Kolkata: Kolkata Knight Riders would look to usher in a fresh era under new captain Dinesh Karthik with a victory when they open their Indian Premier League campaign against heavyweights Royal Challengers Bangalore, here tomorrow.
As KKR seek to create an new identity in the post-Gautam Gambhir era, it would not be a surprise to see a packed Sunday Eden crowd rooting for the star Indian skipper Virat Kohli in the RCB jersey. The mood of uncertainty in the home camp was aptly summed by their assistant coach Simon Katich who termed themselves as "underdogs" against RCB, despite KKR leading the head-to-head record 12-9.
Karthik's last ball six in the T20 Tri-nation final win over Bangladesh last month sent a timely assurance to the KKR loyalists but the Tamil Nadu wicketkeeper batsman has an envious task at hand to match or better what Gambhir did as the southpaw led KKR to two titles in 2012 and 2014. The first task up front will be to find the right balance in what seems to be a weak middle order and a motivate the pace attack which got depleted after the pullout of Aussie pace spearhead Mitchell Starc.
Karthik has an unknown entity in Rinku Singh, and three uncapped youngsters in Shubman Gill, Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarcoti, fresh from winning Under-19 World Cup. KKR's nucleus is intact in Robin Uthappa, Chris Lynn, Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Piyush Chawla and Kuldeep Yadav. The support staff is also intact. Head coach Jacques Kallis who has been with the side since their resurgence under Gambhir in 2011 along with Simon will look to guide and support the new captain.
The trio of Lynn, Russell and Narine, who are their obvious choice as foreign players and form the backbone, are coming back from respective setbacks. Lynn (shoulder) and Russell (hamstring) are recovering from injuries, while their ace spinner Narine has remodelled his action after his latest call for a suspect action. With no Starc, they have pace bowling option in Aussie veteran Mitchell Johnson who has not been at his finest in recent months, while R Vinay Kumar hasn't made a significant impact in recent IPL seasons.
Englishman Tom Curran, Starc's replacement, is a handy all-rounder but he is yet to play in India and will be watched closely. KKR go into the match with happy memories of skittling out RCB for the lowest ever IPL total (49) here last year, while in the return leg Narine smashed the tournament's fastest fifty (17 ball 54 ) as they made a double over Kohli's side in 2017. In present scenario however it may sound ambitious.
Kohli's stature as a captain and batsman has grown manifold in last one year and the Indian skipper will look to end the season on a high with the elusive IPL title. Kohli and AB de Villiers will once again form a strong top-order with 2,212 runs together in 53 innings, including seven century stands. Traditionally a batting-heavy unit, RCB have showed the urgency in tweaking the side by letting go stars such as Chris Gayle and Shane Watson.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Dinesh Karthik (c), Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Andre Russell, Nitish Rana, Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Mitchell Johnson, Shubman Gill, Vinay Kumar, Rinku Singh, Cameron Delport, Javon Searless, Apoorv Wankhade, Ishank Jaggi and Tom Curran.
Royal Challengers Bangalore: Virat Kohli (c), AB de Villiers, Sarfaraz Khan, Chris Woakes, Yuzvendra Singh Chahal, Umesh Yadav, Brendon McCullum, Washington Sundar, Navdeep Saini, Quinton de Kock, Mohammed Siraj, Colin de Grandhomme, Corey Anderson, M Ashwin, Parthiv Patel, Moeen Ali, Mandeep Singh, Manan Vohra, Pawan Negi, Tim Southee, Kulwant Khejroliya, Aniket Choudhary, Pavan Deshpande, Anirudha Joshi.
Match starts 8pm.