Brace up for thrill-a-minute ride

Brace up for thrill-a-minute ride

Cricket: Defending champions Deccan Chargers face Kolkata Knight Riders in opener

Brace up for thrill-a-minute ride

Gearing up: Deccan Chargers’ VVS Laxman (right), RP Singh (centre) and Rohit Sharma during a practice session on Thursday ahead of the IPL III opener against KKR in Mumbai. AP

Up against the Knight Riders, who brought up the foot of the table in South Africa last year, are defending champions Deccan Chargers, quite the story of IPL II. Table-proppers in the inaugural competition, the Chargers rejigged their set-up, handed over the captaincy on a permanent basis to Adam Gilchrist and roped in a new coach in Darren Lehmann, all of which contributed to them going all the way.

If the Knight Riders, mercifully rid of the multitude of problems they carried with them as excess baggage to South Africa, need any inspiration, they thus need not look beyond their immediate opponents.

There is a more settled look about the Kolkata outfit this year, what with Ganguly returning to the helm after last year’s botched experiment with multiple captains as propagated by then coach John Buchanan, and a more steely determination emanating not merely from the necessity to purge misadventures of the past but also with an eye on the future, which encompasses the auction for IPL IV and beyond.

Both teams will be severely hit by the absence of key overseas players away on international duty. The Chargers will have to make do without the West Indian pair of Dwayne Smith and new acquisition Kemar  Roach, and Australians Ryan Harris and Mitchell Marsh; the Knight Riders are worse off minus the explosive duo of Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum, the man who got the IPL off to such a memorable start with his undefeated 158 against the Royal Challengers at the Chinnaswamy stadium, and new recruit Shane Bond.

As Gilchrist pointed out on Thursday afternoon, after his team’s relaxed but meaningful practice session at the Bandra Kurla Complex ground, it isn’t, however, so much how well the overseas players perform as how adroitly the Indian contingent rises to the challenge that will determine the success or otherwise of every franchise.

That’s where the Chargers would appear to have the edge. Despite being woefully unimpressive in domestic limited-overs cricket, left-arm paceman Rudra Pratap Singh will loom as the single biggest bowling threat until the arrival later this month of Roach. The Purple Cap winner last year for being the highest wicket-taker, RP Singh had great success in IPL I too, often providing early breakthroughs that weren’t capitalised upon by his colleagues.

The batting line-up is brimful with local talent, youngsters like T Suman and DB Ravi Teja constantly learning from the likes of Gilchrist, VVS Laxman, Herschelle Gibbs and Andrew Symonds. Of great interest will be the form and commitment of Rohit Sharma, left behind in the race for a limited-overs spot in the Indian team by Virat Kohli.

The Knight Riders have welcomed back prodigal sons from the Indian Cricket League, but Ganguly with the bat and the inconsistent Ishant Sharma with the ball will be influential figures, as will be Twenty20 veteran Murali Kartik, another in a list of accomplished tweakers that has shown that there definitely is a place for spin even in the slam-bang format.

Teams (from): Deccan Chargers: Adam Gilchrist (capt), Herschelle Gibbs, VVS Laxman, Rohit Sharma, Andrew Symonds, T Suman, DB Ravi Teja, Y Venugopala Rao, Rudra Pratap Singh, Chaminda Vaas, Harmeet Singh, Pragyan Ojha, Anirudh Singh, Rahul Sharma, Azhar Bilakhia, Monish Mishra, A Ashish Reddy, N Arjun Yadav, B Sumanth.

Kolkata Knight Riders: Sourav Ganguly (capt), Brad Hodge, Owais Shah, Angelo Mathews, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Wriddhiman Saha, Murali Kartik, Ishant Sharma, Ajantha Mendis, Iqbal Abdulla, Aaron Varun, Ajit Agarkar, Eklakh Ahmed, Ashoke Dinda, G Vignesh, Charl Langeveldt, Chirag Pathak, Manoj Tiwary, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohan Gavaskar, Harshad Khadiwale.
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