A top-heavy Gujarat Lions will look to better their debut season's success and aim for a winning start against two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders in an Indian Premier League match at Rajkot on Friday.
Gujarat Lions were the table-toppers at the end of the league stage in the last IPL, but finished third after defeats in the two qualifiers against Royal Challengers Bangalore and Sunrisers Hyderabad.
This time around, the Suresh Raina-led side would look to go one step up in only their second season of the IPL.
Gujarat Lions boost of a robust batting line-up and were the only team last year to score 70 or more in the powerplay.
Five of Gujarat Lions batsmen -- Suresh Raina, Aaron Finch, Brendon McCullum, Dinesh Karthik and Dwayne Smith -- were among the runs in the last season.
They also have the likes of Jason Roy and in-form Dinesh Karthik in their ranks.
Having defeated Kolkata Knight Riders in both home and away games in the previous season, Gujarat Lions also enjoy a psychological advantage over them.
On the bowling front, Gujarat Lions have an effective new-ball pair in Dhawal Kulkarni and Praveen Kumar. Kulkarni's 14 wickets in the powerplay were the most for any bowler in 2016, and he combined well with Kumar. But the team will miss two of their key players – Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo, who is out injured early on.
Jadeja, on the other hand, will sit out of the first few games after a long Test season.
Another factor which will be on the team management and players’ minds going into IPL 2017 is how to win while batting first.
Gujarat Lions had lost five out of six matches, including two qualifiers, while batting first last year.
The franchise has released eight players, including Dale Steyn, but the team's core group largely remained intact.
They have also made concerted investments in their bowling department by signing experienced IPL campaigners like Munaf Patel and Manpreet Gony, apart from hiring fresh recruits in Nathu Singh and Basil Thampi, the fast bowler from Kerala who has a reputation of hitting 140 kmph.
Kolkata Knight Riders, on the other hand, are one of those teams which cricket fans always root for – be it because of Sourav Ganguly or its owner Shah Rukh Khan.
For KKR, revenge would be high on their mind when they take the field against the Lions on Friday. The Kolkata outfit boost of the seasoned opening pair of captain Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa, who lay a solid foundation.
Despite ending on the winning side on both occasions last season, Lions coach Brad Hodge is wary of Kolkata's potential.
Kolkata Knight Riders is a very dangerous side having players like Gautam Gambhir, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey... all are very good players. They have got skillful bowlers in Sunil Narine, Kuldeep Yadav and Umesh Yadav. I’m sure Kolkata Knight Riders will be looking to bounce back.
In Darren Bravo, Manish Pandey and Chris Lynn, the Knight Riders have batsmen known to intimidate opponents. And in Yusuf Pathan and Suryakumar Yadav, they have attacking lower-middle-order batsmen. But the real strength lies in their spin arsenal, consisting of Shakib Al Hasan, Piyush Chawla, chinaman Kuldeep Yadav and mystery man Sunil Narine.
With Umesh Yadav given much-needed rest for the first two games, the side’s pace attack will be spearheaded by Trent Boult, in the company of Chris Woakes and Nathan Coulter-Nile.
But they will definitely miss the services of all-rounder Andre Russell, who is serving a one-year ban for violating anti-doping whereabouts regulations.
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