The 11th edition of the Indian Premier League is just two days away and the preparations are going on in full swing. Following a major overhaul in team compositions at the IPL 2018 auction in January this year, some new faces have emerged to lead their units at this year's T20 extravaganza. One such team is Kolkata Knight Riders, which was successfully shepherded by Gautam Gambhir till the last season, and this year they will have wicket-keeper batsman Dinesh Karthik at the helm. A lot of eyebrows were raised when Karthik was asked to lead the Kolkata-based outfit but their batting coach Simon Katich feels that the newly appointed skipper is at the right stage in his career to lead the side.
Gambhir, who led KKR to titles in 2012 and 2014, left one of the most-followed IPL teams to join his Delhi Daredevils ahead of this IPL and the baton was handed over to Karthik.
The 33-year-old Karthik recently hit a last-ball six to single-handedly drag India out of a hole and register an improbable triumph which not only catapulted him to unprecedented stardom for the national team.
"He's in the perfect time of his career to really grab the opportunity. He's done that with Tamil Nadu with a fair bit of success. We see that as a bonus for us," Katich told reporters on the sidelines of KKR practice at the Eden Gardens on Thursday.
Asked if the pressure of captaincy would affect his batting, the Aussie former southpaw said Karthik will have enough experienced players around him and it is also his role as the batting coach to ease the pressure off him.
"First and foremost, will be to give guidance to this group. He's got a lot of experienced players around him, particularly in the overseas group, and there is (Piyush) Chawla, R Vinay Kumar, Robin (Uthappa, vice-captain) ... our role is to take the pressure off, as possibly as we can.
"He will get a lot of help there. We hope he will continue that form he showed in India recently. He's a highly experienced player in the IPL, and has played for 10 years."
Katich said the team has enough experienced players at the top of the order to fill Gambhir's void. Gambhir was KKR's highest run-getter in last two seasons.
"Gautam has been a fantastic player, made a lot of runs and got a lot of success while he was the captain. We feel that we have got some experienced players to fill in the role at top of the order.
"We have Robin Uthappa, he has a lot of experience, particularly with KKR. Combine him with the power of Chris Lynn and we feel we have enough fair bit of experience top of the order," Katich said.
Katich also pointed out that KKR have a number of players who are in form and it would be tough to pick the starting XI.
"We have got a number of players in very good form. There will be some tough decisions in terms of composition. Our captain Dinesh Karthik has been in very good form for India recently.
"He will play a crucial role in the middle as skipper. It fills us with a lot of confidence."
Last season, mystery spinner Sunil Narine turned heads with his skills with the bat as he was sent to open the batting with Gambhir. Asked if this time also, it's a possibility, Katich said it would depend on team balance.
"He did not open initially, Lynn and Gambhir opened then after game 2 when Lynn got injured we had to rejig the team balance wise. We felt if Sunil opened it will help us with the balance.
"He did a good job as he was freed up the order. He is primarily one of our main spinners, but given the balance of the team, you never know where he is going to bat. We will go with the best combination."
On the three India U-19 World Cup winners in the setup, Katich suggested they have been roped in for the future.
"They are still very young but at the same time, they are talented. We felt that over the years they can progress and play a role for us.
"Given that we have a lot of experience in your team, there might be one or two spots available for the youngsters to grab an opportunity and perform."
KKR take on Royal Challengers Bangalore on Sunday at the Eden to open their campaign.
(With IANS Inputs)