Wednesday, October 26, 2011

My Experience with Eden Gardens

Kolkata is home of lots of great personalities. It was the home of Rabindra Nath Tagore, Satyajit Ray, Swami Vivekananda and many more. It is the home of Rosogolla and Mishti Doi. Kolkata is also one of the homes of Indian cricket. We may not boast of too many great cricketers from Kolkata but we can definitely be proud of Eden gardens, one of the most beautiful place for playing cricket under the sun. One of the largest cricket ground in world with a history of more than 75 years of test cricket, Eden Gardens is a very very special place for lot of cricket lovers including me.
My first memory of Eden gardens was a one day international in 1991. Incidentally this match was also the first international match for the South African cricket team after their return to international cricket. I remember watching it in our old B&W television set. Sachin Tendulkar and Allan Donald was the joint man of the match in that match. India won chasing 177 despite Donald got 5 wickets for just 29 runs.
In next 15 years, thanks to our televisions (B&W replaced by a colour one just before 1999 world cup), I have seen some unforgettable matches in Eden gardens.
I saw Azhar’s 182 against England in 1993. Sachin Tendulkar and Anil Kumble’s magic on the Hero Cup semi-final and final, the massacre against Sri Lanka in the world cup semi-final, Azhar’s 74 ball hundred against South Africa, and that match against Pakistan where they won, after being 26/6 in the first hour of first day, thanks to Saeed Anwar’s 182 in the second innings. This match also gave birth to a new star, fast and controversial Shaoib Akhtar who showed both those aspects of his game through his two dismissals of Sachin Tendulkar.
Obviously I can’t forget that special match against Australia in 2001. Some very special memories are attached to that match. Let me recollect a day by day account:
Day 1: Australia came to India with 15 consecutive wins in their bag. They thrashed India by 10 wickets in the first test in Mumbai and in that process got their 16th consecutive win. In the second test, they were around 150/1 when I left for my Stats tuition. In those days of no cell phone, there was no way to follow the score and even KC (one of the greats in the field of Statistics) was also not so keen to check the scores. After I returned around two and half hours later I came to know that Australia was 7 down with Harbhajan Singh taking the first hat-trick for an Indian bowler.
Day 2: Despite that heroics from Harbhajan, Australia ended with 445, thanks to a typical gritty century by great Steve Waugh with able support from Jason Gillespie. But I still think one of them was caught behind earlier which was not given. Indian batting collapsed again. At the end of day 2 they were 128/8, trailing Australia by 317 runs, follow-on was on the cards. Although VVS Laxman was unbeaten on 28 but I remember there was a news article on next morning’s ABP, which said, India is going for wholesome change after their loss in this test match and one of the person who is going to get dropped would be VVS!
Day 3: India finished at 171 thanks to 59 from Laxman. Steve obviously put them to follow on (A trend which would become rarer and almost extinct after this match). Tendulkar failed again. Captain Ganguly scored 48, post which he lost his concentration apparently due to some sledge from McGrath regarding his wife and lost his wicket. VVS reached hundred which at that point I thought would give him license for another five tests. When the umpires called time India were 254/4, VVS and Dravid were batting. Still the deficit was 20 runs with two more days to go.
Day 4: 90 overs, 335 runs, zero wickets. Do I need to say more? I still thank myself to take that splendid decision of bunking school because of my trust on the Indian team which did let me down in many past incidents but not that time. I can still see, VVS Laxman, stepping out just outside leg stump and cover driving Shane Warne time and time again. My respect for Sunny G increased, as he was as enthusiastic as a kid for Laxman to overcome his 236, which at that time was highest by an Indian in single test Innings. India was leading by 315 runs at stumps on day four.
Day 5: The day started with a host of debates. Should Ganguly declare overnight and give his bowlers the maximum possible overs or should he add some more run to ensure that Aussies can’t chase it down, the flaw in this plan was that at the end of the day you could face a scenario where Australia were 7 or 8 down and match got over.
Ganguly went for the second option and let his team bat for another 13 overs to add another 68 runs. He had confidence on his bowlers and I remember him saying after the match that, his thinking was that if his bowlers couldn’t get those 10 wickets in 77 overs then they would not get it in 90 overs either.
Australia started slowly, reached 24 without loss in 12 overs at lunch. Between lunch and tea, they added 139 more with loss of 3 wickets. Ganguly dropped a tough one at leg gully and it looked like the match was going for a draw.
The magic started 14 balls after the lunch. One of the greatest fighters in cricket history, Steve Waugh was gone. Ponting went in the same over. Gilchrist goes for a pair in the next over. Suddenly Sachin Tendulkar decided to become the greatest leg spinner in cricket to give some complex to certain Shane Warne whom he got with a googly. He also got Hayden and let Harbhajan got the other lesser mortals to finish with 12 wickets in the match. Kasprowicz and McGrath survived 53 balls before umpire SK Bansal got fed up with McGrath’s pad play and gave him out.
