Despite the absence of many star players, composing a balanced team will be the major task for both the teams when defending champions Kolkata Knight Riders take on Delhi Daredevils in the high-profile opening game of the IPL-VI here at the Eden Gardens on Wednesday.
Both are beset with more or less the same set of woes, of key individuals missing out due to injuries or domestic engagements. Knight Riders would miss New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum (hamstring niggle), Australian fast bowler James Pattinson (rest advocated by Cricket Australia) and Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan (tour to Zimbabwe). Delhi’s plight is worse, as they would miss England batsman Kevin Pietersen (ruled out for the entire tournament due to a right-knee injury), New Zealand opener Jesse Ryder (assaulted in a brawl) and pacer Morne Morkel (domestic engagements). But their biggest setback is opening batsmen Virender Sehwag missing the match (back spasm).
Form of several vital players from both sides haven’t been inspiring either. KKR skipper Gautam Gambhir was dropped from the Indian team for the home Test series against Australia and it would be a big challenge for him to lead from the front in the IPL. All-rounder Jacues Kallis, too, hasn’t been at his best. So has been Daredevils’ skipper Mahela Jayawardene. Still, Knight Riders are slight favourites for the gala opener. The traditionally massive crowd support and the inspiration of principal owner-cum-Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan should spur Gambhir and his knights.
Besides, they have a better bowling machinery. The inclusion of Sri Lankan offie Sachithra Senanayke has further strengthened the spin department, which already has the gifted Sunil Narine. The appointment of Aussie speedster Brett Lee as mentor has also sharpened the pace department.
Hero of last year’s final, Manvinder Bisla, is set to open the innings with Gambhir. The middle order is likely to be picked from Jacques Kallis, Manoj Tiwary, Ryan ten Doeschate, Yusuf Pathan, Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Debabrata Das.The underwhelming Daredevils can draw inspiration from their triumph over Knight Riders last year at this venue.