Come 5 May, and cricket-crazy Indians will witness the faceoff of the year at the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Dada’s Pune Warrors India will take on Shah Rukh Khan’s Kolkata Knight Riders on the latters’ home turf in what promises to be a cracker of a game, not just for cricketing reasons.
The 39-year old Sourav Ganguly has just announced his umpteenth comeback of sorts, this time as the skipper of the Sahara-owned Pune Warriors, in the absence of Yuvraj Singh. And the epic battle on Dada’s home turf, Eden Gardens, promises to be the ideal setting for a game where the former Indian skipper and Prince of Calcutta can drive home a few points to his former owner, the flamboyant-if-sometimes-cocky superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
After all, Dada was not handed out the best of treatment at SRK’s hands when he was skipper of KKR, and finally had to find his way into the Pune side after much controversy, statements and counter-statements. And even while SRK kept claiming his equation with Dada was unaltered despite the events surrounding Dada’s omission from the KKR squad, die-hard Dada-ites were not amused.
Here was arguably one of India’s finest and most successful captains, banished from his home side, seeking asylum elsewhere in a desperate effort to prove his detractors wrong and drill home the fact that he still had a lot of cricket left in him despite his advancing years. SRK, on the other hand, installed Gautam Gambhir, a Delhi boy, as the skipper of KKR, seeking to infuse new leadership and energy into a team which, despite enormous marketing hype and media hoop-la surrounding it, has had only very mixed fortunes in the IPL.
Much water has flowed under the bridge since. It’s the fifth edition of IPL this year, and Dada is once again on a high. Having been installed skipper of PWI, Dada has the ideal opportunity to prove to the world and his legion of fans that the man who had the guts to take off his shirt on the hallowed portals of Lord’s in an act of brazen defiance against the system, is still up for one more brush with greatness, this time in the twenty-over format of the game.
Controversy is not new to Sourav Chandidas Ganguly. Whether it was his frequent skirmishes with former India coach Greg Chappell, or his style of leadership and the wave of the shirt at Lord’s, Dada has chased controversy rather than it being the other way round. But Dada has always been Dada: up-front, aggressive and a leader of men. And many KKR fans supporting the team across the country and the world over did not take kindly to SRK’s treatment of a man Bengal loves to admire, inside a cricket ground or elsewhere.
In fact, Dada’s charisma has seen him wear many hats: a popular TV show host, a commentator and a model, and each of these has been received by Kolkatans and Dada fans with joy. After all, not every day does Bengal produce a national cricketer, leave alone someone who can lead the Indian team and do so with distinction. Dada is, to millions of Bengalis, right up there among the greats.
And so, when Dada planted the Pune flag right on Mumbai’s own Wankhede Stadium, defeating a very strong Mumbai Indians side on home turf, fans of the man were overjoyed. He followed it up with another thumping victory against Kings XI Punjab, this time on Pune’s home ground, a spanking new stadium, in the very first match played there. Dada, many felt, was setting things up for a dream run this time. Admittedly, his own form with the bat has been quite patchy: both in the match against Mumbai and then against Punjab where he was finding it tough to middle the ball well, but his sheer presence on the field was electric. Involved in every bit of the games, he played a large part in getting Pune to win both. And that’s the Dada his fans love to see. Involved, aggressive, decisive. And on top.
In fact, 8 April was replete with irony. While SRK’s KKR lost to a resurgent Rajasthan Royals – RR is being led by another legend, Rahul Dravid, who partnered Dada when the latter scored his maiden Test hundred at Lord’s – Dada’s boys trumped Punjab in decisive form. Two wins in two matches. But Ganguly himself sought to underplay the two wins Pune has notched up, saying Pune still had a long way to go in the tournament.
But KKR’s poor showing and Dada’s parallel resurgence has proved a major dilemma for Kolkatans. Torn between loyalty for their side, and admiration for an icon they can never let go, the average Kolkatan is following Pune’s fortunes with keenness and awe. Indeed, some diehard KKR supporters are also unashamedly switching sides because Dada now leads Pune. Under Dada’s leadership, at least in the first two games, Pune has looked an energetic, disciplined side hungry for wins. And the fact that an iconic former Indian skipper is leading the side has doubtless inspired the younger players.
So when the gates open at the historic Eden Gardens on 5 May, the spectators will have a tough choice to make. Do they root for KKR or for their icon who will be returning to play on the ground which was once his home? The answer will lie in the cheers Dada draws when he walks out to lead his team that day. Because while SRK may be brand ambassador of Bengal, Dada will always be the Prince of Calcutta.