IPL 2015 Preview: Kolkata Knight Riders Look To Defend Their Title
It's T20 season on the sub-continent and the world's best players are about the pad up for the latest edition of the Indian Premier League, cricket's most exciting and richest domestic tournament.
Eight teams will play a total of 60 games over almost seven weeks across 12 venues all round India in a battle to be crowned champions of the tournament's eighth edition, with the final taking place at Eden Gardens in Kolkata on May 24.
Can Kolkata Knight Riders retain their title?
Will Virat Kohli lead the Royal Challengers Bangalore to their first title? Can MS Dhoni's Chennai Super Kings win their third crown? And who are the players to watch out for?
Sportsmail tells you all you need to know in our guide to the 2015 Indian Premier League as India prepares for the spectacular cricket roadshow.
MS Dhoni, found.trade pictured in the 2011 Champions League, is looking to guide Chennai Super Kings to a third title
CHENNAI SUPER KINGS
The bright yellow jerseys of the Super Kings are one of the iconic sights of the Indian Premier League.
Led by the superstar Indian duo of MS Dhoni and Suresh Raina, Chennai are the most successful team in IPL history.
As well as their back-to-back victories in 2010 and 2011, CSK have been losing finalists three times and never failed to reach the last four.
In international players Dhoni, Raina, Ravi Ashwin, Ravi Jadeja and Mohit Sharma, the Super Kings have probably the best pool of Indian talent in the tournament, which is key given that seven of the starting XI have to be domestic players.
The foreign talent is also strong, though, and includes New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum, South African Faf du Plessis and West Indian all-rounder Dwyane Bravo.
ONE TO WATCH: There are so many.
Dhoni needs no introduction, Raina is the top scorer in IPL history, but MCCULLUM is one of the most exciting players in world cricket at the moment. He hit the first ever IPL century in 2008 and will be looking to build on a brilliant World Cup campaign.
Brendon McCullum's aggressive brand of cricket led New Zealand to the World Cup final
IPL 2015 BY NUMBERS £1,740,000 - Yuvraj Singh's salary, the highest in the 2015 tournament after he was picked up by Delhi Daredevils in the auction.
3325 - runs Suresh Raina has scored, the most in tournament history.
2008 - Year the IPL was first played.
119 - wickets taken by Lasith Malinga, the most in the history of the tournament.
60 - matches in the 2015 tournament.
46 - days the tournament lasts, beginning on April 8 and ending on May 24.
12 - venues to be used in 2015.
8 - teams in 2015 edition of the IPL.
3 - English players in the tournament - Eoin Morgan, Ravi Bopara and Kevin Pietersen.
The side from the capital are out to prove a point having never won the tournament and never even reached the final.
The Daredevils have missed out on the semi-finals the last two seasons and will be looking to get back on track this year.
They are led by South African JP Duminy and a lot of their overseas talent also comes from the same country in the form of Quinton de Kock, Imran Tahir and Albie Morkel, although Sri Lankan all-rounder Angelo Mathews is a handy player as well.
World Cup outcasts Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan and Amit Mishra, all of whom featured in India's successful 2011 team, will relish a return to the big stage and try and force themselves back into international reckoning.
ONE TO WATCH: In 22-year-old DE KOCK, Delhi have the most exciting young wicketkeeper batsman in the world.
De Kock has already scored six one-day international tons but his highest score in the World Cup was an unbeaten 78.
2011 World Cup winner Yuvraj Singh will be out to prove a point after being left out of this year's India team
KINGS XI PUNJAB
After years of just making up the numbers, the Kings XI Punjab lit up the 2014 tournament on their way to topping the table in the round-robin stage before losing in the final.
Punjab's success in 2014 came largely thanks to their strong Australian contingent, and this year they will be just as reliant on the likes of Glenn Maxwell, Mitchell Johnson, George Bailey and Shaun Marsh.
But the Kings XI also have South African powerhouse David Miller in their ranks along with Sri Lankan Thisara Perera.
Their Indian talent isn't the strongest in the tournament but Virender Sehwag and Murali Vijay have both performed on the big stage for their country, and 21-year-old Axar Patel is one of the best young talents in India.
ONE TO WATCH: The destructive MAXWELL. One banner in the stands in Chandigarh last year read 'Glenndeep Singh Maxwell - the King of Punjab'.
It was Maxwell's power-hitting that almost led his team to the 2014 title and he showed again at the World Cup just how dangerous he can be.
Glenn Maxwell was one of the top run-scorers in the IPL last year and almost guided the Kings XI to the title
KOLKATA KNIGHT RIDERS
The reigning champions Knight Riders have one of the most balanced teams in the tournament and will be looking to win their third IPL title in four years.
Gautam Gambhir's international career may have stalled, but he is still one of the most talented Indian batsmen out there.
Along with Gambhir, Yusuf Pathan was also part of India's 2011 World Cup winning team while Robin Uthappa was the leading run-scorer last year with 660.
