IPL, Eden Gardens, And The Bengali Cricket Romantic

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IPL, Eden Gardens, And The Bengali Cricket Romantic

| Updated: April 30, 2023 11:52

To pen down a piece on the Eden Gardens would be like packing a huge chunk of cricket literature in one capsule and gulping it down. Where do you start? The 281 on this ground that changed the landscape of Indian cricket in 2001. Harbhajan Singh’s hat-trick in the same Test. Anil Kumble’s 6-12 in the Hero Cup final. Sachin Tendulkar’s final over in the semis of that tournament. Rohit Sharma’s 264 in an ODI against Sri Lanka in 2014. The 1987 World Cup final.

Eden Gardens, Kolkata (Pic Credit: BCCI)

The Eden Gardens lore is incomplete without recounting the heartbreaks. The World Cup India-Sri Lanka semi-final awarded to the visitors by default. The India-Pakistan Asian Test Championship in 1999 marred by violence over Sachin Tendulkar’s run-out. What would top your list?

But first, let’s sprinkle a bit of the Eden Gardens trivia that we don’t tire of hearing (or reading). History has it that George Eden, also called Lord Auckland, who took over as governor-general of India in 1834, spent his heyday in India embellishing urban spaces.

Lord Auckland had two sisters, Emily and Fanny Eden, who would be stationed at the Barrackpore Government House to cope with Kolkata’s humidity. One version has it that the sisters may have influenced Lord Auckland to build a garden. A Kolkata daily highlights that Lord Auckland instead acquired a huge size of land that stretched across from Governor House to the Strand Road, with the maidan and the new Fort William in its vicinity. 

After Lord Auckland departed from India, the park, initially called Auckland Circus Garden, was renamed the Eden Gardens for its resemblance to the Garden of Eden. 

Lord Auckland

The iconic Eden Gardens, now 159 years old, is officially the oldest and the second-largest stadium in India. 

Even now, the old-world charm of the ground is hard to miss. Bengalis continue to display an unbridled enthusiasm for the sport. IPL tickets at the Eden Gardens are being sold at five times the price. This season people have bought tickets for Rs 25,000 to 30,000, still the average salary of an executive in Kolkata. We call it extremism. For Bengalis, it’s ‘nesha’ which means addiction.

Bengalis have made peace with the absence of non-Bengalis in the IPL. In the initial years of the league, they would still flock to the Eden Gardens to cheer for dada (Sourav Ganguly). Didn’t matter that even at his peak Sourav was a T20 misfit. 

Sourav Ganguly

Playing for the Kolkata Knight Riders, Manoj Tiwary and Laxmi Ratan Shukla, even if briefly, did warm their evenings as the IPL faces of Kolkata. So did Debabrata Das who sizzled on and off but didn’t quite have a lasting impact in the league.

On Sunday, two players from Kolkata’s soil, Wriddhiman Saha and Mohammad Shami, were seen at the Eden Gardens, albeit for a different team, Gujarat Titans. Unfair though it may seem, the unassuming Saha, who defected to Tripura and still remains India’s best bet behind the gloves, never had the drawing powers of even a Tiwary. And Shami too never quite enjoyed the kind of fanfare Eden Gardens reserves for its heroes. 

But Eden Gardens continues to find love. In KKR’s Rinku Singh whose purity of shots they watch with wide-eyed wonder. In Andre Russell’s lusty hitting. For the average Eden Gardens spectator, Kolkata Knight Riders’ owner Shah Rukh Khan is an accidental Mumbaikar who finds residence in Kolkata’s heart. They went delirious when he waved at spectators during KKR’s match against the Royal Challengers Bangalore.

Shah Rukh Khan

Mohammad Azharuddin, VVS Laxman, Shah Rukh, Tendulkar, MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli…Eden Gardens has a long list of adopted sons. Dhoni, for the Eden Gardens’ crowd, is the last relic of a beloved age. A day before Tendulkar’s birthday, Chennai Super Kings, as is its wont, beat KKR by an emphatic 49 runs there. That evening they saw MS in the flesh, perhaps for the final time on the ground as a cricketer. The result didn’t matter. 

It would be befitting to end with a moving anecdote from Mudar Patherya’s article titled, The Human Laboratory Called Eden. He describes a Bengali spectator at the Eden Gardens “who would be seen at the same corner of the same stand match after match, year after year. One day his perch was vacant; when he entered really late, someone asked him. He said, ‘Son died, just cremated him, got a little late.’”

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