It’s the first of 60 matches: The defending champions taking on wooden-spoon winners, after a flashy opening ceremony, amid high security at a stadium neither calls home. What stakes does the first bout of IPL 2010 hold, when the contestants know they have 13 to follow? Not much in isolation, given the unpredictability of the format and the duration of the tournament, but Kolkata Knight Riders, who’ve won only nine out of 28 previous IPL matches during campaigns fraught with controversy, would love to hit the ground running.
Kolkata’s build-up to Friday’s opening game has been quieter than in the first two seasons. They appointed a coach who prefers to stay behind the scenes, and not quote Sun Tzu; they named one captain for the entire tournament rather than pass the responsibility around; and they’ve had fewer chest-beating advertisements on television. Their owner, Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, has, by his standards, flown under the radar. One of the few off-field developments that made headlines was their new purple and gold strip. They were even involved in the few trades that took place during the transfer window, and used it to strengthen their batting. Could the toning down of the razzmatazz that made the Knight Riders the most flamboyant team despite horrendous results engineer an on-field reform?
For proof that it can be done, they only need to look at their opponents. Deccan Chargers finished last in the opening season, winning only two games and none at home in Hyderabad. They too made significant changes – a new captain and coach – for the second season in South Africa and were surprise winners. However, they are not among the most formidable teams this season: their squad contains overseas players who are either out of form or short on match-practice; their bowlers had struggled to contain on India’s flat batting surfaces and were more effective in South Africa.
Kolkata have only six overseas players to choose from at the moment: Brad Hodge, Owais Shah, Ajantha Mendis, Angelo Mathews, Mashrafe Mortaza and Charl Langeveldt. The likes of Brendon McCullum, Chris Gayle, David Hussey and Shane Bond will join the squad only after their international commitments. It’s likely that Mendis and Mortaza will be the ones to miss out on the opening game. Ajit Agarkar did not train on the eve of the match because of a calf strain and is likely to sit out as well. Kolkata signed up an Under-19 player, Mandeep Singh, 48 hours ago and he is reportedly in their scheme of things.
Deccan don’t have a choice regarding their overseas players for the first game. They have only four in the squad so Adam Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Symonds and Chaminda Vaas will play. It’s a bit of a concern since Gilchrist, Symonds and Vaas have been out of competitive cricket while Gibbs has been struggling for form with South Africa. They have a strong Indian contingent, though, with VVS Laxman and Rohit Sharma bolstering the batting, and RP Singh and Pragyan Ojha leading the bowling.