Kolkata Knight Riders ended up on the losing side of the scrap for the final playoff spot in the Indian Premier League last season due to their poor net run rate as compared to SunRisers Hyderabad (SRH) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB).
All three teams finished on 14 points but while SRH and RCB had net run rates of +0.608 and -0.172 respectively, KKR ended the season with -0.214, thus finishing fifth.
One of the biggest factors affecting KKR last season was that their two West Indies stars -- Sunil Narine and Andre Russell -- had a poor season, with many commentators even saying that the duo may be past their prime and their downturn in form maybe a permanent feature.
In ace Bangladesh all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, KKR seem to have found a potential replacement for Narine. Shakib is more of a proper upper middle order batsman as opposed to the pinch-hitting opener's role that Narine fills.
Despite Russell's downturn in form, KKR have enough firepower in the form of Dinesh Karthik and skipper Eoin Morgan to be a dangerous prospect in the death overs.
Nitish Rana moved up into the opening position with Shubman Gill towards the end of the last season and he is expected to continue in that role this time too when the cash-rich league gets underway on April 9.
Shakib will also play a crucial role with the ball in at least the first few matches of the season, which will be played at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, which is known to assist the spinners. The former Bangladesh captain and mystery spinner Varun Chakravarthy can make a daunting prospect for the opposition to navigate.
Australian speedster Pat Cummins can be expected to be an automatic choice in the playing XI regardless of where they are playing, along with promising Indian youngster Prasidh Krishna.
A fully fit Russell is a valuable fast bowling option, as he has often shown in the previous seasons. As KKR's season moves towards Mumbai and Bengaluru, New Zealand quick Lockie Ferguson's express pace could come into play.
"We have a very balanced side given the kind of skill-sets every player possesses. I think we need to ensure that every player is in the right frame of mind through the tournament to be able to perform. The likes of Nitish Rana, Shubman Gill and Prasidh Krishna have done it time and again in the past. Prasidh, especially, has been doing well in the international arena now. I feel it was quite important for him to go on to the big stage as this will give him a lot of confidence," said Abhishek Nayar, the assistant coach of KKR.
Squad: Shubman Gill, Nitish Rana, Tim Seifert (wk), Rahul Tripathi, Rinku Singh, Dinesh Karthik (wk), Eoin Morgan (c), Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, Varun CV, Kuldeep Yadav, Pat Cummins, Lockie Ferguson, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Shivam Mavi, Sandeep Warrier, Prasidh Krishna, Shakib Al Hasan, Sheldon Jackson, Vaibhav Arora, Karun Nair, Harbhajan Singh, Ben Cutting, Venkatesh Iyer, Pawan Negi.
Coaching staff: Brendon McCullum (head coach), Abhishek Nayar (assistant coach), Kyle Mills (bowling coach), James Foster (fielding coach), David Hussey (mentor), Nathan Leamon (consultant strategist)
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