Four Mays ago when a Pune team came calling to Kolkata for an IPL match, it split the city down the middle. Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) may have been the home team but many in the city were rooting for the away side that afternoon. For, Sourav Ganguly was leading them.
During the IPL, the Eden looks so deep purple that it can intimidate teams. But with owner Sanjiv Goenka being as much Kolkatan as Ganguly (together they own a football team), Rising Pune Supergiants could feel somewhat at home here. Ditto Rajat Bhatia, who has played for KKR, and Ashok Dinda who plays for Bengal and, along with Wriddhiman Saha, is one of the few players from the state to get regular games in this competition.
Then, there is MS Dhoni, a crowd favourite here even when he came visiting wearing Chennai Super Kings’ yellow. Like Sachin Tendulkar, Dhoni’s popularity here went beyond the somewhat tribal instinct of rooting for one’s team. Let Dhoni or Sachin do well but let KKR win would be the feeling on the terraces. It is likely to be the same on Saturday.
For a team already out of the tournament, that could provide the right setting to express themselves. “When you turn out for any game as a professional cricketer you don’t think on those lines that you have nothing to lose. The biggest thing that you have to lose is your pride… No one wants to turn out on the field and get back to a losing dressing room,” said KKR skipper Gautam Gambhir.
Pune coach Stephen Fleming pointed out how they have lost five games in the last over --- a situation that somewhat mirrors KKR’s miserable sojourn in South Africa in 2009 --- and said losing four foreigners to injury was another big factor.
“We are not a bad side. We have not been able to win key moments. We have taken all the top teams right down to the last over,” said Fleming, adding he was happy with the core group.
The challenge going into the next season, according to Fleming, is whether the players can keep reinventing themselves. Fitness too becomes an issue for players such as RP Singh and Ishant Sharma, he said.
“But I think there is a general willingness to improve. With a bit of tweaking here and there and bit of luck, next year we can be at the top and not bottom of the pool.”