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Cricket news - KKR - A faultless top seven with no spare tyres

As emotional as Kolkata is known to be towards its sport and sporting heroes, Kolkata Knight Riders have openly defied the norms through the different phases of their 12-year existence in the Indian Premier League. They cut ties with Kolkata's most beloved son - Sourav Ganguly - after three fruitless years at the start as a part of a major strategic overhaul and handed the reins to Gautam Gambhir, who then became synonymous with KKR, winning them two titles in three seasons between 2012-14. And when Gambhir didn't fit in their plans going ahead - ahead of the 2018 mega auctions - they let him go as well, putting Dinesh Karthik in charge of a compact squad.

KKR looked massively understaffed going into the 2018 season with just 19 players in their squad, and yet they punched way above their weight under the new skipper and bowed out only at the penultimate stage when not many gave them a chance to even make it past the group stage. They rectified their shortcomings at the auctions ahead of 2019 season, beefing up their foreign pace and all-round bench to complement a very strong first-choice eleven, and at the same time showed immense faith in their squad of 2018 that helped them to a third-place finish.

A couple of injuries though have set them back in the pace department, which remains a concern given they play their home games on the Eden Gardens' pacy deck, but the starting eleven bears a very settled look with last season's core retained as is and likely to feature majorly for the entirety of the competition. If KKR can field their first eleven consistently in the league phase, it's hard to see them not making the play-offs cut again. Unlike most other teams, where KKR hold a bit of an edge is that even with the World Cup in sight, they don't stand to lose a lot of their international recruits towards the business end of the tournament.

Possible Starting XI: Chris Lynn, Sunil Narine, Robin Uthappa, Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Dinesh Karthik (c/wk), Andre Russell, Piyush Chawla, Kuldeep Yadav, Lockie Ferguson, P Krishna

Others in the squad: Rinku Singh, Nikhil Naik, Joe Denly, Shrikant Mundhe, Carlos Brathwaite, Sandeep Warrier, Anrich Nortje, Harry Gurney, Yarra Prithviraj, KC Cariappa

Strengths: Enviable Top-7

In Lynn and Narine, KKR have the most unorthodox and yet one of the strongest opening pairs. In Karthik and Russell, they have two of the finest finishers in the format. In Uthappa, Gill and Rana, they boast of a promising all-Indian core in the middle-order. Between these seven, they also pack their wicketkeeper and two all-rounders who can guarantee eight overs.

Weakness: Inexperience in pace department

KKR let go of the Australian pace duo of Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson ahead of S12, and consequently the squad bore an inexperienced look as far as the pace bowling stocks were concerned. Much depended on the young pair of Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi - heroes of India's U19 World Cup winning side in 2018 - but the franchise suffered a major blow with both getting ruled out of the entire season due to injuries. This leaves them with Lockie Ferguson and Prasidh Krishna as their frontline pacers, but fortunately both of them have had a good run of form leading to the IPL 2019.

Opportunity: World Cup audition for fringe players

There are a bunch of players in this KKR squad - including skipper Karthik - who will see this IPL as one more chance to press their case for a slot in their respective countries' 2019 World Cup squads. India still haven't locked in on a backup wicketkeeper-bat, Brathwaite has been in and out of Windies' ODI plans, and Chris Lynn would be hoping to get back in the reckoning after having fallen off selectors' radar during the injury-riddled last couple of years.

Threat: The reserves are thin

As strong and settled as KKR's first eleven looks, the replacements on the bench - barring maybe a couple - don't really match up. KKR's strength lies in their starting XI, and it's a potential sore spot too for any weak link - form or injury wise - would not only put the rest of the core under undue pressure to perform but also see them fielding replacements who aren't of the same calibre yet.

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