Did Kolkata miss Dada? Did the crowd miss the superlative drives through the off-side? And most of all, did it miss the controversy that seemed to accompany Ganguly’s every step?
At the start of the fourth season of the Indian Premier League, there was a lot of talk about whether the crowd will turn up to watch a Sourav Ganguly-less Knight Riders. There were morchas and protests in front of the Eden Garden. No KKR press conference would be complete without a few questions on the Ganguly factor.
Coach Dav Whatmore chose to let silence reign and skipper Gautam Gambhir focussed on the matches ahead. But there was no escaping it. The question just kept cropping up.
When his reaction was sought on the snub given to Ganguly during the auction in Bangalore, Whatmore said, “I have my personal views, but I would like them to remain with me.”
Then slowly, as KKR started to win, the murmurs started to die. The crowds became more focussed on the cricket and with their team winning, the IPL suddenly became enjoyable. And everyone, including the Kolkatans realized that there was more to the game than just Dada.
For a team that had finished sixth in the first season, eight in the second and then sixth again last season, winning was a welcome change. And making it to the last four, probably means a lot more to this franchise than to the others. More importantly, by clearing the dead wood, Shah Rukh Khan and Co allowed the new management to take new root and set their plans in motion without any hindrance.
Ganguly in Kolkata is an all-powerful presence. A huge posse of journalists chases him all over, hanging on to his every word and if he decides he doesn’t like the coach then no newspaper in Kolkata is going to say otherwise.
If he had been around, it would have been interesting to see how Gambhir would have managed. The left-hander is a very aggressive skipper and unorthodox, too. With Ganguly in the squad, he would have perhaps felt obliged to ask him for advice. With him not in the squad, it gives him free rein and that’s never a bad thing.
The team this season has been transformed into one that believes winning isn’t impossible. The smile on Shah Rukh’s face as his team reached the final four had a story of its own to tell. He is likely to believe that he has managed to swim against the tide and win.
While quite a few of the other teams have depended on one or two players to deliver the goods, Kolkata have stood out as a team that has made the best use of teamwork -- four batsmen with over 250 runs, five bowlers with over eight wickets and this without Brett Lee (only 4 wickets) firing. That was hardly the case in the previous three years when the management was too busy bickering, changing captains and losing matches.
Twenty20 has often been described as a format which requires one amazing performance to tilt the scales but Gambhir has somehow managed to get everybody involved and though, they have been inconsistent at times, they have managed to make it work on the big moments. They seem happy, determined and are moving towards their goal as a single entity.
Also, Dada’s contributions with the Pune Warriors show that Kolkata were right in offering him just the mentor’s role – anything more would have been a travesty of sorts. He is clearly past his sell-by date as a player, but as a mentor, he would probably have still managed to draw the crowd in. So, it was a great call on KKR’s part and one that they are certainly not regretting.
Coming back to the initial question: Did Kolkata miss Dada? They might have, but going by the cheers at the Eden Gardens, it turns out they missed winning more.