Gautam Gambhir, the Kolkata Knight Riders captain, has sought to downplay the huge hype that surrounds their Saturday game against Pune Warriors India. This is the first time Sourav Ganguly, now Warriors' captain, will be part of the opposition in front of the passionate Kolkata fans. Eden Gardens is sold out, black marketers are having a field day, and given Ganguly's popularity in Kolkata, the home side could possibly be in for an "away game".
"Sourav is an individual," Gambhir said. "We are playing against Pune Warriors, and not against Sourav Ganguly." Gambhir then went on to say he couldn't control how the crowd behaved, except for trying his best to win the game.
"Whoever Kolkata wants to support they are free to support. I have always maintained KKR belongs to Kolkata. There is no other team that belongs to Kolkata. We always play for the pride of Kolkata. We will always do that, whether we get the support or not. We go out there to make people happy, and bring joy to them. Our job will be the same whether we would be the away or home team tomorrow. We will keep playing for Kolkata be it tomorrow or near future."
However much Gambhir might want to downplay the presence of Ganguly, it is impossible to run away from. They have been talking about this game in Kolkata ever since the schedule was finalised. An emotional back-story is how Knight Riders had first taken away Ganguly's captaincy, and later let him go. The Kolkata fans are known to be an emotional lot, which makes divided loyalties a distinct possibility. Knight Riders' bowling coach, Wasim Akram, is reported to have even compared this to an India-Pakistan match. When asked about that, Gambhir didn't seem impressed.
"That's his perspective of tomorrow's game," he said. "For me, it's another game of cricket. There is nothing so-called India vs Pakistan. We are playing against Pune Warriors, and there is no such rivalry as Pakistan. India and Pakistan is a completely different ball game. It's just the media that is creating the hype. It's Wasim's way of looking at the game tomorrow. For me, it's just another game of cricket."
Nor did Gambhir seem interested in any mind games. Asked if he drew any comfort from Ganguly's struggles with the bat and their coinciding with Warriors' downward spiral, Gambhir went back to his mantra of not speaking about individuals. "We are not playing against individuals. We are playing against a team. If individuals are struggling that does not make them a lesser force. Any one of them can fire with the ball or bat, and can win the game. If one or two are struggling, it's not going to make any difference."
Gambhir stayed away from any captaincy debate as well. "Captains are only as good as their team," he said. "Captain does not win games. It's just the planning that they do. It's the 11 men on the field that contribute. Captain can only be successful if you have the people to execute those plans. It can be a failure as well if you don't have the people to execute them."
However, given the mad rush for tickets, the huge crowds to watch training sessions, the history between Ganguly and Kolkata, and Ganguly and Knight Riders, Gambhir did seem to be in a small minority of people who believed this was just another game.