Eden Gardens has been testimony to some of the most historic moments in cricket © Getty Images

 

By Sohini Mitter

 

Ask any cricketer about his favourite cricketing venues of the world, and Eden Gardens is sure to feature in the top three, along with Lord’s (England) and the Melbourne Cricket Ground (Australia). On many occasions, Eden it leads the pack. Such is the aura of the stadium, that it is famously said, “A cricketer’s cricketing education is incomplete till he has played in front of a packed Eden Gardens.” It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Eden Gardens is one of the most iconic stadiums of the world.

 

Aptly touted as “The Lord’s of Indian Cricket”, it is soaked in cricketing history and folklore. Built in 1864 by the British Raj, it is massive, regal, beautiful and aspirational; it is loved, praised and savoured by generations of cricketers and spectators. The gentle breeze that blows from the Hooghly aids swing bowling, making it a favourite amongst fast bowlers. The hard, flat pitch makes for a batting paradise, too. The spin-friendly fifth day pitch is a delight for the tweakers. When a 100,000 spectators, wearing passion on their sleeves, roar in unison to celebrate the moments of joy provided by the heroes of their team, it’s a sight to behold and an experience to cherish.

 

Eden Gardens has been testimony to some of the most historic moments in cricket. The thrilling World Cup final of 1987 between Australia and England, Kapil Dev‘s memorable ODI hat-trick against Sri Lanka in 1991 – the first-ever by an Indian, Harbhajan Singh‘s unforgettable Test hat-trick against Australia in that incredible match of 2001 (only the third time in the history of cricket, that a team won a match after following-on) and last, but in no way the least, the majestic, ‘poetry-in-motion’ kind of innings of 281 by VVS Laxman in that same match that left spectators speechless and mystified.

 

Amidst these towering cricketing moments, grew Eden’s special love-affair with former Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin, who had a fetish for scoring big magnificent hundreds at the venue. The City of Joy loved this wristy player and he loved them back. VVS Laxman has so wonderfully carried on with the Hyderabadi tradition of treating Calcuttans with elegant centuries match after match, series after series.

 

But is Eden losing its charm and glory? 

 

Despite its fair share of controversies over the years – the tragic end to the semi-final match of the 1996 World Cup between India and Sri Lanka following unruly crowd behaviour, the much publicized run out of Sachin Tendulkar by Shoaib Akhtar, following a mid-pitch collision in a Test match in 1999 and the bottle-pelting by spectators that ensued, an aggrieved city’s support for a visiting team (South Africa) as its favourite son (Sourav Ganguly) was dropped from the team, leading to Greg Chappell’s infamous middle-finger salute to the spectators – Eden Gardens was never the subject of constant criticism. Its iconic status and respect in the eyes of cricketers always ensured that it deserved a special mention everywhere.

 

But that seems to be changing now. The recent debacle which saw Eden lose a World Cup fixture between India and England, owing to non-completion of renovation work in the stadium, has led to unpleasant statements from all corners. The ICC has accused the Jagmohan Dalmiya-led Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) for its sloth and non-performance, while the BCCI points out local board politics as the reason for this shame. Cricket-lovers of Bengal are dejected, disappointed and annoyed to know that Eden may lose ALL its scheduled matches in the 2011 World Cup to other venues. It may even lose all its IPL fixtures, if issues between the construction workers and CAB aren’t sorted out soon.

 

This incident has left an ugly mark in Eden’s beautiful slate. The typical onlooker ridicules Eden’s management and fails to notice its erstwhile glory. Somehow, this debacle mirrors West Bengal’s decadence as a state, from its pomp and splendour to a fossilized dot in the map of India. Is Eden Gardens still basking in lost glory? It needs to wake up and earn the adulation back!

 

(Sohini Mitter is a business journalist by profession and poet-photographer-blogger by passion. Pseudo-geek, cinephile, bookworm and a social media addict. She is a cricket fanatic for life and after and the biggest admirer of Saurav Ganguly to grace the earth!)