Shah Rukh Khan didn’t show up but the Kolkata Knight Riders showed on Tuesday night that nothing lends more velocity to their cricket than the roar of a houseful home crowd waiting to explode.
At 11.10pm, as the Knight from the other Bengal struck the winning boundary, the packed Eden Gardens found its mojo after a long wait of 11 “away” matches.
KKR co-owner SRK, not on the ground but never far from the action, tweeted his delight at the team’s and Eden’s performance almost immediately. “Eden thank u. The balloons went as high as ur euphoria. I will be there for the next one....& we will dance the night away. SRKDA misses u.”
The sea of purple flags, jerseys and bandanas had started building up in the stands from 6pm, two hours before the start of the match. There was a steady stream of equally boisterous Chennai Super Kings followers in yellow to challenge the purple brigade by the time Shakib Al Hasan bowled the first ball, a delivery Dwayne Smith dismissed to the boundary.
When the same Shakib smashed one over Mohit Sharma’s head three hours later with 12 balls to go, the contest had been reduced to a one-sided show. Hundreds of purple balloons went up in the air to celebrate one of KKR’s most commanding performances against a top side.
Bowling coach Wasim Akram said KKR had been missing Eden. It was the longest that the Knights have had to wait before playing their first home match in any IPL season.
Sakshi Sinha had missed the Knights as much they had missed playing at the Eden for 11 matches. “It’s been worth the wait,” she said.
Akram said there was nothing quite like Eden in its element. “These people (Calcuttans) are so passionate about cricket. They used to line the streets and wave to us (the Pakistan team) when we arrived. They supported India but they also supported Pakistan,” he said, recalling his playing days.
In the stands, the contest between the screaming rival fans had been close when CSK was building what looked a competitive score. When M.S. Dhoni strode out, holding his bat like a scimitar, the patches of yellow in the sea of purple erupted. Many KKR supporters seemed to be just as keen to see MSD’s trademark helicopter shot, though not one too many!
What added to the atmosphere was that several groups of friends and families watching the match together were divided by their loyalty to rival sides.
Siblings Yasharth, 8, and Harsiddhi, 9, were among those divided by IPL loyalties. While Yasharth, a student of Birla High, was rooting for the home side and aghast at Morne Morkel being dropped, Harsiddhi, from Our Lady Queen of the Missions School, supported MSD and Suresh Raina over the home heroes.
From Yasharth to 60-year-old Anand Hirawat, KKR supporters found a new favourite in Robin Uthappa. “When you have someone as consistent as him at the start of the innings, it’s a huge plus,” said Rashi Garg, a homemaker.
Tuesday’s win was sweet revenge for Knights loyalist Arijit Sen, 27, because the last time he was at Eden for a KKR vs CSK encounter in 2011, Dwayne Bravo had hit a last-ball six off Rajat Bhatia to seal the match. “Victory was all the more sweet tonight because the only Bengali in the team, Shakib, took us home!” Arijit said with a smile.