Kolkata: One team has lost four matches on the trot in the Indian Premier League and now finds itself in the rear pack. The other side is on a high occupying the second position after four back-to-back victories and looks set for a place in the play-offs. But such dry statistics carry little significance for Saturday`s marquee game between Sourav Ganguly-led Pune Warriors and Shah Rukh Khan-owned Kolkata Knight Riders. Passion runs high among the public, who are billing the encounter as a Dada versus SRK grudge match.
For the first three Indian Premier League editions, Ganguly was an indispensable part of the KKR, though their association was not controversy-free.
The prince of Kolkata captained the team in the inaugural year but lost the job in the second season which was marked by his run-ins with coach John Buchanan. Ganguly got back the captaincy in the third season, but his authority was much diluted amidst reports of growing differences with SRK.
Finally, SRK dumped Ganguly from the team last year, and appointed Gautam Gambhir as skipper. After finding no takers in the players` auction, Ganguly made a belated entry into the 22 yards for Pune Warriors as a replacement for Ashish Nehra. And this year, Warriors have anointed him captain-cum-mentor.
It is in this backdrop that Ganguly`s countless admirers are looking at this contest as the left hander`s chance to avenge his `humiliation` at the hands of the KKR management, as he sets foot in Eden Gardens for the first time ever as captain of a visiting team.
And for a change, it is difficult to fathom which team is playing a "home match" at the Eden gardens Saturday. While officially KKR are the hosts, for most cricket-mad public here, Ganguly-led Warriors are "our" team.
All tickets have been sold out, the unlucky ones are crestfallen, and there are a couple of hundred people at the Eden through the day, hoping to catch a glimpse of the local cricketing icon.
However, in sheer performance Ganguly`s team lags miles behind KKR. While second placed KKR is close to clinching a slot in the last four, Warriors are only above wooden spoonists Deccan Chargers in the league table.
Having lost six of their last seven ties, Warriors now have eight points - five adrift of the Knights - from 11 games. The Knights have played one match less.
With their chances of progressing further fading fast, the Warriors would be keen to utilise the crowd support to return to winning ways.
The team could well be looking at a good show from Aussie skipper Michael Clarke, who has struck 55 from two matches, to put it across the star-studded Knights.
Pacer Ashok Dinda, who missed a few matches owing to a side strain, has also recovered, and his return is bound to bolster Warriors` bowling attack.
But Ganguly needs also to take a long hard look at his own performance. In 11 matches, he has totalled 211, at an unprincely average of 19.18, without posting a single half-century.
Ganguly could draw inspiration from his KKR counterpart Gambhir, who is the fourth highest scorer now after blasting 365 runs in nine innings, at an average of 45.62 and a strike rate of 143.70.
West Indian spinner Sunil Narine (12/155), has been the pick of the Knights` bowlers, while Aussie Brett Lee`s fiery fast bowling has caused much problems to the opposing batsmen.
But two factors, beyond the control of the players, could play crucial roles in the crunch game.
While the weatherman has predicted thunder squalls Saturday evening, the Eden pitch - known for behaving slow and low - could upset the apple carts of the rivals.
The teams (from):
Kolkata Knight Riders: Gautam Gambhir (captain), Brendon McCullum (wk), Jacques Kallis, Manoj Tiwary, Yusuf Pathan, Debabrata Das, Laxmi Ratan Shukla, Rajat Bhatia, Sunil Narine, Brett Lee, Iqbal Abdulla, Chirag Jani, Iresh Saxena, Jaidev Unadkat, Manvinder Bisla, Pradeep Sangwan, Sanju Samson, Sarabjit Singh Ladda, Mohammad Shami Ahmed, Eoin Morgan, Marchant de Lange, Ryan ten Doeschate and Shakib Al Hasan.
Pune Warriors India: Sourav Ganguly (captain), Jesse Ryder, Robin Uthappa (wk), Michael Clarke, Steven Smith, Mithun Manhas, Wayne Parnell, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Murali Kartik, Ashish Nehra, Ashok Dinda, Ali Murtaza, Anustup Majumdar, Dheeraj Jadhav, Eklavya Dwivedi, Harpreet Singh, Harshad Khadiwale, Kamran Khan, Krishnakant Upadhyay, Mahesh Rawat, Manish Pandey, Mohnish Mishra, Raiphi Gomez, Rahul Sharma, Sachin Rana, Shrikant Wagh, Alfonso Thomas, Angelo Mathews, Callum Ferguson, Luke Wright and Marlon Samuels.