As soon as the news of ICC revoking the rights of Eden Gardens as a host venue for the upcoming world cup due to delays in construction and renovation came out, many folks expressed their disappointment at “one of the greatest cricketing venues of the world” being deprived of world cup matches. For those of you with that opinion, watch us rub the tips of our thumb and index finger and play you the world’s smallest violin.
Who is at fault for this and who needs to be blamed for it? Whose loss is it – The venue? The local fans? English fans? Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB)? Or is it cricket’s loss?
Thousands of English fans had made plans to attend this match. This was the marquee match of the first round, if you believed everything you read and heard [notwithstanding the poor performance of the English ODI squad in Australia or the shellacking they received in the ODIs the last time they toured India in 2008]. Well, any India match is a marquee match but the ratings windfall (India v Australia or India v Pakistan) wasn’t gonna happen in the first round and so the next best thing was for the hype machine to go in to overdrive to cash in on the loyal English fandom and England’s performance in the Ashes. There are reasons to feel sympathy for the English fan that had made plans to make the trip to Kolkata and now has to spend hours on the telephone with the tour operators and ticket agents but I am sure their pains are not as pronounced, now that they have retained the only trophy in cricket that matters to them and are just coming off of several weeks of English media gloating and self-anointing their team number one.
Count us out of the throngs on the internet lamenting Eden’s loss. As long as we have been watching cricket, Eden Gardens has done nothing to earn sympathy for this loss. Eden Gardens has been to cricketing venues what Glenn McGrath has been to on-field behavior – rude, boorish, petulant, short-fused, and yet loaded with some misplaced sense of entitlement. You hear the clichéd praise of the Eden crowd – passionate and knowledgeable. All we have seen is a coddled mob which believes that the ticket price entitles them not just to a cricket match, but an exercise in shallow jingoism. The behavior of the Eden Gardens crowd has gone from bad to worse over the years, with no apparent desire for course-correction or even introspection. Sod off you imbeciles.
The most famous incident is of course, the last time a World Cup match was played at the Eden Gardens – the 1996 semi-final. India’s collapse while chasing a tough target on a wearing pitch was disappointing, but it was no excuse (nothing can ever be) for vandalism and petty arson attempts. Apparently the “tradition” at Eden Gardens is to burn paper torches at the end of every match. The crowd that night acted more like a crazed mob wielding not just torches, but also imaginary pitchforks that they would’ve liked to skewer the Indian cricketers with. There was one solitary act of contrition – a guy holding up a sign that said, “We are sorry, well played Sri Lanka”. If only the Eden crowd was made up of all such sensible people.
But it was not. It never seems to be. Almost every time things don’t go according to plan, the savage Eden crowd outdoes its past stupidity. And it is able to keep doing it because there is no fear of this “cathedral of cricket” getting sanctioned.
An incident as humiliating as the 1996 semi-final should have resulted in a ban on the venue for at least a few years. But Jagmohan Dalmiya was King. And even when he wasn’t, the Indian cricket establishment has shown no intention of clamping down on crowd misbehavior. Which is why it was no surprise when the thrilling India-Pakistan match during the Asian Test Championship in 1999 was played in front of empty stands. The Eden crowd decided that the freakish run-out of Sachin Tendulkar was reason enough to lose their minds. Even the little master himself walking around the ground to calm them down wasn’t enough. Nor was Dalmiya’s token walk with him.
The history of Eden Gardens is littered with instances that make you wonder what the hell commentators are saying when they praise its passion and knowledge. It’s not passion if it is one dismissal away from violence. And there’s no knowledge of cricketing without the knowledge that on some days, your team can lose. Knowledge is in knowing that along with miraculous wins like the one snatched by Laxman, Dravid, and Harbhajan against Australia at the same venue, come dramatic collapses, soft defeats, and freakish dismissals and your favorite player being left out of the team.
The most glaring example of the Eden Gardens crowd’s utter unworthiness of the praise they get showered with, is ironically one where there was no violence, no arson, no bottle-throwing, and no match stoppage. It was the 2005 ODI between India and South Africa. Sourav Ganguly had been dropped from the team, so the Eden Gardens crowd decided rather childishly to support SA and heckle Indian players. We are not one those uber-patriotic people, and we believe that a good crowd is one that respects the opposition too. But this crowd was not driven to support South Africa out of some gracious instinct of sportsmanship. It was rather a cynical, passive-aggressive tantrum at Ganguly’s exclusion. It showed that the Eden crowd does not have to burn stuff and throw bottles to convey their asshole-ness. Piss off. We have no time for you. Good riddance you lousy, backward minded, front running mob!
Then, how about the poor little local cricket association, CAB? It doesn’t have the clout in the BCCI as it used to back in the Dalmiya days. There is a theory that BCCI didn’t bail out CAB from being revoked but as Geoff Boycott says,
The BCCI… awarded the matches to these grounds many months ago. So it is a problem for the Kolkata authorities, who have known that the World Cup is in February-March. They knew the date of this special match… I don’t think you should blame the BCCI. Blame the Kolkata authorities… So if Kolkata isn’t ready, then it is embarrassing for its authorities, not the BCCI.
The CAB’s attitude towards the preparations for the world cup has been highly irregular and downright shoddy. In the last couple of years, some of the matches had to be moved from Kolkata as the CAB cited their ongoing renovation activities but then you look at the ICC’s inspection report that prompted the recent debacle, one wonders what the hell they have been doing besides sitting on their self-serving hands.
The CAB didn’t deserve to host this India-England tie or any other world cup match. There is still hope, apparently, that at least some of the originally allotted matches will be played at the Eden Gardens but we sincerely hope it doesn’t and teaches a vital lesson to CAB, that is, if they are interested in learning it.
The CAB had some 32 officials during the ICC’s inspection visit (when 2-3 would have sufficed) that acted rude, high handed and of course, incompetent without proper knowledge of the situations. The CAB was so keen on hosting this match that Chitrak Mitra, the man in charge of the renovation activities and supposedly knows all the minute details, didn’t even show up for the inspections! This is the same CAB that hosted a test match with not enough water even for the media. You want our sympathy? Sorry.
So then, is it cricket’s loss? Not really. There are plenty of places around the country that can host a cricket match and bring thousands upon thousands of passionate, knowledgeable fans that would even give a rousing standing ovation to an arch rival. Cricket does not have to put up with such dysfunctional, incompetent organization and crowd.
Eden Gardens – Shape up or Ship out.