IPL: The Sourav Ganguly vs Knight Riders clash that divided the Bengali support

The passionate Bengali crowd had a very difficult choice to make — one between their team Kolkata Knight Riders and on the other side, the city’s favourite son, Sourav Ganguly © PTI

On May 5, 2012, Kolkata’s darling Sourav Ganguly was up against his own city. The contest between the Kolkata Knight Riders and the Pune Warriors India at the Eden Gardens witnessed rare scenes as the Bengali cricket fan’s loyalties were divided. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at that encounter.

It was the day loyalties were divided at the Eden Gardens. The passionate Bengali crowd had a very difficult choice to make — one between their team Kolkata Knight Riders and on the other side, the city’s favourite son, Sourav Ganguly. The encounter between Kolkata and the Pune Warriors India was built up as the big clash between Ganguly and his old Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise, set at the heart of the former India captain’s support base.

The Eden Gardens spectators have always been passionately vocal. There have been occasions when they have crossed the line resulting in some shameful scenes. During the 1996 World Cup semi-final, the playing area was bombarded with bottles and other materials as India collapsed in a heap.

Kolkata’s passion for Ganguly is unparalleled. When he was dropped in the mid-2000s following a spat with coach Greg Chappell, fans took to the streets, burning effigies and voicing their support for Ganguly. A packed house at the Eden Gardens even cheered for the visiting South Africans during a One-Day International (ODI) as Ganguly was missing in action.

For the first three seasons of the IPL, the Knight Riders were all about Ganguly. It was a shock to many when they didn’t retain him for the fourth edition. A fanatical group even started a campaign “No Dada, No KKR” (NDNKKR) — a movement that resulted in Kolkata’s first game of the 2011 season being played in front of spare crowds. Through all that, Ganguly was handed a lifeline by Pune and was made captain for the 2012 edition.

The stage was set at the Coliseum of Indian cricket on May 5 for the most anticipated clash of the season. The stadium was filled to capacity, with both sides having plenty of support. One could sense a bit of confusion as the crowd couldn’t decide whom to support in unanimity. Out in the middle, Gautam Gambhir won the toss and elected to bat first.

Led by their captain, Kolkata were going strong and had amassed 106 in the first 11 overs. Pune fought back with a disciplined performance in the field to limit Kolkata to only 150. The moment that signified that fightback was Steven Smith’s superman-like effort on the boundary. Yusuf Pathan smashed a ball over wide long-on and assumed it would go the distance. To everyone’s amazement, Smith flew to his left, clutched the ball in mid-air and flung it back into the field of play.

As Pune commenced their challenge, the whole talk was about Ganguly’s spot in the batting order. Everyone waited for the gladiator to walk out into the arena he once owned. However, the suspense was building was Ganguly held himself back. Pune kept losing wickets and their run-chase was in tatters at 55 for five in the ninth over. In walked Ganguly to join Angelo Mathews. Up until then, Eden had cheered for every Kolkata success and now came their real test.

At the toss, Ganguly admitted that he was a touch nervous — understandably so. A wily Sunil Narine tricked him early on as Ganguly played out four dots upfront. In the next over, he was ready to unleash his best and entertain those who had come to watch him. He made room and smashed Jacques Kallis over long-off for a four. Eden erupted. The next ball was guided over the keeper’s head with typical Ganguly timing. He was off and running.

It was clear that Ganguly was a shadow of himself as age had caught up with him. At his pomp, he was one of the best players of spin bowling and would waltz down the pitch fearlessly. However, the “mystery” of Narine had him in all sorts of trouble. He did manage to hit a boundary though with a delicate poke outside the off-stump.

The asking rate kept rising for Pune, but Ganguly and Mathews were content in rotating the strike. All eyes were on Ganguly and Pune’s cause was almost secondary to the script. However, Mathews took matters in his own hands and smashed three sixes off Pathan in the 15th over.

With 35 needed off 24 balls, Gambhir brought back Narine for one final shot. Ganguly played him out as Pune could only muster four runs in that over. Sensing the opportunity, he then took on the military-medium pace of Rajat Bhatia in the next over. The first ball was smashed over long-on into the stands as Pune started sensing victory. A huge roar engulfed the Eden Gardens and Gambhir may have felt his team was in foreign territory.

Then came the moment that baffled everyone. Later in the over, Ganguly tried to clear mid-wicket, but didn’t middle the ball. Iqbal Abdulla steadied himself and took a neat catch to end the Pune captain’s vigil.

There were mixed reactions from the capacity crowd. The avid Kolkata supporter could not celebrate in the midst of “Dada’s” territory. Yet, some of them cheered their team on even as their hero left the ground. Some sections of the stands were dominated by Pune supporters and they were stunned to silence.

Nevertheless, Ganguly’s measured innings of 36 had put Pune in a position to clinch the game. Despite all the good work, Pune faltered in the last two overs and handed Kolkata a seven-run victory. The result was welcomed by a huge roar, although the Pune supporters were left to rue what might have been.

The real Bengali cricket fan might have got what he wanted — a Kolkata victory and a good knock by Ganguly. What this game showed was that the fans had matured a lot more and that the team had finally superseded the individual. Perhaps, they had accepted the fact that their “Dada” was past his best and was only living on past glory. It was the last time he played at the Eden Gardens — thereby ending a cherished association.

Brief scores:

Kolkata Knight Riders 150 for 5 in 20 overs (Gautam Gambhir 56, Brendon McCullum 42; Angelo Mathews 2 for 17, Bhuvneshwar Kumar 2 for 26) beat Pune Warriors India 143 for 8 in 20 overs (Sourav Ganguly 36, Angelo Mathews 35; Marchant de Lange 3 for 34) by 7 runs.

Man of the Match: Sunil Narine

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)