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How dethroning the Prince of Calcutta paid off

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Roar Guru
15th August, 2020
4

When the IPL began in 2008 it started as eight teams representing eight different cities across India.

One trait most franchises had was a hometown player. Mumbai Indians had the one and only Sachin Tendulkar. Deccan Chargers had Australia’s nightmare, VVS Laxman. Rahul Dravid was in Royal Challengers Bangalore. The explosive Virender Sehwag was representing Delhi Daredevils. An excellent white-ball all-rounder in Yuvraj Singh represented his home state that is Punjab. Tamil Nadu stalwarts in Lakhsmipathi Balaji and Subramaniam Badrinath represented the Chennai Super Kings.

And Kolkata Knight Riders? Well, they had the man that revolutionised Indian cricket. Nicknamed Dada – meaning elder brother in Bengali – and the Prince of Calcutta, hometown boy Sourav Ganguly represented the Kolkata Knight Riders in the inaugural IPL edition.

In a squad filled with international talent, such as Brendon McCullum, Ricky Ponting, Mohammad Hafeez, Umar Gul and many more, Ganguly was appointed captain of KKR. But he had an average tournament, scoring 349 runs in 13 innings with two matchwinning knocks at an average of 29.08 and a strike rate of 113.68.

KKR would miss out on the semi-finals by two points, finishing sixth in the first edition of the IPL.

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In 2009 Ganguly was stripped of the captaincy, with Kiwi keeper Brendon McCullum taking over the reins. Then the season went horribly wrong.

Finishing with the wooden spoon, KKR endured nine consecutive losses, finishing the season with three wins, nine losses and one washout. Ganguly fared terribly himself, scoring 189 runs in 11 innings at an average of 17.18 and a strike rate of 91.3.

The 2010 IPL would see Dav Whatmore replace John Buchanan as KKR head coach. Ganguly was reappointed as captain following the abysmal 2009 campaign under Brendon McCullum. Ganguly scored 493 runs, his best IPL season by far, and finished the tournament as the fourth-highest run-scorer of the competition. But his strike rate of 117.66 was criticised by pundits after KKR missed out on the semi-finals on net run rate, finishing sixth.

For three seasons KKR were the joke of the IPL. They were the only IPL franchise not to have made the semi-finals. Significant ramifications were coming, and boy did they cause a massive divide.

In September 2010 Venky Mysore was appointed as the CEO and managing director of the Knight Riders in the hopes of professionalising the franchise. Alongside his experience of working over 25 years in the financial sector, Mysore had played university-level cricket, showing the role meant more to him than just business.

Mysore’s first big move was removing Sourav Ganguly as skipper. His second big move was not retaining Ganguly before the 2011 IPL auction, with Sourav bought by newcomers Pune Warriors India instead.

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For the first time since the IPL had formed the people of West Bengal wouldn’t see their hometown hero in Kolkata colours. After all, the Prince of Calcutta had been kicked out of his den by the KKR management.

To say the people of West Bengal didn’t take Ganguly’s removal well was an understatement. Effigies of Bollywood star and Knight Riders co-owner Shah Rukh Khan were burnt in protest of Ganguly’s omission. One placard in Kolkata said, “No Sourav, no cricket”.

Kolkata had gone through a massive change in the 2011 IPL. A new era was set to begin, with new skipper Gautam Gambhir being bought at the auction for approximately $3.3 million. Alongside him KKR brought in Jacques Kallis, Brett Lee, Shakib Al Hasan, Brad Haddin, James Pattinson, Eoin Morgan and many more newcomers.

But with no Ganguly at the helm, empty seats were the norm at Eden Gardens for Kolkata’s home games. Talk about the impact one player can have on people, eh?

But the empty stands in Eden Gardens started to fill slowly as Kolkata’s fortunes began to change for the good. Winning crucial games, Kolkata ended up making their first play-offs in 2011 before being knocked out in the eiminator to rivals Mumbai Indians.

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The 2012 edition would see Kolkata win their maiden title, chasing down 191 in the final against Chennai Super Kings in Chennai.

In January 2011 many protested Ganguly’s omission on the streets of Kolkata. Sixteen months later the same streets were filled with many dancing in joy as Kolkata won their maiden IPL title. Venky Mysore took a gamble by removing the Prince of Calcutta, but it was a move he would not live to regret.

Because of Mysore’s ability to make Kolkata a proper professional franchise team and Gautam Gambhir’s impeccable captaincy, KKR is the third-most successful IPL team until date.

Cricket is a team sport, yet many within the KKR fandom left to support Pune Warriors India because of Ganguly. They would be dealt with a massive slap in the face in 2012 after KKR won the 2012 IPL, while those who stuck by the team since day one celebrated for nights on end.

Dethroning the Prince of Calcutta may have seemed harsh then, but it was the necessary decision in the long term.