After a rather one-sided opening match, the IPL got in to its groove yesterday as the Rising Pune Supergiant clinched a thriller against neighboring rivals Mumbai Indians. An early lead up the table is crucial in the IPL and Gujarat Lions will be looking to replicate their form from last year as they face off against Kolkata Knight Riders in their first game of the tenth edition of the tourney.
Injuries and unavailability of players dominate the headlines as the two squads remain largely unchanged from the last edition. While Dwayne Bravo misses out the first couple of weeks due to injury and Ravindra Jadeja has been advised rest after a grueling Test season, the Knight Riders will miss the services of Umesh Yadav (precautionary rest) and Shakib Al Hasan due to international commitments in Sri Lanka.
With Brendon McCullum, Jason Roy, Dwayne Smith and Aaron Finch all available, the Lions have a variety of options to choose their opening combination from. While Smith and McCullum were a settled pair last season with Finch coming in at #4, it will be interesting to see if the in-form Roy is picked ahead of a tried and tested combination. Dinesh Karthik slots in at #5, having had a record breaking Vijay Hazare trophy in the lead-up to the IPL while former U-19 skipper, Ishan Kishan follows having had a breakthrough year with the bat. James Faulkner, in the absence of Dwayne Bravo, becomes an automatic pick.
Dhawal Kulkarni and Praveen Kumar will be looking to repeat their heroics from last season, while Basil Thampi might get a look in after a rewarding domestic season. The pacer can consistently hit 140 kph mark, and along with Mohd. Siraj (SRH) and T. Natarajan (KXIP), will be on the selectors’ radar. The final spinner’s slot will be an interesting toss-up between the chinaman Shivil Kaushik and the experience of Shadab Jakati.
The Knight Riders, on the other hand, will depend heavily on the mystery and guile of their off-beat slower bowlers, Narine and Kuldeep Yadav; the latter just returning from a highly impressive Test debut. The addition of Trent Boult to the squad is a huge boost to the pace bowling department, especially in the absence of Umesh Yadav. Shakib’s absence will be an opportunity for Woakes to cement his place as the all-rounder in the squad.
Like the Lions, the Kolkata franchise have a settled look to their top order with the experienced domestic trio of Gambhir, Uthappa and Manish Pandey taking the top 3 slots. Chris Lynn, after a second successive successful BBL, will slot in at 4 with the big hitting Yusuf Pathan and Surya Kumar Yadav to follow. Robin Uthappa will continue to don the wicketkeeping gloves while Rishi Dhawan’s all-round abilities may just fetch him a place ahead of Ankit Rajpoot.
Gujarat Lions: Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Suresh Raina (Capt), Aaron Finch, Dinesh Karthik, Ishan Kishan (WK), James Faulkner, Praveen Kumar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Shivil Kaushik, Basil Thampi
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (Capt), Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Chris Lynn, Yusuf Pathan, Surya Kumar Yadav, Chris Woakes, Rishi Dhawan, Kuldeep Yadav, Trent Boult, Sunil Narine.
The top order of the Lions, on paper, looks more explosive than that of the Knight Riders and definitely walk in to the match as favorites. The dependency of the Lions on their top order is emphasized on the stat that they scored more runs in the PowerPlay than any other team, and also the lowest in the last five overs. The spin duo of Kuldeep and Narine won’t be easy to score of and the Knight Riders best chance lie in choking the Lions middle and lower order.
Last season, the Lions won both their encounters against the Knight Riders and given their batting strength, my money would be on them to improve this record.
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