Time will tell whether the absence of their most successful skipper, Gautam Gambhir, will impact Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) or not, but in new captain Dinesh Karthik the two-time Indian Premier League (IPL) champions will find a seasoned campaigner who feels he has matured enough to "get the best out of the team".
Gambhir, who led KKR to titles in 2012 and 2014, left the city-based franchise to join his home team Delhi Daredevils ahead of this IPL.
Karthik was named as his successor and days after the appointment, the 32-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman became the talk of the cricketing world by clobbering a last-ball six to singlehandedly guide India to a four-wicket victory over Bangladesh in the final of the Nidahas Trophy T20I Tri-series in Sri Lanka.ALSO READ: IPL 2018 match schedule: Mumbai and Chennai to play opening game on April 7
"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. I think I'm at a stage where I can handle it and get the best out of the team," Karthik said in his first interaction with journalists as KKR captain.
Karthik knows he will have to bat really well to come anywhere close to Gambhir's exploits in the purple shirt. The veteran opener had led from the front since joining KKR in 2011, finishing as their highest run-scorer in the last two seasons.
Besides Gambhir, dashing opener Robin Uthappa has also been a vital cog in KKR's wheel for the last few years.
Having him as vice-captain should also do a world of good to Karthik and the Shah Rukh Khan co-owned franchise.ALSO READ: IPL 2018: Injured Mitchell Starc to miss entire season, puts KKR in a spot
The unavailability of Aussie pace spearhead Mitchell Starc though is a body blow for KKR just ahead of their first game against Virat Kohli's Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) at the Eden Gardens on Sunday.
Starc, rated as one of the world's finest pacers, was roped in for a whopping Rs 94 million (Rs 9.4 crore) and tipped to lead the franchise's bowling attack. But the 28-year-old was ruled out of the fourth Test against South Africa due to a tibial bone stress fracture in his right leg.
In Starc's absence, compatriot Mitchell Johnson will be expected to deliver the goods. KKR have always been a strong bowling unit and this time won't be any different.ALSO READ: IPL 2018: Raina runs to Gayle sixes, top 10 Indian Premier League records
KKR has roped in young English all-rounder Tom Curran as the replacement for Starc and the 23-year-old will add depth in both pace bowling and batting.
From India's 2018 Under-19 World Cup-winning squad, fast bowling sensations Kamlesh Nagarkoti and Shivam Mavi will add to KKR's pace strength.
Experienced medium-pacer R. Vinay Kumar and Javon Searless of the West Indies will furthermore boost KKR's fast-bowling line-up.ALSO READ: Lynn, Russell likely to play KKR's IPL 2018 opener
Mystery spinner Sunil Narine, the IPL Player Of The Series in 2012, will lead KKR's spin unit that includes chinaman Kuldeep Yadav and Piyush Chawla.
Coming to the batting arsenal, besides Karthik and Uthappa, the likes of big-hitting Australian Chris Lynn, West Indies all-rounder Andre Russell and South African all-rounder Cameron Delport should lend their batting some might.
Among the younger lot, India U-19 star top-order bat Shubman Gill should do well along with big-hitting Nitish Rana, Rinku Singh, Apoorv Wankhade and Ishank Jaggi who comprise their bench.
In 2017, KKR lost to eventual champions Mumbai Indians in Qualifier 2. The Jacques Kallis-coached side will at least look to make the playoffs as their first goal this time, according to their captain.
KKR Squad:Captain: Dinesh Karthik Batsmen: Chris Lynn, Nitish Rana, Shubman Gill, Ishank Jaggi, Apoorv Wankhade, Rinku Singh All-rounders: Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Shivam Mavi, Cameron Delport, Tom Curran Wicket-keepers: Robin Uthappa, Dinesh Karthik Bowlers: Mitchell Johnson, Piyush Chawla, Kuldeep Yadav, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, R Vinay Kumar, Javon Searless