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Knight Riders have their task cut out

Calcutta/Centurion: After a disappointing performance in the just-concluded ICC World T20 in Sri Lanka, it will be a test of character for the Indian players in the Champions League T20 which enters the business stage from Saturday.

There are four Indian Premier League teams in the fray, including defending champions Mumbai Indians, this season’s IPL winners Kolkata Knight Riders, 2010 winners Chennai Super Kings and Delhi DareDevils.

While the Knight Riders and DareDevils have been placed in Group A, the other two IPL teams are in Group B, raising the hopes of an all India clash in the semi-finals, as the top two teams from each group will qualify for the knockout stage.

The Indian challenge in the tournament will start with a battle between the Knight Riders and DareDevils in Centurion on Saturday.

While the Gautam Gambhir-led Knight Riders would be out there to prove that their victory in the IPL-V was no fluke, the DareDevils under new skipper, Mahela Jayawardene, would like to stamp their authority on the tournament in which they have so far remained the under-achievers.

The DareDevils have perhaps the most formidable batting line-up in the competition. In David Warner, Mahela Jayawardene, Kevin Pietersen, Virender Sehwag and Ross Taylor, they have five game-changers and individuals capable of winning matches single-handedly.

Warner, Jayawardene and Taylor were in good form in the recently-concluded ICC World Twenty20, and it will be important for them to carry that form into this tournament. Pietersen hasn’t played too much cricket in recent times and will need to shrug off his rustiness quickly, as will Sehwag, who is returning from an injury.

The Knight Riders’ bowlers will face a big test against these explosive batsmen. It remains to be seen if they will open the attack with Sunil Narine which had proved to be successful during IPL-V.

Gautam Gambhir needs to lead from the front, just like he did during their successful IPL-V campaign. Jacques Kallis and Brendon McCullum will be the two other key players in the KKR line-up.

The Knight Riders will obviously be looking up to McCullum to counter the DareDevils threat. The New Zealander is among the top-three run-getters in the T20 format; he has scored 4336 runs in 149 T20 matches (only behind David Hussey’s aggregate of 4670 and Brad Hodge’s aggregate of 4500 ).

There are no injury worries in the Knights’ camp and all players are available for selection.

On the bowling front, the DareDevils will expect their battery of pacers — Morne Morkel, Umesh Yadav and Irfan Pathan to do the bulk of the damage, while the Knight Riders will be hoping mystery bowler Narine to spin his magic yet again. The 24-year-old Narine was the West Indies’ leading wicket-taker in the recently-concluded ICC World T20.

The Knight Riders have a slight edge over the DareDevils heading into this contest. In the ten previous meetings between the two teams, KKR have emerged victorious on five occasions, while the Delhi Daredevils have won four matches. One fixture in the 2008 season of the IPL was washed out.

The Knight Riders will be back in action on October 15 when they take on the Auckland Aces at the Newlands Stadium in Cape Town.

The DareDevils meanwhile will enjoy a five-day break before their next fixture — against the Auckland Aces on October 19.