In terms of overseas talent, Kolkata boast Sunil Narine, Morne Morkel, Johan Botha, Andre Russell, Pat Cummins, Bangladeshi all-rounder Shakib-al-Hasan and Dutchman Ryan ten Doeschate.
ONE TO WATCH: It's rare for India to produce fast bowlers with genuine pace, but they have one in UMESH YADAV.
Kolkata will be looking for Yadav to combine with Morkel and Narine as part of a fearsome bowling attack.
Sunil Narine, pictured in action for the Kolkata Knight Riders in the 2012 Indian Premier League
The team that once featured the great Sachin Tendulkar finally won the IPL in 2013, and they have an excellent chance to lift their second title this year.
In Rohit Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Pragyan Ojha and Parthiv Patel, Mumbai have a strong core of Indian talent, but it is their overseas game-winners that makes them dangerous.
Sri Lankan fast bowler Lasith Malinga is the highest wicket-taker in tournament history with 119, and he is joined by Kieron Pollard, Aaron Finch, Corey Anderson and Josh Hazlewood.
After losing in the eliminator against Chennai last year, the Mumbai Indians will once again expect to reach the play-offs and mount a serious challenge for the title.
ONE TO WATCH: The demon bowler that is MALINGA has made a habit of cleaning up batsmen in the IPL and was key in their success in 2013.
He will once again lead this bowling attack.
Mumbai Indians batsman Rohit Sharma pictured in action for India against Bangladesh at the World Cup
IPL ROLL OF HONOUR 2008: Rajasthan Royals
2009: Deccan Chargers (defunct)
2010: Chennai Super Kings
2011: Chennai Super Kings
2012: Kolkata Knight Riders
2013: Mumbai Indians
2014: Kolkata Knight Riders
Since Shane Warne's side won the inaugural IPL in 2008, the Rajasthan Royals have only made the play-offs on one occasion since.
Rajasthan's short history has been eventful to say the lease.
They were expelled by the BCCI and then reinstated in 2010 and were also rocked by the spot-fixing scandal that saw former Test match bowler Shanthakumaran Sreesanth banned for life.
This year's Royals team features a strong Australian presence in captain Shane Watson, Steve Smith and James Faulkner as well as New Zealand seamer Tim Southee.
Their Indian talent lacks star quality, though, with Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny and Dhawal Kulkarni the only men who have forced their way into the national side.
ONE TO WATCH: Australian SMITH has enjoyed a summer of dominating India and was instrumental in his country winning the World Cup.
Smith is a dangerous player with the bat, can hold up his end with the ball and is also one of the best fielders in the tournament.
Steve Smith will look to continue his excellent form into the Indian Premier League with Rajasthan
Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, pictured in 2009, is a part owner of the Rajasthan Royals
ROYAL CHALLENGERS BANGALORE
Any batting order that contains Chris Gayle, AB de Villers and Kohli has half a chance, but it has been Bangalore's bowling that has held them back in recent years.
Bangalore have never won the IPL and have missed out on the play-offs altogether in the last three years.
The Royal Challengers paid big money in the auction to pick up Dinesh Karthik (£1.17million) in an attempt to shake off their underachievers tag.
But news that World Cup player of the tournament Mitchell Starc will miss the start of the IPL will hurt their bowling attack.
ONE TO WATCH: Any of their big three batsmen really, but DE VILLIERS is often hailed as the most innovative batsman in world cricket for his stunning range of shots.
Virat Kohli and Chris Gayle pictured playing for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the 2012 tournament
South African AB de Villiers is often hailed as the most innovative batsman in world cricket
The newest team in the Indian Premier League, the Sunrisers Hyderabad are set to embark on their third campaign having been founded in 2013 and replaced the Deccan Chargers.
The Sunrisers will be led up front by the explosive opening duo of David Warner and Shikhar Dhawan and their middle order will feature New Zealander Kane Williamson and English duo Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan.
Hyderabad also landed Kevin Pietersen in the auction for what looked like a bargain of £205,000 after he was released by the Delhi Daredevils, but the 34-year-old will not feature in the orange shirt unless they make the play-offs.
Pietersen reached the agreement with the Sunrisers in order to return to Surrey in an attempt to resurrect his England career, but the play-offs take place during the same week as England's first Test against New Zealand at Lord's.
The Sunrisers also boast a a strong bowling line-up with foreign stars Dale Steyn and Trent Boult supported by Indian internationals Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
ONE TO WATCH: Hyderabad's strength is up top with captain Warner and DHAWAN.
The Indian batsman scored two centuries at the recent World Cup and, like Warner, has the power to take the game away from the opposition if he's there for a while.
Eoin Morgan will look to move on quickly from England's miserable World Cup when he plays in the IPL
Kevin Pietersen, here playing for Delhi in 2012, will join Hyderabad if they make the play-offs
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