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Akshay Manwani in Kolkata 05 May 2012 - 01:16am IST

Dada’s bittersweet homecoming

Ganguly set to play against KKR in PWI colours at Eden

Flashback to April 27, the day before Kolkata Knight Riders’ clash against Royal Challengers Bangalore at the Eden Gardens. As night descended on the City of Joy, Vijay Dahiya, assistant coach of the Kolkata Knight Riders, addressed the customary pre-match press conference before the net session under lights.

About halfway through the interaction, a while after Dahiya had been asked to talk about KKR’s plans for Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and Co., a journalist asked the assistant coach, “What are your thoughts regarding the game on the 5th of May?”

The question took very few by surprise; it was clearly playing on all minds ever since the KKR v PWI clash was scheduled. After all, this would be the day when Sourav Ganguly, Bengal’s cricketing czar, would make his maiden IPL appearance in front of local crowds in a non-KKR jersey.

Dahiya seemed to have expected the question going by his measured response. “It’s about the next game; May 5 is still far off. We still have a couple more games in between. We are concentrating on them right now. We will cross the bridge when we reach it,” he said matter-of-factly. Straight-batted as his approach was, he would have found it hard to ignore the buzz in anticipation of Ganguly’s first IPL game at Eden after his exit from KKR.

Indian cities have been happy to welcome back their local heroes irrespective of whom they represent. Rahul Dravid’s return to Bengaluru early in the tournament with Rajasthan Royals was cheered with great zeal by fans at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.

Ganguly, though, is a different matter. Unlike Dravid, he has always evoked extreme sentiments. Also, while Dravid is one of a handful of great cricketers to have emerged from Karnataka, Ganguly is Bengal’s sole representative in the club of the cricketing elite. A passionate fan from Kolkata summed it up best:

“I think the main reason why there is such a strong connect [with Ganguly] is that no cricketer from Bengal before or after him has gone on to achieve such great heights in international cricket. And there are none on the horizon either. Dada continues to be destiny's child. A range of qualities such as his prodigous talent, his fighting abilities and his lineage endear him to the common man in Kolkata. Most importantly, this may also be the last time they will be seeing their favourite son in action.”

At 39 years and 302 days, Ganguly’s glory days are surely behind him. His form in IPL 2012 has been scratchy – a batting average of 19.18 after 11 innings and two wickets at an economy-rate of 9.75 after eight overs of bowling. Additionally, PWI have been stumbling with just four wins out of 11 matches, which include consecutive defeats in their last four outings. A combination of Ganguly’s patchy form and the prospect of PWI’s early elimination from the tournament has perhaps fuelled this episode of dada-mania.

KKR captain Gautam Gambhir has been quick to downplay the hysteria, emphatically stating that only the Knight Riders matter to Kolkata.

“Sourav is an individual. We are playing against Pune Warriors and not against Sourav Ganguly. Whoever Kolkata [fans] want to support they are free to support. I have always maintained KKR belongs to Kolkata. There is no other team that belongs to Kolkata.”

The great English cricket writer Sir Neville Cardus always wished for Australian legend Victor Trumper to score a century in an English win. On Saturday, the 5th of May, the city of Kolkata, torn between their favourite cricketing son and their home team, may be hoping for a similarly beneficial deal – a Ganguly show in a KKR victory.

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