When Pune Warriors India, led by Kolkata's famous son Sourav Ganguly, reach Kolkata to take on the home team at the Eden Gardens on Saturday, the enormity of the clash and Ganguly in the visitors' dressing room for the first time at the Eden is bound to generate interest.
Ganguly, though playing in front of his home crowd, will be surprised to find the loyalties of the Kolkatans split. The 'Prince of Kolkata' returns home as a captain of the opposition, taking on the hosts Kolkata Knight Riders that incidentally is the team Ganguly represented for three seasons before being snubbed in 2011.
A die-hard Ganguly fan living in Kolkata will surely be in a dilemma. Whether he should support his home side KKR or a Kolkata-based Indian cricket icon playing for Pune is a question sending most Kolkatans into a spin. But going by the mood in Kolkata, Ganguly seems to be winning unopposed on the eve of the match. "Of course, I am with Pune Warriors [India]. Both I and my wife have been watching the IPL on TV, especially the matches of Dada's Pune," a retired central government employee replied when asked who he would be supporting.
But on the field, nothing seems to be going in Pune's favour as they languish at the bottom of the table, just ahead of Deccan Chargers, with eight points from 11 matches. On the other hand, Kolkata are enjoying their best IPL season ever, with 13 points from 10 games pushing them up to the second position.
Pune have lost four games in a row, the last by just one run against Mumbai Indians. Chasing a modest target of 121, the top order failed to fire for Pune; and when Ganguly wasted precious deliveries while finding it hard to get going, Pune fell agonisingly short despite a valiant knock by Mithun Manhas. So the batsmen, primarily Robin Uthappa, Jesse Ryder, Michael Clarke and Steven Smith, have to do the bulk of the scoring as Pune's lower-middle order doesn't exude much confidence.
Pune started the tournament with a bang but faltered midway and as of now need to perform as a unit with some inspiring leadership from Ganguly to bring their campaign back on track. Perhaps Pune can think of replacing Jesse Ryder with Bangladesh's Tamim Iqbal, who came into the IPL with four successive half-centuries in the Asia Cup and has been on the bench since then. Their bowling line-up in the last match - comprising Wayne Parnell, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Murali Kartik, Ashish Nehra and Ashok Dinda - performed admirably and warrants no change on Saturday.
On the other hand, Kolkata might not have looked convincing in some matches but their growth has been steady, taking them into the right direction. Kolkata skipper, Gautam Gambhir, has shown maturity and led from the front by being the highest run-getter of his team with 365 runs so far. Moreover, the team's show is revolving around Gambhir's batting, like in their last match when their chase against Chennai Super Kings was jolted after the loss of Gambhir (63). However, young Debabrata Das came to the team's rescue and took them home.
What has taken Kolkata so far in the league is their bowling and fielding. They have a good mix of quality bowlers in the form of speedster Brett Lee and Rajat Bhatia, who bowls an impeccable line and length. The spin department is taken care of by mystery spinner Sunil Narine and allrounder Iqbal Abdulla, both of whom bowled well against Chennai in the last match.
But Kolkata's star studded batting line-up, comprising Brendon McCullum, Jacques Kallis and Yusuf Pathan, is yet to fire and this is the right time for them to bounce back as the round-robin stage enters a crucial phase.
However, on the weather front, there is no good news as rain could play spoilsport, bringing an anti-climatic end to a much-anticipated encounter.
Kolkata Knight Riders: 1 Gautam Gambhir (capt), 2 Brendon McCullum (wk), 3 Jacques Kallis, 4 Manoj Tiwary, 5 Yusuf Pathan, 6 Debabrata Das, 7 Laxmi Ratan Shukla, 8 Rajat Bhatia, 9 Sunil Narine, 10 Brett Lee, 11 Iqbal Abdulla
Pune Warriors India: 1 Sourav Ganguly (capt), 2 Jesse Ryder, 3 Robin Uthappa (wk), 4 Michael Clarke, 5 Steven Smith, 6 Mithun Manhas, 7 Wayne Parnell, 8 Bhuvneshwar Kumar, 9 Murali Kartik, 10 Ashish Nehra, 11 Ashok Dinda