KKR aim for turnaround against Gambhir-led DD
Calcutta: On Monday evening when Gautam Gambhir comes out for the toss, he will surely have a strange feeling. Till last year he went for the toss wearing the Kolkata Knight Riders colours (KKR), with the boisterous Eden crowd rooting for him.
But this time it will be different. He will be leading the Delhi DareDevils against KKR at a ground where he spent seven memorable IPL seasons.
So, a new year, a new team and a new challenge. Gambhir will be hoping he has a memorable return.
On Sunday evening, the eve of the match, when Gambhir walked into the ground for the optional practice session, there was a cheer from the few that turned up on the Bengali New Year's Day. At the empty Eden, that cheer sounded like a roar.
Imagine what it would be at the packed Eden on Monday. "Gautam knows our team inside out. Obviously, there are a lot of changes in the personnel due to the way the auction panned out.
"He will know the wicket and conditions really well. He knows about a lot of our players who have been here for a long time. Conversely, so do we," KKR assistant coach Simon Katich said at the pre-match media conference.
"There are guys who have joined from other teams - some youngsters - so, it's not exactly the same team that played under Gautam for so many years. But I think from our point of view, it's about performing well against the opposition."
"In terms of the way we go about it, there are 10 other players in the Delhi team that are very dangerous as well and a number of them showed that against Mumbai Indians on Saturday."
Another player on whom there will be the spotlight is Mohammed Shami.
Shami returned to the city for the first time after accusations of abusing and cheating on his wife Hasin Jahan surfaced last month. Shami has turned out in all the three matches so far for the DareDevils in IPL XI.
On Sunday, Shami, along with Glenn Maxwell, Chris Morris, Trent Boult and Rishabh Pant did not attend the optional practice session. Morris is unwell and consulted a doctor on Sunday evening. About Rishabh, a team source said he is "nursing a slight niggle."
The DareDevils come from a last-ball victory against Mumbai Indians and that will give them the confidence. KKR, on the other hand, suffered two consecutive losses and badly need a win on Monday.
New captain Dinesh Karthik looked out of sorts in the last two games, where KKR finished second best to Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH), respectively.
While their five-wicket defeat to Mahendra Singh Dhoni's CSK in a nail-biting game was more down to misfortune, SRH rolled over the hosts with an all-round show barring the 12 overs from KKR's spinners.
As Karthik rightly pointed out on Saturday, KKR's strength lies in their three-pronged spin attack led by Sunil Narine, but also has celebrated chinaman Kuldeep Yadav and leg-spinner Piyush Chawla.
Narine was exceptional against SRH on Saturday, conceding just 17 runs in four overs and also taking the timely wickets of Wriddhiman Saha, who looked good for his 15-ball 24, and the in-form Shikhar Dhawan.
Kuldeep and Chawla also kept it tight as KKR's pacer bowlers kept leaking runs. KKR's worry has been their team composition as well, a feature laid bare on Saturday.
Dropping the horribly out-of-form Ranganath Vinay Kumar, Rinku Singh and Tom Curran, KKR went in with Under-19 World Cup winners Shubman Gill and Shivam Mavi, top-order batsman and pacer, respectively.
But while Gill, who bats at No.3, was sent in to bat after Narine at No.7, Mavi was handed the ball in the 15th over. Gill looked a fish out of water, huffing and puffing to three runs off nine balls before Bhuvneshwar Kumar got him back, while Mavi was hit for 10 runs in his only over.
The opening slot with Chris Lynn is also an uncertainty with Narine not coming out with the Australian on Saturday and Uthappa filling in that role, for only the second time since the end of the 2016 season.
KKR's pace battery has also been poor, giving away a lot of runs and lacking firepower or variety up front.
KNIGHT RIDERS VS DD
(CALCUTTA, 8 PM)