a revelation as he emerged the second highest wicket-taker with 24 scalps and made a marked difference to the side.

Narine will continue to be Gambhir’s trump card this season as well. Backed by pace spearhead-turned-mentor Brett Lee, classic all-rounder Kallis, the fiery pace of James Pattinson, the wily Lakshmipathy Balaji and the measly Rajat Bhatia and Iqbal Abdulla will form the team’s core group of bowlers. KKR, however, will miss the left-arm orthodox bowling of Shakib Al Hasan, who is set to tour Zimbabwe with his national side.

Gambhir and Bayliss will expect two game-changers to fire in batting. After the hurricane 158 not out in the first season, Brendon McCullum is yet to get a big one at the top of the order.

The team has been persisting with Yusuf Pathan hoping one day he will deliver. Five seasons have gone by; Yusuf is yet to show any glimpse of his big-hitting ability. His return to form will augur well for the middle-order.

Kallis is the backbone of the side. The premier all-rounder in world cricket brings into KKR’s batting a lot of depth and experience.

Lower in the order three Bengal players, Manoj Tiwary, Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Debabrata Das, can play explosive innings.

Fielding is a major concern for KKR as most of its star players are slow movers. Precise field placing and bowling to the field will help the team overcome this problem to a large extent.

All in all KKR has the wherewithal to make its presence felt in the coming season.

More In: Cricket | Sport | Ipl 2013