Deccan Chargers and Royal Challengers Bangalore completely turned around their wooden spoon performances in the first edition of the Indian Premier League and were the finalists in IPL-2. And, if their performances in the first fourt matches is any indication, it is now the turn of Kolkata Knight Riders to change their fortunes around in IPL-4.
The Knight Riders were at the wrong end of the points table in the first three seasons apart from being embroiled in controversies galore, as a result of which the team
management didn't retain a single player and had a clear vision and strategy for the franchise heading into the IPL-4 auction as they paid the big bucks for Gautam Gambhir and Yusuf Pathan. By the end of the auction, KKR also had Jacques Kallis, Brett Lee, Eoin Morgan, Shakib Al Hasan, Brad Haddin, Ryan ten Doeschate, Manoj Tiwary and Lakshmipathy Balaji to form the nucleus of their squad. Though KKR lost their first match by two runs to Chennai Super Kings sparking fears of continued failures, the Gambhir-led team has almost been unstoppable defeating Chargers at home before registering back-to-back victories over Rajasthan Royals to sit atop the points table at the end of 17 matches. KKR looks a more confident and determined team; and in Gambhir, the franchise has an astute captain and a terrific batsman. While Gambhir and Kallis form the heart of the batting line-up; the likes of Tiwary, Pathan, Morgan and Shakib make KKR one of the strongest batting units in the league and the same can be said of their bowling attack of Lee, Shakib, Balaji and young Iqbal Abdulla. If early results are any indication, it would be a shock not to see KKR make the play-offs.
RCB though looks to be paying the price for shoddy strategy going into the auction and only retaining Virat Kohli from the first three seasons. As a result, the entire look of
the RCB squad changed with Kallis, Morgan, Dale Steyn, Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder going to other franchises not to mention the iconic Rahul Dravid, the dangerous Robin Uthappa, Vinay Kumar and B Akhil, who all hail from Karnataka. The departure of these players, especially the local ones, has played a part in alienating fans from RCB and losing three of the four matches they have played so far hasn't helped in soothing their angst either. RCB desperately need their skipper Daniel Vettori, Kohli, Tillakaratne Dilshan, AB de Villiers and Zaheer Khan to fire in unison to turn their campaign around.
CSK and Mumbai Indians have done justice to their tag of pre-tournament favourites though they have lost one match each and bowling could be seen as their only weak link, though the Chennai franchise has an edge here. CSK and Mumbai Indians also have strong batting line-ups and this coupled with having good fielders in their ranks bodes well for the franchises' futures in IPL-4.
Like RCB, the Chargers and Daredevils also have new-look squads and have had initial trouble figuring out their best line-ups and have paid the price for the same. The Chargers have also lost three of four matches and need their skipper Kumar Sangakkara, Shikhar Dhawan and JP Duminy to start firing with the bat apart from hoping Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha regain their wicket-taking touch. The Daredevils had a slow start to the tournament as well with only Venugopal Rao, David Warner and Morne Morkel making any meaningful contributions; and for the Delhi franchise to be contenders for a play-off spot skipper Virender Sehwag and the other big-hitters in the squad have to come to the party, while the bowling attack with the exception of Morkel needs to improve by leaps and bounds.
Kings XI Punjab was thumped in their first match, but bounced back strongly to win their next two matches thanks to the Paul Valthaty - the hero of IPL-4. Valthaty smashed the first century of the tournament as he starred in KXIP's successful run chase of 189 against CSK; and he then followed this up with an all-round performance against Deccan Chargers taking 4-29 and scoring 75 as the Adam Gichrist-lead team easily overhauled the target of 166. Valthaty apart, KXIP really needs all its big guns, starting with Gilchrist to fire consistently.
The Royals got their campaign in IPL-4 off to a good start winning their first two matches comfortably before losing twice to the resurgent KKR as Shane Warne's team was outplayed both times including being skittled out for 81 at the Eden Gardens. Warne will need to lift his team's morale after the thrashings at the end of KKR and also hope for consistent performances from the likes of Dravid, Taylor, Shane Watson, Johan Botha and Shaun Tait apart from the Indian youngsters in his squad to get the Royals' camapign back on track.
Pune Warriors India and Kochi Tuskers Kerala - the two new franchises in IPL-4 have had contrasting starts to their campaign with the former winning two and the latter losing two of their first three matches. On paper and based on performance, Pune Warriors have one of the more balanced squads in the league and are expected to be in contention for a play-off spot. The Tuskers upset Mumbai Indians to register their maiden IPL win, but if they are to notch up victories on a consistent basis, they will need VVS Laxman, Brendon McCullum, Brad Hodge, Mahela Jayawardene and Ravindra Jadeja to fire with the bat. And, despite Muttiah Muralitharan, Sreesanth and Vinay Kumar, the Tuskers' bowling attack won't give too many sleepless nights to opposition batsmen.
It is also to be seen if the Sri Lankan players selected for the England tour have to leave their IPL franchises on May 5. The departure of the Lankan players will upset the
balance of a few franchise. KKR won't have to bother about this though as they don't have any Sri Lankans in their squad and their focus would be to build on their early successes in the remainder of the tournament and ease the hurt and disappointments of the last three seasons.