It’s easy to get sucked into the belief that Twenty20 cricket is a batsman’s game. Pack a team with enough power-hitters and you’ve got yourself a winner. Well, not quite. If there’s anything to take away from Kolkata Knight Riders’s two title triumphs in the Indian Premier League, it’s that bowlers aren’t so superfluous in the shortest format after all.
Kolkata can pack a punch lower down the order, but rely primarily on their bowling unit to deliver the knockout blow, especially on the turning tracks at home. Sunil Narine’s participation seems unlikely with wonks in his actions yet to be ironed out, but the side is still spoiled for choice with the craftiest bowlers at their disposal.
They know what it takes to win the trophy. With Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals dissolved for the time being, Kolkata are the only franchise, aside from Mumbai Indians, who have gone the distance, giving them a distinct edge over other teams. Furthermore, the nucleus of the Kolkata side is largely the same. Not only does that mean each player will have more clarity on what their role in the side is, but the fan-player connect, an oft overlooked aspect of franchise cricket, will remain intact.
Due to elections in Kolkata, the team will only be playing two home games during the first month. It’s not an ideal situations as most teams in the past, while strong at home, have struggled away. Kolkata will need to make the most of their first two games at the Eden Gardens and improve their away performance so they don’t put themselves under undue pressure come the business end of the tournament.
Meanwhile, Trevor Bayliss has moved on to a more plum assignment as England coach. Taking his place is Jacques Kallis as head coach and Simon Katich as assistant coach – how smooth the transition is remains to be seen.
The laughing stock in the first three years of the league, a major revamp ahead of season four helped Kolkata turn a corner. The management cut the umbilical cord between the franchise and Sourav Ganguly, and then broke the piggy bank to buy Gautam Gambhir, who they instated as captain. The side reached the playoffs for the first time that year and in 2012, Gambhir’s no-nonsense style of leadership coupled with coach Trevor Bayliss’s emphasis on keeping things simple (nixing any multiple-captain theory) saw them emerge champions. Another title came in 2014, and though they had difficulties defending their crown, 2016 offers a fresh start.
2016 auction action
After releasing nine players in December 2015 – the biggest name being Ryan ten Doeschate – Kolkata went into the February auction looking for back-ups, more than anything else. They ended up buying seven players: Colin Munro, John Hastings, Jason Holder, Jaydev Unadkat, Manan Sharma, R Sathish and Ankit Rajpoot. They were a touch disappointed losing Carlos Braithwaite in a bidding war to Delhi Daredevils, but Munro knows a thing or two about big hitting as well.
Young player to watch
Suryakumar Yadav, or SKY as he is affectionately referred to, is one of the youngsters Kolkata have backed to the hilt, playing him in all the games since he was bought in the 2014 auction. He endured a slump in the previous edition after a promising first year, but was one of they key players in Mumbai’s march to their 41st Ranji Trophy title, finishing as the fourth-highest run-getter of the season with 788 runs at 46.35, and hitting 156 in the Irani Cup. Kolkata will be hoping he carries on from there this year.
Squad: Gautam Gambhir (capt), Manish Pandey, Robin Uthappa, Chris Lynn, Suryakumar Yadav, Colin Munro, Andre Russell, Yusuf Pathan, Shakib Al Hasan, John Hastings, Jason Holder, R Sathish, Manan Sharma, Sheldon Jackson, Kuldeep Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Brad Hogg, Morne Morkel, Sunil Narine, Jaydev Unadkat, Ankit Rajpoot.
Nisha Shetty is Senior Sub-Editor at Wisden India . Mint has a content partnership with Wisden India for the Indian Premier League season.