The Kolkata Knight Riders showed they definitely are one of the behemoths of the IPL with a second title win in three seasons. Going on a winning run of stunning proportions to zoom into the playoffs, the Kolkata Knight Riders kept that rhythm going in the business end of IPL 2014 as well, toppling Kings XI Punjab in a high-scoring final to take home the most coveted of prizes in domestic T20 cricket.
Winning a title is one thing, but defending it is a completely another matter. KKR found it difficult to do just that in IPL 2013, failing to even make it to the playoffs a season after winning it all. That failure was scathing and the Knight Riders did tremendously well to bounce back and find their mojo again last season.
Their performances were dominant, with both the bat and ball working in tandem, and having made a couple of astute signings this season, KKR go into IPL 2015 as one of the clear favourites.
Being favourites does put a bit of pressure on you, but that pressure would have been eased a touch with Sunil Narine given the all-clear to bowl in this season's IPL. Narine was reported for a suspect action in last year's Champions League T20and then eventually suspended from bowling, a decision which eventually prevented the mystery spinner from taking part in the World Cup for the West Indies.
Narine did remedy his action and even get is cleared by the ICC before the start of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, but he deemed the action not steady and stabilised enough to play for his country in the biggest tournaments of them all. There were doubts over Narine's availability at this IPL with KKR even threatening to boycott the competition if their marquee player was not allowed to bowl.
However, a final test in Chennai has cleared Narine to play at this IPL, but the most pertinent questions of them all will be – how will the spinner fare? A change of action is quite difficult to overcome and you need only look at Sachitra Senanayake for proof of how ineffective one can suddenly be when asked to make alterations.
If Narine does not click, KKR will be in trouble, such is the influence of the bowler for the Kolkata franchise. Most teams basically take a game against KKR as a 16-over match owing to Narine's prowess, and Gautam Gambhir will have plenty of worries if Narine does not find his old groove.
Yes, KKR have made an interesting signing in KC Cariappa, but to expect the slow bowler from Karnataka to fill Narine's shoes will be a near impossible task.
Apart from the Narine factor, though, KKR remain quite settled, even if they were forced into a couple of late changes after James Neesham, bought at the IPL 2015 auction, and Chris Lynn were ruled out through injury, with the experienced duo of Johan Botha and Azhar Mahmood brought in as replacements.
The batting will again rely on strong starts from Robin Uthappa and skipper Gambhir, while the middle order looks pretty strong even in the absence of the legend that is Jacques Kallis. KKR have highly potent T20 players in Shakib al Hasan, Ryan Ten Doeschate and Andre Russell and Yusuf Pathan will want to make as much of an impact as well.
The fast bowling is pretty decent with Morne Morkel, Pat Cummins and Umesh Yadav in their ranks, while spin will be led by Narine with Kuldeep Yadav also looking to chip in alongside Cariappa and the old warhorse Brad Hogg.
Key player: Apart from Narine, Uthappa will have a major role to play. It was on Uthappa's tremendous form at the top that KKR built up that head of steam which culminated in their win over KXIP in the final, and if the opener can let that bat flow at will again, KKR will be there or thereabouts.
Get the Full Squad of KKR HERE