India won by 171 runs, pandemonium took place in Eden Gardens, one policeman jumped in joy along with 100 thousand more and Tony Graig captured that moment in his incomparable commentary. My consecutive bunking got justified.
There were some more matches from 2001 to 2005, especially one against West Indies where SRT finally got his first Test hundred in this special ground.
And then I started going to Eden Gardens to enjoy it live, in front of my eyes. I will get back into this after another small childhood memory.
Around 1993, I visited our ancestral home in Munger. One thing about my relatives from my father’s side is that, almost all of them are keen on reading and hence in most of the time you would find a library in their house. Same was the case there and my father suggested me a few books and let me carry a few of those books home. Two of those books were called ‘Cricket Omnibus vol-1 & 2’ by Shankari Prasad Bose.
These two books were collections of some of his books on cricket written in 60’s with some very romantic names (‘Eden-e Shiter Dupur’, ‘Romoniyo Cricket’ and ‘Laal Ball Larwood’ to mention a few). Those books gave his account of following a few matches in Eden gardens during that time period. Those old wooden stands in Eden Gardens, Bugle after every good shot, the wind from the Ganges, he did create the magic for a 10-11 year old me. I still remember his version of India’s first test win in Eden in 1962 against England, His bias towards Chandu Borde, His pun of Nadkarni (Nad Kori ni) and his frustration to see Vijay Manjarekar scoring 4 runs in an hour ( ‘15 minutes for each run!’).
Those books also covered historical times of W.G. Grace and cricket in England as well as a detailed account of the famous bodyline series. But I later found most of those were word by word copy of the Great Nevil Cardus but still Shankaribabu was successful to build the base of this young boy’s fascination regarding cricket statistics and history which finally reached its peak when I met So, whenever I think of Eden gardens these books also come to my mind.
Generally I do not go to Eden Gardens with a group. I go there alone, to feel the vastness of the ground, to absorb the enthusiasm of the crowd, to enjoy some special performance by players, to make sure that there is no way I miss any beautiful moment of the game.
I am not a regular visitor to Eden Gardens. I have been to Eden not even 10 times. That includes 3 times to watch a test match (two against Pakistan, one against South Africa), 4 IPL matches (2 against RCB, 1 each against CSK and DC), 1 domestic one day match between Bengal and Orissa. I also went to Eden as the part of U-13 team of our local club in 1995 but could not get a chance to play.
But even in my short visits I have seen some wonderful matches and awesome performances. I remember the brilliance of Chris Gayle when he hit 7 towering (and I mean it) sixes to score 102 of 55 balls in my last visit to Eden. KKR lost but on that day, against that in-from Chris, for any team the result would have been same.
I remember Harbhajan taking 7 wickets in the second innings to give India a win against South Africa in 2005. This is somehow a very low profile performance and according to me this should have got more respect than it received. I realized why Bhajji was an instant hit with the crowd as he was regularly chatting with them, was taking off his hat at their claps and even did some bhangra when Africans were nine down.
I have also seen Rahul Dravid at his technical best scoring a hundred with Dinesh Karthik as company, who was unlucky to be dismissed for 93.
But all these memories were nothing compared to what I experienced on 1st December 2007.
The second test match between India and Pakistan was started on 30th November. India was already 1-0 up in the series thanks to their win in Delhi, where Misbah-ul-Haq did this.
At the end of first day, Indians were 352/3, pretty comfortable position with Wasim Jaffar batting on 192 and Home boy Ganguly on 17. Till then Ganguly had only one fifty in Eden Gardens. 65 in a test match in 1998 against Australia where India’s batting card looked like this:
VVS 95, Sidhu 97, Dravid 86, Tendulkar 79, Azhar 163*, Ganguly 65, Mongia 30* and 18 extras with the team total 633/5 decl.
No wonder, India won by innings and 219 runs.
But in general, Sourav was not very successful in Eden. It looked like he used to get tensed, could not convert his starts and got out after scoring 20 odd. Even his previous two test innings in this ground were 12 runs each. He was almost reaching the end of his career and with the rotation system for test grounds by BCCI he would not get many more chances to fulfill his long cherished dream of scoring a hundred in his home ground. And yes, it goes without saying that my dream was to see him score that century.
I reached there nervously at around 8.45 in the morning. I was in H block, which was near long on if you bat right handed from Club House end. India started briskly. Jaffar got those two boundaries required to reach his 200 in the second over of the day and then suddenly he got out to Tanvir. VVS Laxman joined Sourav.
I was sitting with a mixed crowd. Just beside me there was a man in mid forty with his son who was around 9-10 years old. There was also a group of people in late twenties-early thirties who were those typical ‘Parar Dada’ types, who kept shouting at almost everything. And yes there was fair share of fairer sex in our stand to keep the crowd excited in case of some dull moments in the game.
