Pune Warriors captain Sourav Ganguly plays a shot during the IPL 5 match against Chennai Super Kings in Pune. HT/Vijayanand Gupta
When he stepped into the ground for the pre-match drills, he was greeted with a roar. The expectations from Sourav Ganguly are still huge. Not only is he the captain of the local Pune Warriors, he's the batsman with the best record in their line-up. So far, so good, his supporters say. Ganguly has led the team like a master to register three wins in four games.
But, it's doubtful if he is satisfied with how things are going. Ganguly would know that for someone with his experience and leadership quality, captaincy will never be a problem. It's contribution with his bat that he would be keen to correct.
The batting of the Warriors has been a matter of concern, and Ganguly himself hasn't got going. The skipper, a vital cog in the line-up, scored 3, 20, 16 and 16. The team's totals are 129, 166, 115 and 156.
The two wins were achieved by their bowlers. Ganguly would be aware bowling alone won't be able to bail the team out every time. In fact, it's a team which needs to score 15 runs more than what is par for the game to make up for their fielding and running between the wickets. Ganguly, Ashish Nehra, Jesse Ryder and Rahul Sharma cannot be counted among the most agile fielders. Ganguly and Ryder are not the fastest between the wickets either.
An example was seen against Chennai Super Kings when a sluggish Ganguly was run out going for the second. He's shaping well but the slow strides and poor judgment that seeps in due to lack of cricket, brought about his downfall.
Ganguly's main challenge has been to stay competitive. Having retired nearly four seasons ago, in 2008, he is missing regular cricket. His assignments as a cricket expert have increased, giving him less and less time to concentrate on fitness and batting. And the T20 league has got more competitive. The bowlers have become smarter and sharper. The fielding standards have gone up.
It's no surprise that another retired veteran in this tournament, Adam Gilchrist, is also struggling. The Kings XI skipper and opener has scored 54 runs in three games. Last season too, the former Australian great got going only towards the end of the league.
On Saturday, it was an irony that CSK's Stephen Fleming sat as coach in the rival dug out. Ganguly and Fleming's international careers ran parallel and they retired almost at the same time.
Fleming said he realised quickly the challenge of trying to stay fit for only one tournament in a year and quit after the first season. "It's a challenge (to continue playing after retiring professionally); I personally couldn't do it because once I gave up captaincy, I didn't have the desire to continue playing," he said.
"Other players may have that desire, and they have worked very hard to succeed in T20 league. There is also the pride aspect; the older players wouldn't want to put themselves in a position that would compromise their past achievements or indeed their future performances.
These players are doing everything they can so that their form is up to the standards that are being played in T20 cricket."