The packed stands.The euphoria in the air.The sea of purple-and-gold. These were regular scenes at the Eden Gardens during the pre-COVID TATA IPL months. The advent of the pandemic forced all sports to be played behind closed doors or at a central hub. The estrangement between the cities and their teams was inevitable, and this estrangement caused a yearning for reunion amongthe players and the fans alike.

With the world returning to a sense of normalcy, the TATA IPL is also returning to its original, pre-COVID home-and-away format. Members of two-time TATA IPL champions Kolkata Knight Riders have begun arriving in Kolkata, and the joy on their faces, upon returning to the City of Joy, is palpable.

Take Nitish Rana and Rinku Singh as examples. Ever since checking out of the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport on Sunday (March 19) evening, the star batters have been excited to play in front of the Eden crowd after a three-year hiatus.

“After three years I am coming back here. Two years back I played here. Everyone is aware of the atmosphere at the stadium. But somewhere I had forgotten these things,” said Rana after checking into the team hotel with his bosom friend Rinku.

While the 2020 edition of the TATA IPL was played in the UAE, the 2021 edition, despite starting in India, was later shifted to the UAE again due to a sudden spike in COVID-19 cases in India. The 2022 edition was played entirely in Maharashtra, with Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, the Brabourne Stadium, the DY Patil Stadium, and Pune’s MCA International Stadium hosting the matches.

Reminiscing about his experience of playing at the Eden Gardens, Rana said, “I had played the first two seasons here, after which all the matches were held during the COVID. Somewhere I was missing this emotion. If you want to play in the IPL for KKR and youare not getting to play at the Eden Gardens in front of that crowd, then definitely you are missing something.”

“For the past three years I was missing this emotion and finally we are here. Also I am very happy that I am back here. I am definitely very excited to play our first match at our home,” added the the 29-year-old southpaw who has amassed 450 runs from 14 innings at the Eden Gardens for KKR, at an average of 34.62 and a strike-rate of 140.19.

“I’ve missed the Eden Gardens and our fans a lot. They have constantly been supporting us.  To play at this venue and in front of our home crowd is a different feeling,” an excited Rana said in a recent chat with kkr.in.

In the absence of ShreyasIyer, who’s currently nursing a back injury, Rana will have to shoulder added responsibility in the Knights’ batting order. The Delhi captain was the fourth-highest run getter in the latest edition of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy with 317 runs in 8 matches at an average of 45.28 and a strike-rate of 139.03, including a hundred.

The Knights will begin their TATA IPL 16 campaign with an away clash against Punjab Kings in Mohali on April 1.