KL Rahul has been a powerhouse performer in IPL with multiple seasons of 500 and 600 plus runs but his leadership abilities will be put to test as Lucknow Super Giants would like to go one better than their play-off finish during last edition.
Dropped from the playing XI in Test matches, stripped off vice-captaincy across formats and demoted in the annual central contracts category, Rahul will need to make a personal statement not only with the bat but also as a leader of men.
Rahul's captaincy stint with Punjab Kings ended on a disappointing note and even in LSG's play-off finish in its maiden IPL appearance, nothing stood out as far as his captaincy was concerned.
LSG finished third at the end of the league stage last year and bowed out of Eliminator following a loss to Royal Challengers Bangalore, with Rahul leading the batting charts for the side scoring 616 runs in 15 matches at 51.33 with two centuries and four half-centuries.
If Rahul, often criticised for his striking rate in IPL, topped the batting charts and led from the front, LSG and India's right-arm fast bowler Avesh Khan finished as the most successful bowler with 18 wickets in 13 matches.
However, going into IPL 2023, Lucknow will be without their most impressive bowler Mohsin Khan, who made a strong mark with his skills taking 14 wickets in nine matches, at least in the first half of IPL this year owing to a shoulder injury.
LSG wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock is all set to miss the first two games at least given that South Africa will face the Netherlands with their 50-over World Cup qualification on the line.
It remains to be seen who will partner Rahul at the all-important opening slot.
Here's is a SWOT analysis of the side that will take on Delhi Capitals in their season-opener in Lucknow on April 1.
Lucknow Super Giants have bolstered their side this year by adding West Indies wicketkeeper-batter Nicholas Pooran for a whopping Rs 16 crore, who led the Caribbean side in the last T20 World Cup.
Pooran's addition adds more to the flexibility in picking their wicketkeeper, with South Africa's Quinton de Kock being the primary option.
The biggest area of strength, however, is the list of all-rounders on the LSG roster. Along with India's Deepak Hooda, Krunal Pandya, Krishnappa Gowtham, Prerak Mankad, LSG also have a rich overseas presence of Marcus Stoinis, Daniel Sams, Kyle Mayers and Romario Shepherd.
The spin department will have the likes of veteran India bowler Amit Mishra along with Ravi Bishnoi, whereas in Mark Wood and Jaydev Unadkat, they have experienced fast bowlers who have also won major international and domestic competitions.
With the firepower of Rahul and Quinton de Kock at the top, LSG will have to find a resolute middle-order which can respond as per need — mostly to pick up from the starts their openers provide. Ayush Badoni started well in the last IPL season but then his form tapered off.
Hooda could be the enforcer in the middle-order but consistency will be a big question for the young India player, who has been seen in national colours on a regular basis in the shortest format.
Kyle Mayers, an exciting left-hander from the West Indies is likely to open with Rahul in the first two games unless they opt for an Indian option in Deepak Hooda. It will be a great chance for Mayers to showcase his skills in absence of Quinton de Kock, who is missing the first two games because of national duty.
Young Jammu and Kashmir pacer Yudhvir Singh Charak or Vidarbha's Yash Thakur could get an opportunity at some point during the tournament.
Mohsin Khan, a find of last IPL season is out for at least first five games and it could be even more and hence Mark Wood is the only fast bowler with an x-factor in the line-up. Jaydev Unadkat has always been a lamb for slaughter in the elite T20 league save one season for Rising Pune Supergiants.
However with Wood also being a bit injury prone, it will not be the best proposition to depend on a ace attack which only has Avesh Khan and Unadkat as experienced India bowlers. The likes of Yudhvir, Thakur or Delhi's Mayank Yadav are pretty raw and untested at this level.