Kolkata: Carlos Brathwaite’s four successive sixes at last Sunday’s World T20 final has added to the intrigue around the first IPL-9 match at the Eden Gardens. Two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders, preparing for today’s showdown with the Delhi Daredevils, are suddenly faced with the need to factor in the burly West Indian’s big-hitting capabilities.
Kolkata Knight Riders will bank on left-arm spinner Shakib Al Hasan to provide crucial breakthroughs at Eden Gardens today
While the match will be played on the same wicket, the good batting conditions of the final are expected to give way to KKR’s signature slow surface with the grass shorn off.
KKR to miss Narine
Skipper Gautam Gambhir confirmed that Sunil Narine, who lost his father recently, will be back only before Wednesday’s match against champions Mumbai Indians, but KKR have other men to exploit these conditions.
All-rounder Shakib Al Hasan and ‘Chinaman’ Brad Hogg had both done well with the ball in Narine’s absence last year but, often crucially, it will be up to sides batting first to judge the surface and pace themselves accordingly.
Shahbaz Nadeem, Pawan Negi and JP Duminy, the Daredevils too have the men to give a spin to the tale. Familiarity breeds comfort, and Mohammed Shami will be back to deliver on a track he knows only too well.
Gambhir made light of the loss of coach Trevor Bayliss, under whom KKR had won their two titles and made another final, with his trademark "a coach and a captain is as good as his team".
Both teams have new men at the helm, Jacques Kallis stepping into Bayliss’ shoes while Rahul Dravid has joined the Daredevils as ‘Team Mentor’. A change in captaincy will see Zaheer Khan replace Duminy in the hot seat. In his second year with the Daredevils, it will be crucial for the 37-year-old left-arm medium-pacer to deliver with the ball to keep the pressure off his captaincy.
Brathwaite wants to quickly get out of the World T20 afterglow and face the challenges of another tournament in a format full of fickleness.
"I don’t think it will happen but I know it will happen," he said when asked whether he fears the day when someone will take a big over off him, just as he had done against Ben Stokes in the final.
"You have to know what you can do at the best of your abilities. Sometimes the results are negative but you just need to back your preparation and your process," he added.
He also doesn’t want to be typecast as a T20 specialist. "T20 is a good spectator sport but then there is Test cricket, where you get to test yourself against the values of the format. It’s a challenge I set myself; to be able to play all three formats and be successful in all three," said the soft-spoken man.