Friday, March 19, 2010

IPL: Kolkata Knight Riders

Having worked with him at Middlesex, I recognise this as typical Buchanan: he is always looking to challenge received wisdom and shake things up. Sometimes his thinking can be insightful; at other times it just causes problems. In this case, I think it might have been unwise to challenge Ganguly, the Knight Riders’ captain and leading run-scorer last season. He is not known as the “Prince of Kolkata” for nothing.

In 2008, the Knight Riders started spectacularly, when New Zealand’s Brendon McCullum teed off in the opening match in Mumbai. But after that they suffered four consecutive defeats as their batting struggled to reproduce the same level of quality. As for their bowling, it was too reliant on the excellent Umar Gul, who averaged fewer than 16 runs per wicket. Without Gul and Shoaib Akhtar — both ruled out by the Pakistan Cricket Board’s tough stance on the IPL — the Knight Riders must find new ways of getting people out.

Fortunately, two lesser performers of the 2008 season have matured greatly in the past 12 months. Despite attracting a huge $950,000 bid, Ishant Sharma was a disappointment last year, but he has since turned himself into one of the world’s most respected young bowlers. His inswing, delivered from a high action and with canny variations in pace, will present batsmen with an unusual challenge.

Ajantha Mendis, the Sri Lankan mystery spinner, had played just three one-day internationals when he was brought on board last year, which may explain why he was selected for only a single IPL match. Yet since then, he has been a revelation, averaging 23 runs per wicket in Tests and a scarcely credible 13 in one-dayers. Not bad for a bloke whom the Knight Riders signed originally as a replacement.

With McCullum available for the whole season, and Chris Gayle, of the West Indies, hoping to play in the IPL for the first time, Kolkata will have extra, top-order artillery. With openers like these, they are bound to unleash further pyrotechnics from time to time. But their biggest challenge will be to maintain form over the long haul. Their owner, the Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan, will expect nothing less.

Key man: Brendon McCullum

Likely starting XI: Brendon McCullum (wk), Chris Gayle, Sourav Ganguly (capt), Cheteshwar Pujara, Debabrata Das, Moises Henriques, Laxmi Shukla, Murali Kartik, Ishant Sharma, Ashok Dinda, Ajantha Mendis.

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