When I visited the Eden Gardens for the first time

It was a time when the likes of Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid were at their peaks.

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Eden Gardens © Getty Images
Eden Gardens is considered an iconic cricketing venue in India © Getty Images

For any admirer of the game of cricket, the iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata is a very special venue. Regarded as the Mecca of Cricket, this ground has witnessed many historic games. For a cricket fan, visiting Eden Gardens for the first time it was an experience which not only was unforgettable, but also played a huge part in the journey taken there on. Sandipan Banerjee relives the day when he first entered this ground for the first time.

Cricket has been an integral part of the journey of my life so far. Perhaps, I can even say, it is most dominating part. Though I belong from a non-cricketing family, but the craze of this great game had taken me places, has given me some excellent memories to cherish for lifetime. These memories are like treasures and the most precious nostalgia amongst those is the day when I first stepped in to the Eden Gardens. Rohit Sharma’s and Eden Gardens: The love-affair continues

It was autumn of 2003. Indian team was playing in a tri-series at home. In Indian cricket scenario, triangular series had been bit rare. But in that year, Board of Control for Cricket In India (BCCI) finally obliged the tri-series fans like me and arranged one that involved Australia and New Zealand. Most importantly, the final of the tournament was scheduled at the Eden Gardens. IPL 2015: Eden Gardens witness almost full house on opening day

In those days Ricky Ponting‘s Australia was an invincible team. Though few of their main bowlers didn’t play in that series but still the likes of Nathan Bracken, Brad Williams made life miserable for the opponent. Sourav Ganguly’s India somehow managed to beat them in one of the league games and eventually both those sides eventually qualified for the final. Eden Gardens and Eden Park: Two cricket grounds, one name, one family

A final,  projected as the revenge match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2003 final. So the hype was huge.

Those were the times when watching cricket match live in a stadium was a luxury, especially for a 15-year-old  kid from a middle-class family, like me. Also in those days, to get a ticket in Kolkata, for such a big match like the India versus Australia clash, you need to have some ‘source’. Back then, I used live almost 400 kilometers away from Kolkata, in a remote village of West Bengal. So arranging a ticket was 10 times difficult. But somehow my father managed two tickets, for me and my cousin. Ganguly: Eden Gardens has special place in my career

When I first came to know about this, I just couldn’t believe myself. I was going to watch the game live from stands, which so far I had seen only in television or heard in radio.

A few sleepless nights were inevitable.

The Big Day

November 18, 2003 was the big day. It was a Tuesday and I and my cousin took an early morning train for Kolkata. It was a fascinating train journey in which cricket was the only topic which we were talking about.

To reach Eden Gardens from Howrah (the nearest terminal railway station), taking a ferry service is the best option. Availing a ferry for ‘Çhandpal Ghat’ (the nearest ferry of Eden Gardens) on a match day is an unique experience of its own. You can sense the atmosphere from the other side of the Hooghly river. The hawkers will try to sell you flags, placards, and chewing gums. And then there will be vendors who will be asking you to put Indian the tri-colour on your face. There also will be people asking for ‘extra tickets’. Eden Gardens second best after Lord’s: Vengsarkar

We also met the same kind of people on our way after getting the tickets for the ferry.. But before boarding, there was a huge mob pushing us kids recklessly, perhaps in excitement. Amid the chaos, my cousin and I — both ordinarily built — managed to find our way through the enthusiasts and boarded the ferry.

The commotion ended as soon as we set off, and the excitement which got subdued to an extent started getting back to us, as every passing moment and the sight of the beautiful and iconic Eden Gardens got us pumped up even more.

I can’t remember how my brother was feeling all that while, but for me, a dream was coming alive, the adrenaline was pumping.

It was a day-night game and we finally reached the gate number ‘5A’ well before the start of play. We had to go through this gate to reach our allotted Block, Block ‘E’. Still there was an hour to go before the toss. The long queue at the gate perhaps got to my nerves; as obviously, there was no way I could have controlled the excitement to see the Eden Gardens, my ‘dreamland’, for the first time. Steve Waugh: Eden Gardens is the ‘Lord’s’ of sub-continent

After the security checks, the endless wait was over. The security personnel had checked us through and we were free to move ahead. From the outset, anyone who would have seen me would not have felt it — but I can tell you for sure that it felt like living a dream — I was finally entering the Garden of Eden in Paradise.

I could see the ground, I could see the lush green outfield. And I could see the cricketers, who were warming up. I don’t know about the others, but back then on November 18, 2003, I was the happiest person in the world.

