Wednesday, April 14

Pink plays pied piper, crowds flock back to cricket’s Mecca

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As pacer Ishant Sharma, after a brief glare at Bangladeshi opener Shadman Islam, steamed down the Clubhouse end, pink ball in hand, he was greeted by the famous Eden roar of 40,000 fans. This sort of attendance is rare at any cricket ground across the world but not on Friday at India’s cricket Mecca, where thousands of fans had started turning up from as early as 10am, three hours before the start. By the time Ebadot Hossain bowled the day’s final delivery to Ajinkya Rahane at 8.30pm, the stands were brimming with 60,000 spectators.

Eden had passed the attendance Test with flying (pink) colours.

Rahul Dravid, who reached in the evening due to a fight delay, was greeted by the once-familiar sight of packed stands. It was a very different eight years ago in November 2011, when Dravid had scored a century in the second Test against the West Indies. The stands were deserted, when the Test had begun with less than 1,000 spectators. The maximum turnout in that match was a paltry 15,000, causing English commentator Tony Greig to remark: “Eden Gardens was one of my favourite grounds because of its wonderful atmosphere. Today, it looks and sounds like a morgue.”

Not so on Friday during India’s first day-night Test, when the stands were breathing as one, throbbing with life. The crowd spilled over to the streets, with hundreds flocking around to soak in the atmosphere.

“I am back at the Eden after 25 years,” said Amal Karmakar, a schoolteacher from Canning, South 24 Parganas. “The last time I was here was during the Wills World Series final back in 1994. Since then, I somehow never managed to be at the stadium. But I could not miss this match for anything.”

Big takeaway: Young faces back in the crowd

Samaresh Shah, a Bhowanipore boy settled in Delhi, flew down to Kolkata for a day just for this match. He credits Sourav Ganguly for rekindling interest in a Test match that would otherwise have attracted very few spectators. “I am here to be a part of history. I have always been a fan of Dada. His sharp mind was evident when he captained India. He has not only managed to host the first Day-night match in the subcontinent, but he has even turned the city pink and created enough buzz to attract even those who wouldn’t usually go to a stadium to watch a Test,” Shah said, thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere of a full-house Eden.

Teacher Lakshmi Roy had no qualms admitting that she normally doesn’t follow cricket, but couldn’t resist coming over because of the excitement over the pink ball. “This is my maiden trip to Eden. But I am glad to have come. The atmosphere is electric,” she gushed.

Another huge highlight of the first day of the pinkball Test was the return of children and youth. Over the last decade, Tests’ loss was T20’s gain. A very big section of youth abandoned Tests and switched allegiance to the shorter format. But if the turnout of youngsters on Friday is anything to go by, one can safely say that their interest has been rekindled.

“This excitement can be seen only when India plays a T20, especially an IPL, match,” said Mohammad Mursalin, who has been selling chips and popcorn outside the stadium for the past 30 years. “I have not seen such excitement around a Test at Eden at least in the past 15 years,” he said.

There was another first in many years in a Test: people asking if someone had extra tickets. “There is so much hype and excitement around the Test. It is unbelievable. Nowadays, there is hardly anyone who buys tickets from the counters. But this time people are chasing us for tickets. They are even willing to pay extra,” said a ticket blackmarketer who has witnessed several phases of the game outside the iconic venue.

Ranjit Deb, a businessman who was among the handful at the 2011 Test, marvelled at the turnaround.

“Eden has been synonymous with fans who are mad about sports. So, when the stands went empty, it hurt my pride. When the Test against Bangladesh was initially scheduled, I thought it would record another disappointing turnout. I am happy to have been proved wrong,” he said, waving his arm at the packed stadium.


Source: Times of India

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