Kolkata Knight Riders primed for top podium finish.

 Kolkata Knight Riders primed for top podium finish.

Two-time Indian Premier League champions Kolkata Knight Riders are the team to watch out for this season. Though the winners of 2012 and 2014 editions failed to win any title in the last five seasons, they have assembled an impressive unit this year in their bid for the third title.

They had reached the playoffs four times apart from winning the two titles, making them one of the consistent teams in the league. Knight Riders, led by Dinesh Karthik, possess one of the explosive batting units. This is despite letting go of Australia’s Chris Lynn and Robin Uthappa.

They have shelled out Rs 15.5 crore for the Australian fast bowler Pat Cummins, making him the most expensive foreign buy in the history of the cash-rich tournament. In addition, they have bought England’s World Cup winning captain Eoin Morgan who has been in tremendous form of late.

With Lynn’s departure, youngster Shubman Gill, who made an impression in the last season and has been waiting for an opportunity, will finally get to open the innings along with the dangerous opener Sunil Narine. With the likes of Morgan, Dinesh Karthik, Nitish Rana their middle-order is packed with quality batters. The presence of explosive Caribbean all-rounder Andre Russell down the order makes them a dangerous unit.

Russell single-handedly won a few matches from losing position for KKR and almost helped them to the playoffs before losing the virtual knockout in the previous season. But he failed to get enough support from Karthik or Uthappa.

He has been their best performer both in the batting and bowling departments scoring 510 runs at an average of 56.66 and a staggering strike rate of over 204. He has also scalped 11 wickets, most for KKR, in the season making him the most reliable player. In fact, he is the only player in the IPL history to win the Most Valuable Player award twice despite his team not reaching playoffs. But this time, he is set to have good support in this department. England’s Tom Banton has made a reputation for himself in the Big Bash League but he may serve as a backup opener for the Knight Riders.

The bowling department, with the inclusion of Cummins, has good depth. Lockie Ferguson has been a known successful customer. But he may have to wait for his turn in the playing XI. Russell’s additional ability to share the new ball and at death provides Karthik good options. Local pacers Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti, who were impressive in their under-19 World Cup journey, are fit and raring to go, posing selection dilemmas.

With spin-friendly pitches on offer in UAE, Narine and Kuldeep Yadav combination has a greater importance this time. The Knight Riders made their former opener Brendon McCullum as their head coach and in England captain Morgan, Karthik has a lot of support in strategising his moves on the field. On the whole, if everyone performs to their potential, the Kolkata-based team might just grab their third IPL trophy.

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