While bowling looks fairly balanced, the 2012 champions would want to overcome their problem of hot and cold with the bat. (AFP)
The Kolkata-based franchise, co-owned by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, is widely seen as one of the most profitable teams in the commerce of the Indian Premier League (IPL) but overall not very successful on the field, though they pulled it off in 2012 after not doing justice to their reputation in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Gautam Gambhir's transfer from Delhi Daredevils to Kolkata Knight Riders' (KKR) captaincy did the trick for the Bengal franchise; he first led them to a fourth-place finish in 2011 and then won them the trophy in 2012, much to the relief of Shah Rukh and the franchise's fans, who had to wait for five years to see their dream turn into reality. However, the KKR failed to defend their title last season, finishing seventh among nine teams.
Going into IPL 7, KKR, coached by Trevor Bayliss, retained only two of their players - Gambhir and West Indies mystery spinner Sunil Narine - and provided themselves the opportunity to revamp the squad structure. But at the players' auction, KKR bought back Yusuf Pathan and Jacques Kallis by using their 'right to match' cards and then also secured Bangladesh allrounder Shakib Al Hasan, Dutchman Ryan ten Doeschate and Australian quickie Patrick Cummins back, along with Manvinder Singh Bisla and Debabrata Das.
Here's an analysis of the star IPL club ahead of the league's seventh edition beginning April 16 in the UAE:
The franchise's biggest strength is their bowling unit. The pace department will be spearheaded by Morne Morkel, with assistance from Umesh Yadav, Vinay Kumar and Patrick Cummins. West Indian allrounder Andre Russell, Kallis and Doeschate will come handy with their medium pace.
In the spin department, KKR's attack is led by their trump card Sunil Narine, who will be supported by left-arm spin of Shakib, Piyush Chawla's leg breaks, offspinner Yusuf Pathan and India U-19 chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav.
While bowling looks fairly balanced, batting has been KKR's biggest concern in the previous editions. It has let the team down on several occasions, irrespective of a few standout individual performances.
Once again they will be led by Gambhir at the top. The southpaw has been one of their leading run-getters in the tournament and they will need him to stay on the crease for a good length of time. Their recent purchase, explosive batsman Robin Uthappa, will most likely open with Gambhir, given the fact that he opened for the now-defunct Pune Warriors India in the previous edition.
While names like Kallis, Pathan and Shakib gives you confidence, KKR's biggest concern has been to stay consistent throughout the tournament, which they haven't been able to do.
The Kolkata Knight Riders have plenty of star players with enough might to make them the champions, provided they play well consistently.
Gautam Gambhir: One of the leading run-scorers in the IPL, the KKR skipper's good form will be vital to their championship bid. On his part, Gambhir would also want to make a comeback to the Indian team with some sound performances in this year's IPL.
Jacques Kallis: One of the greatest allrounders to have graced the game, Kallis was instrumental in KKR's road to the title in 2012; and this year too, the burly South African would want to emulate his previous feats in what could be his last IPL.
Sunil Narine: This mystery offspinner from West Indies made headlines when he was brought by the KKR for a whopping $700,000 at the 2012 players' auction. And he didn't disappoint them, bagging the Man-of-the-Tournament award while spinning KKR to their maiden title. He is definitely a force to reckon with.
The 2012 champions didn't have the run they would have dreamt of in the first three editions of the league. In the inaugural 2008 season, they finished in 6th position. In 2009, KKR languished at the bottom of the table, winning only three out of their 14 matches. In 2010, they finished sixth, winning seven and losing seven of their 14 matches. The KKR did well in 2011, finishing fourth on the points table. Then came the fifth edition of the tournament in 2012, the year of the Knights, as they lay they hands to the trophy. However, in 2013, they failed to match the momentum of the previous year and finished seventh among nine teams.
Chances this year
Kolkata appear to be one of the strongest sides on paper, with a perfect blend of allrounders, pace attack and quality spinners. The only front looking a bit uncovered is their batting which lacks some firepower. Overall, they look solid to book a place in the top four if they click as a unit.
Squad: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Sunil Narine, Jacques Kallis, Robin Uthappa, Piyush Chawla, Yusuf Pathan, Shakib Al Hasan, Morne Morkel, Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Manish Pandey, Chris Lynn, Patrick Cummins, Ryan ten Doeschate, Suryakumar Yadav, Andre Russell, Manvinder Bisla, Veer Pratap Singh, Kuldeep Yadav, Debabrata Das, Sayan Mondal