The Mexican Wave

Back then in those days, Eden Gardens used to have concrete seats and the official capacity of the ground was 1,00,000. But including policemen, a rough estimate of 1,20,000 would not be an exaggeration. The block in which my cousin and I were sitting in was roofless, but you think I would have cared about that? Borde recollects his brush with Eden crowd

The scorching heat did not hurt as much as much as the absence of the local favourite, Sourav Ganguly did.

Finally the game started, Australia won the toss and decided to bat first. My fellow spectators were not happy with the stand-in Indian captain, Rahul Dravid, after he had lost the all-important toss. A typical reaction from Kolkata crowd!

Watching a match in a jam-packed Eden Gardens is an experience of lifetime, especially when the Mexican Wave is taking place. Ajit Agarkar uprooted the stumps of Adam Gilchrist and the crowd erupted, which was followed by the Mexican Wave. A moving wave produced by successive sections of the 1,00,000-strong crowd in rhythm was a sight to remember.  Finally when it ended, the crowd cheered itself up with a huge round of applause. A sense of self appreciation. Harbhajan Singh says Eden Gardens is like his mother  

Slowly,daylight faded away and the artificial light were on. The Australian innings was also fading away as Murali Kartik and Harbhajan Singh managed to get a strong grip on the game. The Aussies were tottering at 119 for four and all their big boys were back in the pavilion. Damien Martyn was the lone man fighting.

Soon he was joined by Michael Bevan. Both gave Australia some momentum. Later on a new kid, named Michael Clarke, along with Bevan gave the finishing touches and took Australia to a competitive 235.

Anything under 250 in a ODI game today is a ‘modest’ total, but back then, these numbers were tricky and especially when you have the might of Australia to face. Replete with nervousness and half-a-day of excellent cricket, it was time for us to munch on some over-priced food at the venue.

An Anticlimax:     

With the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag opening the innings, the target looked achievable. When Sachin and Sehwag came out to open the batting, the artificial lights were glowing with their full might and the beauty of Eden Gardens went up a few notches higher!

Sehwag started the proceedings with a boundary off Bracken in the very first over, the crowd was back to the noise pollution once again, which by then had become quite familiar.

In his next over, it took Bracken only three more balls to silence the stadium. He took a sharp catch off his own bowling to take Sehwag out of the equation. India were jolted early. So were we.

VVS Laxman, who was in good touch in that series, came to bat at No. 3. He hit couple of edgy boundaries and the crowd was back in business. A memory of 2001 Test against the same opponent was still afresh. But the joy didn’t last last long as Laxman was cleaned up by Williams.

From there, the venerable pair of Dravid and Tendulkar steadied the ship, and our nerves. I can still remember a backfoot punch which Sachin played against Andy Bichel. It brought the loudest cheer of the day from the crowd.

But who would have known at that time, an anticlimax is waiting for us. I don’t anyone would have left the stadium, and just when we all were anxiously waiting for the Little Master to get to his half-century, Bichel shattered us. An in-swinging delivery  found its way through the Master’s defence and it felt like dream turned into a nightmare.

But the beauty of the crowd was at display once again when almost everyone stood up to appreciate his nice little innings.

David was the lone man fighting as within a short period of time Yuvraj Singh and Hemang Badani also got out. And when Michael Clarke bowled Dravid for 49, I knew the game was gone. But one of my fellow spectators, who came all the way from Jamshedpur to watch this game, was still hopeful. He was banking upon the batting abilities of Murali Kartik and Agarkar to do the job.

However, that wasn’t the case. Australia wrapped up Indian innings for just 198. India lost the game by 37 runs and I left the ground with a heavy heart.

It would have been nice to have seen the Indian cricket team winning the first-ever game that I was watching at the Eden Gardens. As my brother and I embarked upon the long journey back home, our hearts were heavy and so were the legs, I was sure there would one more day when I would start off for a long, tiring and demanding day, but it will end up with an Indian win.

As for today, it think I was only meant to watch the first-ever match, and not see the Indian team win. I certainly would have felt a slight determination in my heart to see my team win at my favourite venue, some other day. But for today, we had a train to catch.

(Sandipan Banerjee is a reporter at CricketCountry. Cricket has been the biggest passion for him since his childhood. So, when it came to choosing his career, he chose to turn his passion into his profession. Apart from cricket he likes mountain trekking, river rafting, and photography. His twitter handle is @im_sandipan)

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