Eoin Morgan is in his first season as a full-time captain of an IPL team. When he takes the pitch in Chennai on Sunday, he will face not only David Warner’s Sunrisers Hyderabad, but also Trevor Bayliss, a close confidant who helped Morgan prepare for England’s white ball revival, which culminated in his 2019 World Cup victory. Not to mention, Bayliss coached the Knight Riders between 2012 and 2015, when they won the IPL twice, before joining the Sunrisers.
The Kolkata Knight Riders haven’t made the playoffs since 2018; their quest for the title extends even further in 2014. While many others would have chopped up and changed, the core of the Knight Riders is still the same. Sunil Narine and Andre Russell are still as tall, if not taller, than new hires like Pat Cummins or Shakib Al Hasan, who was brought back by the franchise after being part of two title wins in 2012 and 2014. Dinesh Karthik continues to be a key finisher, as they have Shubman Gill as a potential retention material for the future.
Among the few teams to run yearlong camps, the Knight Riders have a well-oiled group of Indian players, both at batting and bowling. Kamlesh Nagarkoti was injured for two consecutive seasons, but he persisted. Shivam Mavi was also held up despite a history of injuries. Their latest project is Varun Chakravarthy, the mysterious spinner who broke into the Indian squad based on their IPL 2020 performances but was disappointed with fitness issues. Can he build on his previous season?
Over the past two seasons, the Knight Riders have been somewhat disappointed with their own strengths – the fluidity of the batting lineup has led to a hint of confusion. The three finalists of Morgan, Karthik and Russell were shuffled in order. Maybe a little more stability is key for the team.
The Sunrisers are among the most industrious sides, which rely on collective work. Warner empowered individuals, gave young people a long rope, and was patient in developing a strong group of players, all of whom thrived under his leadership. T Natarajan and Sandeep Sharma are prime examples.
Are the Sunrisers Hyderabad stronger than last season?
They will be boosted by the return of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and the emergence of Wriddhiman Saha as T20 opener. They also have two starving people in Manish Pandey and Vijay Shankar, eager to prove a point after overcoming injuries in order to regain their place in the national team.
Jonny Bairstow is in great shape, so they can also turn to the always reliable Kane Williamson if needed. Throw away the threat that Rashid Khan possesses and it makes for an intoxicating cocktail that can stumble any opponent on any given day. The young group of Abdul Samad, Priyam Garg and Abhishek Sharma add to their stick wealth.
There are no clear favorites for this one. Just the promise of two strong teams, with very different philosophies and approaches, competing in order to get off on the right foot.
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The match will test Warner’s physical form. Last month, Warner admitted he rushed through the test series against India following the groin injury he sustained during the ODIs in December. Warner made himself available for the final two tests in Sydney and Brisbane, while he was clearly still hampered by the injury. Another long rehab was followed by a trip to New South Wales before flying to India for IPL.
It also marks Shakib’s return to the IPL and the Knight Riders. Last season he was away from the action as he was serving an ICC ban, and he starts this time – if he enters the XI – against the team he was with until the suspension. His presence in the IPL this time around was not without incident either, as he opted for the Knight Riders gig during the matches for Bangladesh, and the process was not without confusion.
Will Andre Russell have a great season for KKR?
Knights of Kolkata Horsemen: 1 Shubman Gill, 2 Rahul Tripathi / Venkatesh Iyer, 3 Nitish Rana, 4 Eoin Morgan (capt), 5 Dinesh Karthik (week), 6 Andre Russell, 7 Sunil Narine / Shakib Al Hasan, 8 Pat Cummins, 9 Shivam Mavi / Harbhajan Singh, 10 Prasidh Krishna, 11 Varun Chakravarthy
Sunrisers Hyderabad:1 David Warner (captain), 2 Jonny Bairstow (wk), 3 Manish Pandey, 4 Kane Williamson, 5 Vijay Shankar / Abhishek Sharma, 6 Kedar Jadhav, 7 Abdul Samad, 8 Rashid Khan, 9 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 10 Sandeep Sharma, 11 years old T Natarajan
Harbhajan Singh played much of his IPL cricket recently at Chepauk for the Chennai Super Kings. Friday’s opening game at the venue threw a slow, black-ground surface that gripped and turned. Singh had been used regularly with the new ball by MS Dhoni, especially against lefties. With Warner likely to open up, it’s possible Morgan will also turn to Harbhajan with the new ball. There is also a good reason. The senior offspinner has fired Warner four times in the IPL.
At the 2020 IPL, Warner hit 133 in the power play, considerably slower than his overall record. While there may be a temptation to play Saha, who improved his reputation as an IPL 2020 opener, it could potentially be advantageous to open with the Bairstow in shape. The England wicket-keeper struck for the Sunrisers at 142, and he’s also in great shape, just after being named Player of the Series in the ODI Series against India.