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Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) will begin their TATA Indian Premier League (IPL) 2023campaign with an away clash against Punjab Kings (PBKS) at Mohali’s  IS Bindra Stadium on Saturday (April 1) at 3.30 PM. The two-time champions reached Chandigarh on March 29, Wednesday.

In the absence of their regular skipper Shreyas Iyer, who is currently nursing a back injury, Nitish Rana has been entrusted with the task of leading the side. The Delhi-born batter enjoyed a rich vein of form in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy last year as he finished as the fourth-highest run-getter with 317 runs in 8 matches at an average of 45.28 and a strike-rate of 139.03, including a hundred.

New KKR Head Coach, Chandrakant Pandit, who has established himself as one of the most successful coaches in Indian domestic cricket, is determined to help his team go the distance, who haven’t won the title since 2014.

KKR, however, will miss the services of Bangladesh’s Shakib Al Hasan and Litton Das in their season opener as they are currently on national duty. The Knights have brought in several new players who are keen to make a mark in TATA IPL 2023.

Afghanistan’s Rahmanullah Gurbaz, who’s yet to make his TATA IPL debut, recently crossed the 1,000 run milestone in T20Is. With his experience and all-round skills, Shardul Thakur too will be a vital player for the Knights. Both these players were traded ahead of the mini auction in December last year.

On the domestic front, Rinku Singh, who had a breakthrough season in 2022 with 174 runs in seven matches at an average of 34.80 and a strike-rate of 148.72, will be looking to take his game to the next level. On the other hand, wicketkeeper-batter Narayan Jagadeesan was picked by the Knights after he had a stellar Vijay Hazare Trophy 2022 campaign where he set the world record for the highest individual score in List-A cricket with his 141-ball 277.

For the Knights to win on Saturday, experienced pros like Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Umesh Yadav, Varun Chakravarthy and Venkatesh Iyer must come good against a PBKS side that is stacked with all-rounders, including record TATA IPL record buy Sam Curran.

The good news is that New Zealand fast bowler Lockie Ferguson has recovered from a hamstring injury.Interestingly, Russell (178) and Narine (163) have the highest strike-rates in TATA IPL history (minimum 1000 balls). Russell (6.5) also has the highest ball-per-six ratio in the history of the tournament.

While PBKS finished sixth in the previous edition of the tournament, KKR finished a rung below with 12 points from 14 matches (six wins and eight losses). It remains to be seen how the Purple & Gold brigade adapt to the new Impact Player rule that has added a new strategic dimension to the tournament.

After training in full swing and playing a couple of practice matches at the Eden Gardens, the Knights had a gym session on Thursday (March 30) morning followed by an evening training session at the IS Bindra Stadium. However, practice was cancelled on the eve of the match due to rain.  

Coming to the head-to-head record, KKR have the upper hand over their Mohali-based opponents. The two teams have faced each other 30 times so far with the Knights winning on 20 occasions.

The first meeting between KKR and PBKS (then Kings XI Punjab) dates back to May 3, 2008 where KKR lost by a narrow margin of 9 runs in Mohali. David Hussey (71) and Wriddhiman Saha (59*) hit a fifty each in the losing cause.

The Knights, however, emerged victorious in their latest meeting with PBKS which took place at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium last year. Led by Umesh Yadav’s 4/23, KKR bundled PBKS out for 137. Later, Andre Russell (70*) and Sam Billings (24*) unleashed their pyrotechnics to help KKR romp home by 6 wickets and 33 balls to spare.

The most memorable clash between the two teams has to be the 2014 final where KKR won by 3 wickets in a last-over thriller to clinch their second TATA IPL title. Despite riding Wriddhiman Saha’s unbeaten century (115* off 55 balls) to post 199/4 on the board, PBKS ended up on the losing side as Manish Pandey orchestrated KKR’s chase with a whirlwind 50-ball 94.

Former KKR skipper Gautam Gambhir is the leading run-getter in KKR vs PBKS contests in the TATA IPL with 492 runs, followed by Robin Uthappa (438) and WriddhimanSaha (394). Among the bowlers, KKR’s Sunil Narine (32) is the leading wicket-taker in KKR vs PBKS TATA IPL matches, followed by Piyush Chawla (24) and Umesh Yadav (18).