Former champions Kolkata Knight Riders will look to find the right balance under Eoin Morgan’s astute leadership when they face Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL opener on Sunday. Morgan, one of the best white-ball coaches in the game, took over an unassuming KKR team led by Dinesh Karthik halfway through the previous season in the UAE. Morgan’s side finished with the same points as SRH and RCB in a race against time, but the two teams qualified on the basis of a higher run rate, as KKR avoided the playoffs for the second time in a row.
All eyes will be on the ODI World Cup-winning English skipper in his first full season as full-time captain, as he attempts to turn the misfiring army of cricketers and restore the glory days of the two-time IPL champions.
They have a fantastic young top-order batsman in Shubman Gill, who can quickly change gears, while Rahul Tripathi, Nitish Rana, and veteran Karthik, who is no longer captain, can form the centre of their Indian batting.
Then there’s Morgan, who’ll try to bat through the overs while praying that 2019 MVP Andre Russell regains his explosive form after a quiet season.
Russell had the worst season of his career, scoring 13 in nine innings and failing to produce a single match-winning result, as KKR’s over-reliance on the Jamaican cost them dearly last season.
Sunil Narine was another West Indian who failed miserably in the UAE. Narine, who was instrumental in their twin triumphs in 2012 and 2014, seemed a pale shadow of his former self, whether it was his questionable bowling action or his inability to deal with the short ball.
It’s time they moved on from the Trinidadian and tried Shakib Al Hasan, their auction purchase this year. On the sluggish Chepauk strip, all eyes will be on the new ‘Knight’ and 40-year-old Harbhajan Singh, who will be looking to make the most of his final IPL appearance.
Varun Chakravarthy, a mystery spinner, struck it rich in the absence of Narine last year, but his health is a worry. Sunrisers Hyderabad, one of the most reliable teams in the IPL, fell short of the final hurdle last year, losing to runners-up Delhi Capitals in Qualifier 2.
The comeback of senior India pacer Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who only played four games in last year’s IPL in the UAE due to a hip injury, will help SRH.
Bhuvneshwar will spearhead their attack with yorker specialist T Natrajan by his side, fresh off his fine form during the white-ball leg of the England series at home. With the addition of Afghan star spinner Rashid Khan to the bowling lineup, the ‘Orange Army’ seems to have a well-balanced attack.
But it will be SRH’s devastating top-order, led by David Warner and the in-form Jonny Bairstow, that will be their true power. They have a strong top four with Kane Williamson and Manish Pandey.
Wriddhiman Saha, who opened for SRH as a wicketkeeper-batsman last year, will be looking to make a statement after being benched due to Rishabh Pant’s heroics for the national team. However, it remains to be seen who will play finisher for the SRH, as they seem to be lacking in the muscle strength that teams need in the final five overs.
The Purple Brigade leads the Orange Army 12-7 and took both of their matches against them last year, giving KKR a small advantage in the head-to-head fight.
The match will begin at 7.30 p.m. IST.