The squad has a settled look to it

Bowlers with Midas touch… Indian medium-pacer L. Balaji (centre) and West Indian spinner Sunil Narine (right). Pace spearhead Brett Lee (left) will double up as the bowling mentor for the Knight Riders.-VIVEK BENDRE Bowlers with Midas touch… Indian medium-pacer L. Balaji (centre) and West Indian spinner Sunil Narine (right). Pace spearhead Brett Lee (left) will double up as the bowling mentor for the Knight Riders.

Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) came of age in IPL-5. After four seasons of disappointment and morale-sapping controversies, it finally tasted success under Gautam Gambhir, who rebuilt the team and helped his players overcome self-doubts.

Prior to last year’s edition, Gambhir had had an ordinary time. He hadn’t scored a Test century for close to two years, but he shone in the IPL, scoring 590 runs — second only to Chris Gayle.

Now, on the eve of IPL-6, Gambhir finds himself in a deeper hole. Out of the Test team, he will once again look to the shortest format to revive his nose-diving fortunes.

For Gambhir, the big plus is that the team has a settled look to it. This was evident during the auction when Knight Riders did not go for big reinforcements. Only two players — South African all-rounder Ryan McLaren and Sri Lankan spinner Sachithra Senanayake — were picked.

The crux of the team remains the same as last year. KKR would look forward to a repeat performance from its two bowlers with Midas touch — West Indian spinner Sunil Narine and Indian medium-pacer L. Balaji. They were the only two bowlers to pick up eight or more wickets at an economy rate of less than six. Narine bagged 24 scalps and his exploits earned him the Player of the Tournament award, while, Balaji, though bogged down by injuries, managed to snare 11 wickets.

In Jacques Kallis, the team has one of the greatest all-rounders the game has ever seen. He will be KKR’s fulcrum. His 409 runs and 15 wickets last year proved invaluable. His presence means that an extra bowler or a batsman, depending on the need, can be accommodated. Rajat Bhatia and Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan revelled, picking up 13 and 12 wickets respectively, while Debabrata Das impressed with his finishing act. More such performances will be expected from the trio.

Manoj Tiwary looks a far improved player from the previous edition. In addition, Mohammed Shami made his limited overs debut for India and now finds a place in the squad. In the absence of Wasim Akram, pace spearhead Brett Lee will double up as the bowling mentor. KKR will hope that the dual responsibility does not prove to be a burden for the Aussie. Yusuf Pathan and Laxmi Shukla had forgettable outings last time around. They will be under tremendous pressure to justify their inclusion.

For the Kolkata team, the find of IPL Season five was undoubtedly Manvinder Bisla. The wicketkeeper-batsman got his opportunity after Brendon McCullum, a game-changer in his own right, had to be dropped to make way for Brett Lee in the absence of an injured Balaji. A 48-ball 89 followed in the final against Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and a star was born.

This star along with other accomplished ones needs to shine brighter if KKR hopes to emulate CSK’s achievement of defending the title.

N. Sudarshan