The BCCI has asked Ravindra Jadeja to sit out the first couple of matches citing heavy workload, while Dwayne Bravo is still recovering from the injury he sustained during the Big Bash late last year. Keshav Bansal, their team owner, has confirmed that he will only be available for selection for the second phase of the IPL.
The loss of Bravo and Jadeja is not as big as it has been hyped up, though. After all, Jadeja only managed to pick up 8 wickets in his 15 matches last year. His batting numbers are even worse: 191 at an SR of 107.90. And it’s not just 2016; even in IPL 8, playing for the Chennai Super Kings, he only scored 132 runs in 17 matches at 104.76 and picked up 11 wickets at an average of 30 and ER of 7.73.
Bravo’s wickets column last year may be a little better, but the Caribbean all-rounder conceded 8.82 runs per over, which is the most expensive for any Lions bowler who played more than 7 matches. Don't be surprised yet, for it gets better. Here is his batting contribution: 99 runs in 15 matches at an SR of 120.73. He managed to clear the ropes only once off the 82 balls he faced in the tournament.
So whatever the Lions did last year, they did without any significant contributions from these two. What will, however, hurt them is the lack of even half-decent replacements for these two players. James Faulkner and Shadab Jakati, the two likely candidates to replace them for the match, were able to get only 4 wickets at 9.4 RPO in a total of 13 matches.
Similar to Bravo, Faulkner failed to contribute with the bat as well – scoring only 77 runs in the 7 matches he played for the franchise. The Australian all-rounder’s failures with the bat are becoming a trend now. Since his 50 against England in February 2015, he has crossed the 25-run mark only once in ODIs, while never scoring more than 15 runs in a T20I all his career except on one occasion.
Predicted Playing XI: Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Suresh Raina, Dinesh Karthik, Aaron Finch, Ishan Kishan, James Faulkner, Dhawal Kulkarni, Praveen Kumar, Manpreet Gony/Shadab Jakati/Pradeep Sangwan, Shivil Kaushik
Finch and Smith had a pretty good season last year, so I see them starting again. McCullum, on the other hand, didn’t, scoring only one 50 in 16 innings. But there is a reason why he still managed to get more matches than Smith – his reputation. So the former Kiwi skipper will start too. Given how weak their bowling is and that teams still believe he is an all-rounder, Faulkner will easily win the last overseas spot over Jason Roy.
Dinesh Karthik is racking up runs in the domestic circuit, irrespective of opposition or format, but to convert that form to T20, he needs to be played at No. 4 at least. With an overseas batting option in the middle order, it is not going to be as straightforward. I will wait for a pattern to emerge before getting him in.
Ishan Kishan’s improvement since the last IPL – from a mere timer of the ball to a six-hitting machine – has been meteoric. The left-hander, however, still needs time to combine the fluency in strokeplay with his newfound love for clearing the ropes. And anyway, with such a packed top order, he will be batting too low to even be considered for fantasy teams.
Fantasy Factors (vs KKR):
McCullum is coming into this tournament after a very poor run in the Pakistan Super League, scoring only 93 runs in 8 matches with a highest score of 31. And even a tactically average franchise knows that the former Kiwi captain struggles against spin; KKR under Gambhir are one of the smartest ones around, so I expect them to sort him out, especially when they can back it up with some new ball bowling from Trent Boult and Chris Woakes.
Between Smith and Finch, I am not sure who will be tried where, because last year both had their turns as an opener and in the middle order. I wouldn’t want to pick one of them and then watch him pushed down the order, which leaves me with Raina – and given his record against Kuldeep Yadav and Sunil Narine, there is absolutely no reason for me to not have him in my team.
Dhawal Kulkarni is easily the best Lions’ bowling option, but he is not someone I need at this stage.
Tournament call: Bottom 4 finish
What they lack: A proven finisher and an all-round pace bowler
The season-influencer: Dwayne Smith and Aaron Finch opening the innings, with Andrew Tye given a chance to improve their bowling instead of a third overseas batsman.