Both Ganguly and Laxman batted in a pretty relaxed way for next forty minutes. Suddenly in one Sohail Tanvir over they gone crazy and shared 4 fours between tham. The thing with VVS Laxman is that whoever his partner may be, let it be a rampaging Sachin, Sehwag or Sourav if VVS is in form then you can not ignore him. He is one batsman in my cricket life time who literally paints picture or pens poetry through his shots and that day he was sublime.
In lunch India was 449 for 4 with Sourav notout on 62. By that time, the murmurs were started, “This time… Dada is looking solid… it will happen…Dada can do it…”, the chants of “Dada- dada” was ever increasing. I realized that I have another 90K people with me, who could not have a proper lunch due to the nervous energy inside them anticipating something special may finally going to happen in front of their eyes.
Around 10 minutes after the resumption the small amount of lunch from those people were almost puked out when Ganguly fended an Akhtar bouncer but Yasir Hamid could not hold into the tough chance, the ball went to the boundary and Dada reached his highest score in Eden Gardens.
Ganguly kept grinding through singles with a couple of boundaries of Kaneria in between. As he reached 80’s I realized that crowd was getting tensed. There was silence after every dot ball and huge cheer even after every single by Ganguly. A boundary each of Sami and Butt took him to 98 and then he was ready to face Danish Kaneria, batting at Club House end.
The crowd was scared. They were not ready to take the pain if he would get out at that point. For last twenty odd minutes I was silent. I kept praying to my god and clapped sometime for his boundaries. Ganguly got his 99th run. I do not remember how. I was just too tensed, waiting for that moment. Laxman gave him the strike back with a single couple of balls later and Sourav Ganguly took stance.
How many balls is he going to take? Is he going to play couple of maiden overs now? The ground was electrifying, people were tensed. Everyone got numb.
Kaneria started his run up, it’s too short to give people some time, I can still see that ball, it was on the off stump, Ganguly leaned forward, drove it in the mid off, he is running, running as if his whole life depends on it. He has reached the other end. He did it, he kept running towards us and then he jumped in the air. He celebrated his century with his supporters, the most loyal group of supporters for a sportsperson in the world. His tears were shared by them and then he shared his joy with them.
The entire crowd got crazy. Each and everyone was standing on their seat, jumping, shouting, clapping, dancing and waving their shirts. And then I found my self crying. Uncontrollable tears were rolling down my cheeks. I realized that small kid was looking at me; he was surprised to see me crying. I did not care. I clapped so hard my palms became red. I did not care. I still wonder if anything at all could have any impact on me at that point of time. I sent an SMS to my then girlfriend, “I have seen him scoring a century for me in front of my eyes!’
I am sure Ganguly was also exhausted after fulfilling his dream. He got out after another five minutes trying to put Salman Butt out of the ground. He left the ground content, with a standing ovation from 90,000 people after an extraordinary knock.
Laxman kept hitting those beautiful cover drives and mesmerizing flicks to reach his hundred soon afterwards and a younger maverick MS Dhoni scored a 50 to take India 600 plus. But I was not following those events much. Old memories were rushing through my mind. That day in 1991 when my dad woke me up at 5 o’ clock to let me watch “a Bengali lad playing for India”, I was sleepy and went back to sleep as soon as he got out for 3. I remembered Those days in 1997, when I used to woke up at 6 o’ clock to catch the 6.30 news in radio and TV to get the result of Sahara cup matches, where SG made it a habit of wining the man of the Match award match after match, his six hitting against left arm spinners, especially Nicky Boje, his captaincy, his shirt waving antics in Lords after India’s Natwest win.
I remembered those times when I got into nasty fights with a pan-Indian population in Orkut and in the canteens of IITK, explaining time and time again how Sourav Ganguly was a much better player than Venugopal Rao. That Pepsi ad came to mind, “main hnu Sourav Ganguly, bhule to nehi?
India declared after scoring 616 and then Pakistan reached 50 at stumps losing one wicket. But all those details become insignificant for a huge chunk of crowd including me who left the ground very happy and proud to see their prince achieve his dream.
I am sure I will again go to Eden Gardens in future. But I am sure I will never get the same feeling which I felt at the end of that day. Unless something as big as winning a world cup happens in front of my eyes.
Couple of notes:
  • Although I do remember lots of details regarding old cricket match scores but I do not possess a photographic memory and hence I am grateful to this amazing website to help me with the details. I have also relived some of those moments thanks to another brilliant website.
  • Initially my plan was only to write about my feelings on that day of December when SG got his only 100 in Eden Gardens in front of me, but as I started writing this piece I realized how much I cherish those 5 days of March 2001 and could not stop myself from penning down a day by day account. I know people do not need so much detail but personally I felt good while writing them.

1 comment:

  1. One of your best articles in my opinion. Shows your true love for the game, the man and the ground.

    Keep writing.