Kolkata Knight Riders finished fourth in IPL 2011 and, having come to the qualifiers with the least favourable result in their domestic league among the participating teams, will be eager to prove they belong with the Twenty20 elite. Injuries to their captain Gautam Gambhir and Eoin Morgan, and Brad Haddin's unavailability - he's with the Australia Test squad in Sri Lanka - will affect the quality and balance of the side. Even so, a team featuring the likes of Jacques Kallis, Yusuf Pathan and Brett Lee should post a stiff challenge.
Auckland, New Zealand's champions, have reached the finals of the domestic Twenty20 competition in four seasons out of six. Batsmen Jimmy Adams, Colin Munro, Lou Vincent and Colin de Grandhomme were solid in this year's HRV Cup campaign. In Chris Martin, Kyle Mills, Daryl Tuffey and Andre Adams the team enjoys vast international experience on the pace front. Areas of concern would be a lack of match practice - it's the winter off-season in New Zealand - and minor shoulder and dental issues for Martin and Tuffey.
The format of the qualifiers - two pools of three teams each, with the top three overall going through - demands the sides win two out of two to ensure they make the main-draw.
Jimmy Adams and de Grandhomme are likely to open, with Martin Guptill at No. 3. Auckland were flexible in the HRV Cup, with Vincent, Anaru Kitchen and Munro floating up and down the order. Here, Munro's HRV form and Robert Quiney's power-hitting should put them ahead of Kitchen for middle-order spots. With Indian conditions in mind, they might consider going against a traditional strength and playing two spinners, bringing Bruce Martin in to partner Ronnie Hira.
Auckland: (probable) 1 Jimmy Adams, 2 Colin de Grandhomme, 3 Martin Guptill, 4 Colin Munro, 5 Robert Quiney/Anaru Kitchen, 6 Gareth Hopkins (capt & wk), 7 Lou Vincent, 8 Ronnie Hira, 9 Andre Adams, 10 Kyle Mills/Daryl Tuffey/Bruce Martin, 11 Chris Martin.
Kallis will lead Kolkata in Gambhir's absence and partner Manvinder Bisla at the top. Manoj Tiwary could be forced to move up a spot to No. 3, unless they promote a bit-hitter up like Yusuf or Ryan ten Doeschate instead. Shakib Al Hasan, whose left-arm spin proved handy in the IPL, will fill the fourth foreign player's spot.
Kolkata Knight Riders: (probable) 1 Jacques Kallis (capt), 2 Manvinder Bisla (wk), 3 Manoj Tiwary, 4 Ryan ten Doeschate, 5 Shakib Al Hasan, 6 Yusuf Pathan, 7 Rajat Bhatia, 8 Brett Lee, 9 Iqbal Abdulla, 10 L Balaji, 11 Jaidev Unadkat.
Watch out for
Andre Adams is coming off a fine English county season and HRV Cup, where he topped the bowling charts for Nottinghamshire and Auckland. Can he reproduce that form at the batting paradise that is the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad?
Yusuf Pathan will be smarting after being overlooked for India's tour of England. Brutal batting aside, he could pose problems with his off-spin - Yusuf conceded a miserly 6.10 runs an over in IPL 2011, while claiming 13 wickets to finish second on Kolkata's wickets table.
Iqbal Abdulla v Auckland batsmen: A side from New Zealand might not be completely at ease against spin. Left-armer Iqbal Abdulla proved he could rein in and get past several international batsmen in IPL 2011. The Auckland power-hitters' response to Abdulla's wiles promises to be an intriguing battle.