Kolkata Knight Riders
New Zealand’s big-hitting all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme has replaced Andre Russell in the squad.
Umesh Yadav won’t be available for the first two matches.
The latest on Trent Boult is that he almost made it to the third Test playing XI vs South Africa, but New Zealand resisted the urge as they didn’t want to take any chances with his fitness. Two weeks on, one should expect him to be fit for the match.
West Indian all-rounder Rovman Powell will only join the squad after the completion of the ODI series against Pakistan at home.
Predicted Playing XI: Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Chris Lynn, Yusuf Pathan, Suryakumar Yadav, Chris Woakes, Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav, Trent Boult, Ankit Rajpoot,
Gambhir has hinted at using Lynn in a different way this season; given that he was mostly played down the order in the limited opportunities given, I am guessing it could be No. 4 this time around or even No. 3, inspired by his BBL exploits at the position.
Shakib Al Hasan wasn’t among the first choice overseas players last year, and it was only the lack of returns from the other preferred options that kept getting him back into the side. Given he only managed 114 runs and 5 wickets in the 10 matches he played, it is his place that Lynn is likely to take.
As soon as you take Lynn’s case, the first thing you hear is “but he can’t play spin”. If you have been tracking his progress, you will know that he is getting better. His Caribbean Premier League exploits last year, a tournament that featured the likes of Sunil Narine, Shakib Al Hasan, Imad Wasim, Tabraiz Shamsi and Samuel Badree, is enough evidence: 454 in 12 innings at an average of 45.4 and SR of 133.13, most by any player.
The difference in strike rates between this CPL and the last two BBLs will tell you a story. He stroke at 177.58 in BBL 2016-17 and 173.39 in BBL 2015-16 as compared to the 133 here. What was notable in West Indies was that he was willing to see off spinners, attack them only if under RR pressure or when offered freebies, and compensate for it by going after the pace bowlers. Maybe not as destructive as he is in the BBL, but still effective.
I want to see how he is being used before getting him in, though. Also, this to me rules out Manish Pandey as well because it was him who got demoted last year to accommodate such surprise KKR moves.
After a magical 2014, Robin Uthappa hasn’t really been able to have a season that’s even half as good. In 28 matches since then, he has managed to score only four 50s, which is a really disappointing effort for an opener. This is one of the most important reasons why KKR haven’t been able to back up their title triumphs in 2013 and 2014.
Gambhir, on the other hand, has been more consistent, but only strikes at 1.2 runs per ball. They really need to shake this up a little to change their fortunes. The ‘steady’ formula has really run its course.
Piyush Chawla is one of KKR’s consistent performers in the last two years, but towards the end of 2016, he was quite inexplicably dropped for Kuldeep Yadav, when instead they could have easily played both of them together. And with the chinaman’s well-timed performance against Australia in his debut Test last month, he should start ahead of Chawla again.
Chris Woakes and Trent Boult could be quite a handful in that newly laid, green deck at Eden Gardens. I might not be able to bring Boult in unless he turns to be really good, but Woakes is a tempting option with the extra 20-25 runs on offer.
Tournament call: Easy Top 4 finish
What they call: An aggressive batting option in top 3
The season-influencer: Lynnsanity - the difference between winning the championship and finishing in top 4.
GL vs KKR – Fantasy Notes
Transfers made – 2; Transfers remaining – 73
Shane Watson out – Suresh Raina in
Jasprit Bumrah out – Kuldeep Yadav in
(uncapped) Krunal Pandya out – Ankit Rajpoot in
By now, Raina should be self-explanatory. With so many overseas batsmen in the opposition, Kuldeep is a tempting option and could potentially wreak havoc. The uncapped choice is between Rajpoot and Kaushik, and I have chosen to go with the one from the better team, as it improves his chances of being amongst the wickets.
Sunil Narine is a notable omission, but he hasn’t been the same bowler since changing his action and Gambhir didn’t use him in the death in 2016 as much as he did in the previous editions, which further hampers his fantasy potential.