x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

The tragic decline of Eden Gardens

Eden Gardens, the storied Kolkata cricket ground, has fallen on hard times – and the World Cup match between India and England should be a lesson to the people in charge of the stadium.

Topic: Cricket World Cup

Latest: Bangalore set to replace Kolkata as a World Cup venue

Colin Shindler's humorous and poignant Manchester United Ruined My Life is one of the better books written on sport. It also has a title that a group of journalists have reason to resent.

If the lifelong Manchester City fan had not called it that, then some of us who were in Kolkata in March 2001 could have published How the Eden Gardens Ruined Everything.

For three days, it was an unremarkable Test match, just another chapter in an unending story of Australian domination.

Then came VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid and 336 unanswered runs on the fourth day. More than 80,000 fans went mad on the final afternoon as one of the toughest teams in sport unravelled under pressure.

Where do you go after a game like that? How could what followed possibly match up?

For me, it was my first Test match, and fate had decided that it would only be downhill from there.

Had that match been played anywhere else, it would still have been ineffably special, up there with Headingley, Leeds, 1981, and Edgbaston, Birmingham, 2005 and early 20th-century cricket that we have no footage of.

But that it was at Eden Gardens catapulted it into another realm.

You cannot go to Lord's and not feel awed by the sense of history. The Melbourne Cricket Ground is a Colosseum, with players ant-like when viewed from the top of the Great Southern Stand. But put 80,000 inside Eden Gardens and you get an atmosphere that simply cannot be rivalled.

I have been to Istanbul and heard Galatasaray fans boasting of the intimidation factor at the recently closed Ali Sami Yen. Sure, there were colourful flares and banners, but compared to 80,000 Bengalis clearing their throats repeatedly, it was a minor event.

Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, the Waugh twins, Ricky Ponting: these were warriors, men you would want on your side every day of the week. In front of that wall of noise, they froze.

Cricketers are not the most literary folk, but every Australian batsman who made it to the crease that day would have felt what it was like to be in Dante's Inferno.

Of the A-list grounds in India, only Chepauk in Chennai has the same history, but it lacks Eden's soap-opera feel.

The parkland in the heart of Kolkata has seen everything, from riots and the stadium being burnt to Sunil Gavaskar being booed (and excusing himself from the next game there) and a World Cup semi-final being abandoned (1996).

In recent years, with Jagmohan Dalmiya, once the International Cricket Council (ICC) president and the uncrowned king of Indian cricket, having fallen foul of the Sharad Pawar lobby, Kolkata's lustre has dimmed. It hardly gets any top-class Tests and in truth, it does not deserve them either.

The ground is undergoing a much-needed facelift and the ICC has ruled it will not be ready to host India's World Cup game against England on February 27

The appalling facilities were the perfect example of the contempt that administrators have for the average fan. You would be allowed to take nothing inside, leaving you reliant on water pouches that would usually be sold out by noon. Those willing to brave the million microbes would then drink from the taps, the few that had even a trickle of water coming out.

The main stand seats thousands and the two toilets in the men's room were usually unusable 10 minutes after the start of play start. And all this in a stadium that is Indian cricket's crown jewel.

It is sad for the fans that they will miss out on India against England. But the slap in the face for the administrators needs to be applauded. If they cannot get their act together now, they never will.

sports@thenational.ae

 

Topic: Cricket World Cup

Latest: Bangalore set to replace Kolkata as a World Cup venue