Mystery spinner Sunil Narine’s return will enable a confident Kolkata Knight Riders to tighten the noose when they take on a shaky Mumbai Indians in an Indian Premier League cricket tournament encounter in Kolkata on Wednesday.
Both KKR and defending champions MI were a part of utterly lopsided matches, in their respective tournament openers. While the former clinically decimated Delhi Daredevils by 9 wickets, having bowled out the opposition for a sub-100 score, MI were at the receiving end, with league debutants Rising Pune Supergiants giving them a sound thrashing by a similar 9-wicket margin.
Narine, who had left for the Caribbean after his father’s demise, is back in Kolkata, and with clearance from the ICC will like to forge a lethal combination with 45-year-old chinaman exponent Brad Hogg, if both are picked as overseas recruits. In that case, skipper Gautam Gambhir may dump seamer John Hastings, who did bowl well against Daredevils.
Moreover, during India’s recent series in Australia, Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma had played the big-bodied Aussie really well.
The other option is to play a batsman short to induct Narine, and in that case, Colin Munro may be made to sit out.
That apart, KKR has the perfect winning combination in place, even though Bangaldeshi all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan isn’t able to make the 11 despite a fine performance in the World Twenty20, where he took 10 wickets from seven matches.
This will also be KKR’s last match at the Eden Gardens this month, as they will hit the road for six successive away matches, since West Bengal is in the middle of the Assembly polls.
If Mumbai Indians, who had won their two IPL titles at this venue in 2013 and 2015, have to bounce back from their opening match defeat, the onus will be on their batsmen to decode the KKR spinners at their happy hunting venue.
But going by their performance in the last match, their batting looks extremely weak, and unless they get back to the rhythm at the earliest, their defence of the title looks very shaky, even at this early stage.
After surprisingly deciding to bat on a strip with seam movement and bounce, Mumbai Indians’ star batsmen struggled to be down to 68 for 7 in the 16th over, having lost their top four batsmen inside five overs for 30.
It was the feisty Harbhajan Singh who wriggled them out of the hole with an unbeaten 30-ball-45, to prop the total to 121 for 8. But the target proved too little for the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Faf du Plessis and Kevin Pietersen, who scripted a nine-wicket win in 14.4 overs.
“Hopefully, we will go back and come back with a positive frame of mind. Never thought the ball would do that much having played a lot of cricket here. They swung it a lot and our shot selection wasn’t great. We have good memories of Kolkata. It’s just the start of the tournament, so no need to panic,” Rohit had said.
With their team think-tank boasting the legendary duo of Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting to go with a star studded line-up captained by Rohit Sharma, there’s an overflow of talent in the most decorated dressing room.
But it will be all about channelising them to bring out the best XI, something that had come in for much debate following their debacle at home.
Having impressed in India colours, Jasprit Bumrah struggled, conceding 30 runs without a wicket, while Hardik Pandya (nine from 11 balls) too was unimpressive after being promoted to No 3, giving away the winning runs, leaking 12 in four balls. West Indies big-hitter Kieron Pollard, returning from an injury that kept him out of the World Twenty20, looked out of sorts in his eight balls, scoring just one run.
The exclusion of New Zealand all-rounder Corey Anderson, who could have been a better option in place of Mitchell McClenaghan, also came as a surprise, as did keeping out Gujarat captain and wicket-keeper Parthiv Patel, who has had an impressive domestic season with a century in the last match in the one-day Deodhar Trophy.
Patel also had a fruitful Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy domestic T20 tournament, where he scored four half-centuries, as he along with Delhi opener Unmukt Chand may vie for a place.
Mumbai Indians may also have to rethink their bowling strategy at the Eden turner and Karnataka leftarm spinner J Suchith, a big turner of the ball, may seem a better option to go with the seasoned Harbhajan.