Kolkata Knight Riders batsman Gautam Gambhir (R) and Brendon McCullum run between wickets during the IPL Twenty20 cricket match between Kolkata Knight Riders and Pune Warriors India at The Eden Gardens in Kolkata. AFP Photo/Dibyangshu Sarkar
The House of Eden was divided. That was expected. But what wasn't was the confusing roar that kept breaking out like a sonic boom from the 65,000-plus capacity crowd.
There were plenty of Pune Warriors India supporters, all right -- many with the word 'Dada' painted in white and blue on their foreheads. A moderately large patch of the Eden Gardens stands was actually daubed light blue that on closer inspection turned out to be people wearing the Pune colours. But it was utterly impossible to know whether the 'home stadium' of the Kolkata Knight Riders was applauding Sourav Ganguly for making a good placement shot or was appreciating the great flat return throw by a KKR fielder in the deep. It wasn't only Eden that was divided. Every person watching the match seemed schizoid in their loyalties.
Saturday's KKR vs Dada's team match was on paper about loyalties. On non-paper and under sweaty floodlights, people waving KKR flags found themselves giving Ganguly a standing ovation after his tingle-tangle innings of 36 off 35 balls. The man behind me, who went home with his vocal nodules scraped from shouting 'K-K-R! K-K-R!' through the four hours of the match, muttered, "Dada's done his bit". And a gentleman in a 'Hancock is here!' tee-shirt and a moustache who kept on howling like a wolf every time a KKR wicket fell, smiled understandably when the match closed with his team 7 runs short of the target.
Effectively, KKR supporters were happy but not delirious; Dada fans were unhappy but not crushed.
But there were moments in the match that the rest of India was unlikely to understand the significance of. Take the conch shells that were blown when a man in a No. 24 Pune Warriors jersey made the long walk to the pitch after the fall of the fifth wicket at 55. As he took guard, the whole stadium erupted with 'Da-da! Da-da!' in the same tempo and gusto that they had shouted 'K-K-R!' and 'Gam-bhir!' not too long ago.
Clearly the Hamlet in this play was Ganguly. A gentle tap to the first ball he faced got an echoing applause. (Was it for the bowler or just for Ganguly being there under the spotlights?) The same reaction from the stadium when the second Sunil Narine delivery Dada faces is a dot ball. Ditto, third and fourth dot balls. KKR skipper's placement of two slips simply adds to the crackle in the humid air.
But everything wasn't always about the Bengali playing against 'Bengal'. The loud hum of the frequent Mexican waves going round the stadium was also accompanied by cheers for Gambhir's turkey sandwich knock of 56. When he gets out it's a young KKR-supporting sardar with his sunglasses pushed up onto his turban who glares with massive ferocity at a Bengali Pune supporter who can't contain his joy.
And what everyone bar none spoke about with serious awe while filing out of Eden Gardens wasn't Dada's knock or KKR's ultimate victory, but Steve Smith's astounding 'tennis return' dive to stop an 'inevitable' Yusuf Pathan overboundary. Simply to prove that football can't be too far from the Bengali mind, one rotund (KKR-supporting) gentleman made the very valid point: "That was a Lev Yashin save", referring to the legendary Soviet goalkeeper.
In the end, the afternoon-evening at the Eden Gardens was a match billed as a gladiatorial bout that ended as a four-hour happy, delirious and (some would say) pointless drama that left everyone at Eden wonderfully confused about themselves. Even a Delhi Daredevils boyo like me.