Kolkata, April 7: A new-look Kolkata Knight Riders will look to put it across a strong Royal Challengers Bangalore led by Virat Kohli in the Indian Premier League at the Eden Gardens here on Sunday (April 8).
Gautam Gambhir, who led KKR to IPL titles in 2012 and 2014, left them to join his home team Delhi Daredevils, prompting the KKR management to appoint Dinesh Karthik as skipper for the 11th edition.
Karthik, riding high after an unbeaten eight-ball 29 where he clobbered a last-ball six to guide India to a four-wicket victory over Bangladesh in the final of the Nidahas Trophy T20I tri-series in Sri Lanka, will have his task cut out.
"I'm aware of the expectations. Whether there would be pressure, 'yes'. As a captain, you're expected to at least go to the playoffs, that's the least anybody can expect," Karthik said in his first interaction as KKR captain.
It will be a litmus test first up for Karthik and his charges against RCB who once again look very strong on paper.
Kohli and Co. finished at the bottom of the pile last time and since the start of the IPL have come close to laying their hands on the elusive trophy thrice - in 2009, 2011 and 2016.
Once again, the Bangalore-based outfit have put together an impressive squad.
The batting department in particular looks to be one of the best in the league. Led by the mercurial Kohli, RCB boast of AB De Villiers, Brendon McCullum, Corey Anderson and Quinton De Kock.
RCB have always been weak when it comes to their bowling unit. This time though, with the likes of Yuzvendra Chahal, Umesh Yadav, Washington Sundar and Tim Southee, they have looked to plug that gap.
"We are optimistic about the season. It's very very balanced side. In the 10 years that I've been here, I don't think we've ever had such a balance. We had initially but everyone firing together is also a massive factor," Kohli had said.
As for the hosts, KKR will miss the services of Australian pace spearhead Mitchell Starc who has been ruled out of the tournament with an injured right shin. Fellow Aussie Mitchell Johnson will look to fill the void as will England all-rounder Tom Curran who has been roped in as Starc's replacement.
KKR, unlike RCB, have always been strong in the bowling department and this time also have wrist spinners Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla and the ever-effective Sunil Narine to bank on.
The trio of Chris Lynn, Andre Russell and Narine, who are their obvious choice as foreigners, are coming back from respective setbacks.
Lynn (shoulder) and Russell (hamstring) are recovering from injuries, while Narine remodelled his action after his latest pull-up in the Pakistan Super League.
KKR lead the head to head count by an impressive 12-9 record across 10 seasons.
Squads: KKR: Dinesh Karthik (Captain), Sunil Narine, Andre Russell, Chris Lynn, Robin Uthappa, Kuldeep Yadav, Piyush Chawla, Nitish Rana, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Mitchell Johnson, Shubman Gill, Vinay Kumar, Rinku Singh, Cameron Delport, Javon Searless, Apoorv Wankhade, Ishank Jaggi, Tom Curran.
RCB: Virat Kohli (Captain), AB de Villiers, Sarfaraz Khan, Chris Woakes, Yuzvendra Chahal, Umesh Yadav, Brendon McCullum, Washington Sundar, Navdeep Saini, Quinton De Kock, Mohammed Siraj, Corey Anderson, Colin De Grandhomme, M. Ashwin, Parthiv Patel, Moeen Ali, Mandeep Singh, Manan Vohra, Pawan Negi, Tim Southee, Kulwant Khejroliya, Aniket Choudhary, Pavan Deshpande, Anirudha Ashok Joshi.
Match live from: 8 pm on Star Sports