The Kolkata Knight Riders will want to show they remain one of the favourites for the title in IPL 2017 even without Andre Russell when they play their first match of the season on Friday. KKR face off against the Gujarat Lions in Rajkot.
KKR, while sneaking into the playoffs, were knocked out in the Eliminator by the Sunrisers Hyderabad last season, and Gautam Gambhir's men will, naturally, target a better performance in IPL 2017.
However, the biggest of blows were handed to them when their premier all-rounder was given a one-year ban, which meant Russell would be unavailable for the entire Indian Premier League season this year.
KKR did well in the IPL 2017 auction, signing Chris Woakes as a potential fill-in for Russell – although Woakes is more a bowler than a proper all-rounder in T20 cricket – with Colin De Grandhomme also roped in as the official replacement for the West Indian – De Grandhomme is much more of an all-rounder, with the ability to smash the ball a long way.
It remains to be seen if Grandhomme gets a place in the playing XI against the Gujarat Lions, although Woakes looks like a certain starter. Shakib Al Hasan is with Bangladesh on their tour of Sri Lanka and should join up with the squad soon, while Umesh Yadav has a slight him problem and will be out for the first couple of weeks of the season.
The rest of the KKR lineup should be on similar lines from last season, with Trent Boult set to add extra penetration to the bowling.
There will be pressure on Gambhir and Robin Uthappa to give KKR the perfect starts with the bat, while Manish Pandey, Suryakumar Yadav and Yusuf Pathan will also be expected to add more runs to their kitty in the absence of Russell, who is such a potent weapon with bat and ball.
The Gujarat Lions is all about the batting power at the top.
They have four world-class openers in their lineup – Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Aaron Finch and Jason Roy.
So, it is going to be a really difficult decision on who is going to open the innings for the Gujarat Lions in IPL 2017.
Finch batted down the order last season, so the Australian could do that again, with the No.4 slot likely to be his, mainly because Suresh Raina, the captain, likes to come in at No.3.
If the choice is between McCullum, Smith and Roy, the smarter one would be to go with the Englishman as one option, purely because of his form and ability to smash the bowlers to smithereens in the first six over.
But then, that could be said of McCullum and Smith as well, and the two do have a lot more experience of IPL cricket, whereas Roy will be making his debut.
Gujarat Lions will be without two key all-rounders in Ravindra Jadeja and Dwayne Bravo for the first few games.
Jadeja is resting up after a long season for India, while Bravo is still recovering from a hamstring injury suffered during the Big Bash League.
Confirmed playing XI:
Gujarat Lions: Brendon McCullum, Dwayne Smith, Jason Roy, Suresh Raina (C), Aaron Finch, Dinesh Karthik, Dhawal Kulkarni, Praveen Kumar, Manpreet Gony, Shadab Jakati, Shivil Kaushik.
KKR: Gautam Gambhir (C), Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Chris Lynn, Yusuf Pathan, Suryakumar Yadav, Chris Woakes, Piyush Chawla, Kuldeep Yadav, Sunil Narine, Trent Boult.