KOLKATA: Mystery spinner Sunil Narine's return will enable a confident Kolkata Knight Riders to tighten the noose when they take on a shaky Mumbai Indians in an Indian Premier League cricket tournament encounter, here tomorrow.
Both the Knights and defending champions MI were a part of utterly lopsided campaigns in their respective lung openers.
While Knights clinically decimated Delhi Daredevils by 9 wickets having bowled the opposition for a sub-100 score, the Mumbai Indians were at the receiving end with league debutants Rising Pune Supergiants giving them a sound thrashing by 9 wickets. Narine, who had left for the Caribbean after his father's demise is back in Kolkata, and with clearance from the ICC will like to forge a lethal combination with 45-year-old chinaman exponent Brad Hogg, if both are picked as overseas recruits.
Narine with 74 IPL scalps from four seasons has been instrumental in Gautam Gambhir leading the Shah Rukh Khan co-owned franchise to titles in 2012 and 2014.
If the jet-lagged Narine is available, it will mean a selection dilemma for Gambhir with the Aussie veteran Brad Hogg (3/19) being the pick of their bowler rattling DD for 98 in 17.4 overs.
In that case, Gambhir may like to dump John Hastings, who did bowl well against Daredevils. A look at India's recent series in Australia will indicate that Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma had really played the big-bodied Aussie really well. The other option is to play a batsman less to induct Narine and in that case Colin Munro may be made to sit out.
That apart, KKR has the perfect winning combination in place even if that would mean a heartbreak for Bangaldeshi star all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan who could not make the XI despite his fine performance in the World Twenty20, where he took 10 wickets from seven matches.
This will be KKR's last match at the Eden this month as they will hit the road for six successive away matches with West Bengal in the middle of the Assembly polls as Gambhir's men cannot afford to let go the crucial two points at home.
If Mumbai Indians, who had won their two IPL titles at this venue in 2013 and 2015, will have to bounce back from the defeat against debutants Pune Supergiants in the IPL opener, the onus will be on their batters to decode the spin puzzle of KKR at their happy hunting venue.
But going by their performance in the last match, it looked extremely weak as the defence of the title looks very shaky even at this early stage unless they get back to the rhythm at the earliest.
It will be skipper Rohit Sharma who will have to lead by example up front at the same venue where he had scored an ODI world record 264.
After surprisingly deciding to bat on a strip with seam movement and bounce, Mumbai Indians star batsmen struggled as they were 68 for 7 in the 16th over, having lost their top four batsmen inside five overs for 30.
It was the feisty Harbhajan who wriggled them out of the hole with an unbeaten 30-ball 45 to prop the total to 121 for 8. The target proved too little for the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Faf du Plessis and KP Pietersen who scripted a nine-wicket win in 14.4 overs. "Hopefully, we will go back and come back with a positive frame of mind. Never thought the ball would do that much having played a lot of cricket here. They swung it a lot and our shot selection wasn't great. We have good memories in Kolkata. It's just the start of the tournament, no need to panic," Rohit had said.
With their team think-tank boasting the legendary duo of Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting to go with a star studded line-up captained by Rohit Sharma, there's an overflowing of talents in the most decorated dressing room.
It will be all about channelising them to bring out the best XI something that had come in for much debate following their debacle at home.
Having impressed in India colours, Jasprit Bumrah struggled conceding 30 runs without a wicket, while Hardik Pandya (nine from 11 balls) too was unimpressive after being promoted to No 3 and gave away the winning runs leaking 12 in four balls.
West Indies bighitter Kieron Pollard, returning from an injury that kept him out of the World Twenty20, looked out of sorts in his one from eight balls as he would need a couple of games to get his eye back.
The exclusion of New Zealand big allrounder Corey Anderson who could have been a better option for Mitchell McClenaghan also came as a surprise so as that of Gujarat captain and wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel who has had an impressive domestic season with a century in the last match in the oneday Deodhar Trophy.
Patel also had a fruitful Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy domestic T20 tournament where he scored four halfcenturies as he along with Delhi opener Unmukt Chand may vie for a place.
Mumbai Indians may also have to rethink their bowling strategy at the Eden turner and Karnataka leftarm spinner J Suchith, a big turner of the ball, may seem a better option to go with the seasoned Harbhajan.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (c), Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Colin Munro, Suryakumar Yadav, Yusuf Pathan, Andre Russell, Piyush Chawla, John Hastings, Brad Hogg, Umesh Yadav, Sunil Narine, Shakib Al Hasan, Morne Morkel, Chris Lynn, Jason Holder, Kuldeep Yadav, Manan Sharma, Ankit Rajput, Rajagopal Sathish, Jaydev Unadkat and Sheldon Jackson.
Mumbai Indians: Rohit Sharma (c), Lendl Simmons, Hardik Pandya, Jos Buttler, Ambati Rayudu, Kieron Pollard, Shreyas Gopal, Harbhajan Singh, R Vinay Kumar, Mitchell McClenaghan, Jasprit Bumrah, Corey Anderson, Unmukt Chand, Marchant de Lange, Kishore Kamath, Siddhesh Lad, Krunal Pandya, Parthiv Patel, Deepak Punia, Nitish Rana, Jitesh Sharma, Nathu Singh, Tim Southee, Jagadeesha Suchith and Akshay Wakhare.