Ever since the Indian Premier League (IPL) came into being, Kolkata Knight Riders have been among the most high-profile franchises, perhaps the most. But, the pressure of expectations got to them, which is why they struggled during the early years in the competition, in spite of possessing a number of star players. It has only been in the last few seasons that they have really come into their own, and have left a major impact on the tournament. Like the last couple of years, Kolkata will be led by Gautam Gambhir this time as well. The franchise is owned by Shah Rukh Khan's Red Chillies Entertainment in partnership with Juhi Chawla and Jai Mehta (Mehta Group). Venky Mysore is the CEO and MD of KKR. Trevor Bayliss is head coach. Jacques Kallis and Wasim Akram are batting and bowling coaches respectively.
After putting up some horror shows in the earlier editions, Kolkata have fought back to win the IPL twice, in 2012 and 2014. In 2012, Kolkata upset then defending champions Chennai Super Kings by five wickets as Manvinder Bisla slammed a fiery 89. Two years later, they captured the crown for a second time. This time, they beat Kings XI Punjab by three wickets. Manish Pandey was the star of the show with 94 from 50 deliveries. They will thus head into the 2015 edition as defending champions. Looking at their performance in the earlier seasons, they were eliminated in the group stage in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2013, while making the play-offs for the first time in 2011.
Key players to watch out for
Sunil Narine: It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Kolkata would not be half as good minus Narine. He has given the team that much needed edge which was clearly missing in the early years. Even after having featured in so many seasons, many batsmen have difficulty reading the mystery spinner. He is miserly at most times, and picks wickets at regular intervals too. KKR would only be hoping that his action doesn't come under scrutiny again.
Gautam Gambhir: He may no longer be needed to play for India, but in the relatively low pressure atmosphere of IPL he has flourished. The dabs, which have killed his international career, have proved to be extremely fruitful in the IPL. Opening the innings, Gambhir has consistently given the team good starts, and has scored at a highly acceptable rate as well. It remains to be seen whether he can lead from the front again.
Robin Uthappa: Gambhir's opening partner has been equally crucial to the team's success. He has utilised his ability to hit over the top in the early overs to great effect. Uthappa's consistency has also been another impressive factor, as he has been constantly getting quick 30s and 40s when not coming up with the big score. Again, he will be key to KKR's fortunes as they look to defend their title.
Morne Morkel: The South African speedster had a brilliant World Cup, and almost singlehandedly kept his side alive in the semi-finals. With his raw pace, Morkel has the ability to trouble the batsmen in the shorter formats as well. He has become wily with age, and can come up with some good variations as well. If Morkel does well, KKR's bowling attack will look menacing.
Shakib Al Hasan: He may not have been in great form recently, but there are few better all-rounders in the game than Shakib. On his day, he can do anything. He has all the strokes in the book to play a match-winning innings. With the ball, he can keep things tight, and is equally adept at delivering crucial blows. In the field as well, Shakib always makes his presence felt.
--By A Cricket Analyst