The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The mood's mixed, muted

Eden Gardens, 4.30 pm, Wednesday the 23rd. Neither posters protesting Dada's omission on the outside nor curious crowds craning for a peek of the preparations inside.

With less than 48 hours to go for the showdown between South Africa and Team India sans Sourav Ganguly, the pre-match mood was muted at the seat of Friday's action.

The official word from the CAB corridors of Eden Gardens was that ticket sales were 'satisfactory'. With the low-rung Rs 550 category being sold out, and bulk buying eating steadily into the high-end stands, the officials were eyeing a '70,000' crowd count for Friday the 25th.

And the Sourav effect was predictably played down. 'His absence will not affect ticket sales. After all, he himself has urged his fans not to boycott the match,' said a CAB spokesperson.

Taking serious exception to the 'no-Sourav-no-match' posters springing up in the city was former captain Kapil Dev, for whom similar lines had been scripted by his fans in Calcutta not so long ago.

'Why did you not protest about Anil Kumble (not playing the ODIs)' When the people of Calcutta feel bad about Kumble and (V.V.S.) Laxman, then I will feel bad about Sourav Ganguly,' said Kapil at a private function in Bangalore.

'Because', added India's greatest all-rounder, for whom Calcutta had rooted when he had been dropped by Sunil Gavaskar for playing a rash shot, 'the country comes first, then the state'.

At the ticket counters, the mood was mixed when it came to the case of the missing Maharaj (see graphic). Some were there for just another game ('It's unfortunate that Sourav is not in the team, but I just want to see a good match'), others were more strident in their support for Sourav ('with 10,000 ODI runs, how can he be dropped').

But none on view was as vehement as the likes of Raju Mukerji. 'People who follow cricket in Calcutta are no fools and if they are protesting Sourav's omission, they have enough reasons to do so. The only instance with a parallel to the prevailing mood was the 'no-Mushtaq (Ali)-no Test' cry in Calcutta. That was a spontaneous uprising and remember, Mushtaq had to be included,' said the former Bengal Ranji Trophy skipper.

Mukerji is joined by a die-hard band whose interest in cricket seems to have dipped with the dropping of the boy from Behala. 'My friends and I have decided to stop watching Team India matches till Sourav is allowed to make a comeback,' says Pradip Gupta, a chartered accountant in his mid-30s who'll be missing an Eden match for the first time since 1978.

The cops, meanwhile, are taking no chances. A 4,000-strong contingent will monitor players' movements, along with commandos and members of the Rapid Action Force and Special Action Force.

Again, the Sourav white flag was waved to keep protesters at bay. 'Sourav himself has called upon cricket fans not to stage any demonstrations. We hope cricket-lovers pay heed to his appeal,' said police commissioner Prasun Mukherjee.

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