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A Sad Jolt to Much-loved Ground

29th January 2011.

Eden Gardens is one of the game’s best loved grounds. In terms of fame and atmosphere Lord’s and the MCG stand as its only rivals. Every cricket player in every touring team yearns for the opportunity to play in that teaming amphitheatre with 100,000 Indians intently following every ball.

To walk along the bustling streets and across the parks towards the ground is to undertake a journey fascinating in its own right. It is a trip through markets and past clubs telling of a different era and yet proud also of their continued existence.

Along the way the traveller encounters a thousand faces, most of them hastening and smiling, a few peddling wares. Inside, the ground is vast and yet not daunting until it starts filling up whereupon anticipation takes hold. Presently the noise starts to turn from a hum to a roar. Before long neighbours find themselves shouting at each other. Meanwhile, the eminent sip sugary tea and wait for the first ball to be bowled.

Eden Gardens cricket ground

Eden Gardens cricket stadium.
Photo ©: Chippu Abraham from Gurgaon, India / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

Vibrant atmosphere

Over the years Eden has overseen many thrilling and emotional events. Its vibrant, colossal atmosphere has brought out the best and worst in players, drawing from them valiant performances and shafts of temper.

Of course it was the site of India’s greatest Test win, the astonishing triumph over Steve Waugh’s hitherto rampant side. Here it was that Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman built their exhilarating partnership. Here it was Harbhajan Singh worked his magic as the Australians went to pieces on the final afternoon.

Perhaps the umpiring was a bit excitable but that cannot tarnish the achievement. It was a glorious feat and a statement as well. India was on its way.

Depressing memory

The other memory is equally stark but not as uplifting. India had been hoping to reach the final of the World Cup and needed to beat the marauding Sri Lankans to attain that goal. Alas, Azhar allowed the visitor to bat first on a deteriorating track and despite removing the openers in the first over, both caught at third man, things had gone from bad to worse for the host. Let’s hope Azhar shows better judgement in Parliament.

As realisation dawned that India was heading for inevitable defeat the packed crowd became restless and then agitated. Soon they were lighting fires in the stands and throwing objects at fieldsmen. The umpires took the players from the field. Clive Lloyd, the match referee, eventually calmed the crowd and allowed play to resume.Unfortunately the peace did not last and the commotion resumed and the match was abandoned and awarded to Sri Lanka.

Hours afterwards a boy surveyed the scene and muttered “India bad today.” I never was sure whether he was talking about the cricket or the conduct of spectators or both. But his analysis was succinct and correct.

Apologies

Next day the local papers were full of apologies and expressions of sorrow. In its own way the regret was beautiful. It had been a flash of anger, nothing more. No one was hurt. Eden Gardens has always worn its heart on its sleeve. It’s a great ground in a remarkable city.

Accordingly the news that Eden had been scratched as the venue for the India versus England match in February sat heavy with all cricketing folk.

Eden, or rather its guardians, has let the side down. It’s no good blaming the ICC or anyone except local organisers. Change has come in Karnataka with the old board ditched in favour of capable newcomers led by Anil Kumble. By the look of things it’s high time the people in charge in Kolkata were given the same treatment.

This article was written for The Hindu.
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