Shikhar Dhawan, Nitish Rana | PTI
Mohali: Plagued by injuries and unavailability of a few foreign players, both Punjab Kings and Kolkata Knight Riders would still look to put their best foot forward as they lock horns in their opening IPL encounter here on Saturday.
These are the two franchises, which over the years have flattered to deceive. Inconsistency in team selections seemed to have also affected the them badly.
While PBKS finished sixth, two-time champions KKR ended a rung below in the seventh spot in the 10-team competition last year.
Both teams will be led by new skippers this season. While veteran Shikhar Dhawan will be at the helm of Punjab, domestic star Nitish Rana has replaced injured Shreyas Iyer as KKR captain.
On paper, though, PBKS looks a tad more stronger than KKR. But Englishman Jonny Bairstow's absence will certainly leave a big void in Punjab's team composition.
Bairstow has been ruled out of the entire IPL as he continues to recover from a leg injury he had sustained while playing golf last September.
In Bairstow's place, PBKS has roped in BBL's player-of-the-tournament this season, Matthew Short who is expected to open the batting along side Dhawan.
Other key PBKS players, who will miss Saturday's game are hard-hitting all-rounder Liam Livingstone, who is yet to get clearance from the ECB, following a knee injury, and South African Kagiso Rabada who is on national duty.
PBKS squad is stacked with all-rounders, the most lethal among them being USD 2 million plus buy Sam Curran, who is more than handy with the bat and is a very fine death bowler.
Zimbabwe's Sikandar Raza is another utility all-rounder PBKS could bank upon.
But they would depend on Dhawan and Short to provide consistency at the top. On the bowling front, PBKS would miss Rabada on Saturday and in his absence the onus would be on Arshdeep Singh, old guard Rishi Dhawan, Curran and leg-spinner Rahul Chahar to do the job.
The Mohali-based outfit would also rely on coach Trevor Bayliss' tactical nous to shed their tag of perennial underachievers during the season.
PBKS has never won the IPL title in the last 15 years. The closest they came was a final appearance in 2014 and and semi-final defeat in the inaugural season.
For two-time champions KKR, new coach Chandrakant Pandit will be the key man as it is now an open secret that he along with Mumbai stalwart Abhishek Nayar are going to take all decisions from the dug-out and Rana's only job would be to implement them.
KKR too have been hurt by injuries with regular skipper and batting mainstay Shreyas being almost ruled out of the tournament with a back problem.
The two Bangladeshis Shakib Al Hasan and Litton Das are also going to miss the opening game due to national commitments.
KKR's strength too lies in the team's all-rounders with the likes of Andre Russell, Sunil Narine, David Weise, Vernkatesh Iyer and Shakib Al Hasan in their rank.
Even though both Tim Southee and Lockie Fergusson have joined the KKR squad, the latter is a doubtful starter on Saturday having injured his right hamstring last week.
KKR's weakness lies in an unsettled top-order and it remains to be seen who will anchor the innings.
In Wiese, Rinku Singh and Afghan Rahmanullah Gurbaz, KKR have some terrific hard-hitters who can pull off a win on their given day.
On the bowling front, Southee and Umesh Yadav will lead the attack in the company of Shardul Thakur, and Varun Chakravarthy.
Punjab Kings: Shikhar Dhawan (c), Arshdeep Singh, Baltej Singh, Raj Bawa, Rahul Chahar, Sam Curran, Rishi Dhawan, Nathan Ellis, Harpreet Brar, Harpreet Singh, Vidwath Kaverappa, Mohit Rathee, Prabhsimran Singh, Bhanuka Rajapaksa, M Shahrukh Khan, Jitesh Sharma, Shivam Singh, Matthew Short, Sikandar Raza, Atharva Taide.
Kolkata Knight Riders: Nitish Rana (c), Vaibhav Arora, Lockie Ferguson, Harshit Rana, Venkatesh Iyer, N Jagadeesan, Kulwant Khejroliya, Liton Das, Mandeep Singh, Sunil Narine, Rahmanullah Gurbaz, Anukul Roy, Andre Russell, Shakib Al Hasan, Rinku Singh, Tim Southee, Suyash Sharma, Shardul Thakur, Varun Chakravarthy, David Wiese, Umesh Yadav.
Match starts at 3:30PM IST. PTI