The Kolkata Knight Riders will have a spring in their step as they begin their title defence against Mumbai Indians in the IPL opener at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata today (18:30 OSN Sports Cricket HD) with West Indies spin ace Sunil Narine in their squad.
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The ‘mystery’ spinner was reported for suspect action in last year’s Champions League T20 and thereafter missed the recently-concluded World Cup. He had to wait until as late as Sunday to know his IPL fate before the BCCI gave him a clean chit.
Narine has a stupendous IPL record, picking up 67 wickets at an economy rate of 5.77. It’s no wonder that captain Gautam Gambhir heaved a huge sigh of relief at the availability of Narine.
“He’s an integral part of KKR, he will always be an integral part. Even if he bowls a straight ball, he will be an asset for us and will always remain an asset. That’s the confidence we have on Sunil (Narine). We never thought that we needed a back-up spinner for him,” said Gambhir.
Gambhir says the team always believed they would have Narine back in the side.
“He was pretty confident as well. I’m happy for him. Hats off to him that he’s changed his action in such a short span of time. I’m very happy for him, having known the success he has achieved for KKR. In such situations, first you need to be tough mentally to absorb whatever has happened and come back strong. He has showed how mentally strong he’s in the past.”
The skipper added that the team was focused on the job at hand and not getting carried away with the hype around their defending champions’ tag.
“We don’t want people to talk about us and rather show it for the better of Indian cricket. I think we have done that pretty well over the last few years and we’ll continue to do that. It’s about developing off the field as well,” he added.
For Narine, it will be a big challenge as he will have to prove his effectiveness with a re-modelled action. But he will have plenty of support in the slow bowling department.
Kolkata have a Narine-esque bowler in the form of rookie Karnataka spinner KC Cariappa and a couple of chinaman bowlers to make the most of the slow surface on offer in Kolkata.
However, with evening showers predicted in the city, spinners may find the going a bit tough and the faster bowlers might come into play.
Their batting is equally strong with last year’s top run-getter Robin Uthappa (660) leading the way. Uthappa also had a superb run in the domestic Ranji Trophy with 912 runs from 11 matches and he will look to get support from Gambhir, Manish Pandey and Suryakumar Yadav.
The visitors, meanwhile, will bank on hard-hitting batsmen Corey Anderson, Kieron Pollard and new recruit Aaron Finch to take on the Kolkata attack.
Mumbai tasted their maiden IPL win at the ground in 2013 when Rohit led the side to a win over Chennai Super Kings, so should feel confident of doing well again.
Kiwi all-rounder Anderson, who holds the record for the second fastest ton in ODIs, will once again play a crucial role with the bat and ball. But the onus will be on captain Rohit to take charge with the bat and shine at the venue where he scored an ODI world record 264 against Sri Lanka.
In the pace department, veterans Lasith Malinga and R Vinay Kumar will have to do the bulk of the job as they don’t have spinners of the calibre of Kolkata.
Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha have enjoyed success at the international level but have not been in great form of late, which will be a worry for Rohit.
Meanwhile, legendary batsman Sachin Tendulkar took centre-stage at the Eden Gardens yesterday as the Mumbai Indians icon gave a pep talk to his team before getting into a long chat with Bangalore skipper Virat Kohli, whose team was also at the venue.
Tendulkar, who played his penultimate and career’s 199th Test at the same venue two years ago, helped his team in their preparations and remained at the ground for the entire two-hour long practice and interacted with all 26 Mumbai