A top-heavy Gujarat Lions would look to better their first season's accomplishment and aim for a winning start against two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders in an IPL [Indian Premier League] game on Friday. Gujarat were the table-toppers at the end of the league stage in the last Indian Premier League [season-9], but finished third after defeats in the two Qualifiers versus Royal Challengers Bangalore[RCB] and Sunrisers Hyderabad[SRH]. But this time around, the Suresh Raina team would look to go one step up in only their second season of the IPL.
Gujarat team boost of a robust batting line-up and were the only squad last year to score 70 or more in the powerplay.
Five of Gujarat Lions batsmen -- Raina, Brendon McCullum, Aaron Finch, Dinesh Karthik and Dwayne Smith -- were among runs in the last IPL. They also have the likes of new signing English dynamic opener Jason Roy and in-form wicket-keeper batsman Dinesh Karthik in their rank.
Having crushed Kolkata Knight Riders in both home and away matches in the previous season, Gujarat Lions also enjoy a psychological leverage over them.
On the bowling front, Gujarat team have an effective new-ball pair in Praveen Kumar and Dhawal Kulkarni.
The Mumbai pacer [Kulkarni] 14 wickets in the powerplay were the most for any bowler in 2016, and he combined well with Praveen Kumar.
But Suresh Raina-led-side 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 matches after a long Test season.
Gujarat team had discharged eight players, including seamer 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 fast bowlers Munaf Patel and Manpreet Gony, apart from hiring new faces, recruits in Nathu Singh and Basil Thampi, the pace bowler from Kerala who has a reputation of hitting 140 kph.
Kolkata Knight Riders [KKR], on the other hand, are one of those teams which cricket fans always root for -- be it for former Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly or for its owner bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan.
For the KKR, revenge would be high on their mind when they take the field versus the Gujrat Lions on Friday.
The Knight Riders outfit boost of the seasoned opening pair of captain Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa, who lay a stable foundation.
In Darren Bravo, Manish Pandey and Chris Lynn, the Gautam Gambhir-led-side have batsmen known to intimidate the opponent. And in Yusuf Pathan and Suryakumar Yadav, they are handy in lower-middle-order.
But the actual strength lies in their spin arsenal, consisting all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, leg-spinner Piyush Chawla, chinaman Kuldeep Yadav and mystery man Sunil Narine.
With Indian seamer Umesh Yadav given much-needed rest for the first two matches, the KKR pace attack will be spearheaded by Kiwi speedster Trent Boult in the company of English paceman Chris Woakes and Australian seamer Nathan Coulter-Nile. But they would surely miss the services of the Caribbean all-rounder Andre Russell, who is serving one-year ban for violating anti-doping whereabouts regulations.
"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," Hodge said. "I'm sure Kolkata Knight Riders will be looking to bounce back.