Ananya S Guha
The first cricket test match that I saw but could not witness was the famed one between India and the West Indies in 1967. ‘Famed’ unfortunately for all the wrong reasons; far removed from cricketing attributes or skills. The match went down in the annals of cricketing history as one which was abandoned due to riots, as irate spectators unleashing mob fury, went on a rampage, damaged the main pitch and set fire to the stands. Garfield Sobers’ team from the West Indies was left flabbergasted; in fear of course as the Eden Gardens was no longer a ‘garden of Eden’ as tear gassing policemen ruled the roost. I was a tiny speck among the teeming thousands who had come see their icons, whether it be a Wesley Hall or a Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi of Sussex County fame, popularly known as ‘ Tiger’ Pataudi, because of his exceptional cover fielding prowess. Clasping my uncle’s trembling fingers I scampered across the field little knowing that however involuntarily I was a part of history and had come to see as to what turned out to be one of the most infamous cricketing test matches. Later on Mansur Ali Khan was to fable it in his cricketing autobiography A Tiger’s Tale where he recounted that a great deal of the blame was to be apportioned to the organisers who issued more tickets than the stadium stands permitted; with the subsequent result of spectators spilling on to the boundary lines, only to be greeted with cascading hits from baton wielding policemen. The Eden Gardens was a swarm of humanity with most people thanking their very stars to be alive. My ten year old sensibilities of life and death must have been very tenuous. I was only thankful to land safely in the comfortable precincts of my uncle’s house in Calcutta. This also we owed mainly due to the good samaratism of a taxi driver, while most of his associates were not prepared to display such altruism at that point in time. My desire to see my idols in poetic action received a rude setback to say the least, in Shakespeare’s pithy words: ”the unkindest cut of all”.
I still rue the grand opportunity I missed to catch a glimpse of a Garfield Sobers or the thundering Wesley Hall, hurling the ‘red cherry’ with impeccable finesse. A cricket match in those days was free from the media hype of today, but being able to see one in raw primal settings, was an intensely personal and private encounter…
Four years later that is in 1971, Conrad Hunte the then Vice Captain of the West Indies team came to India, as part of a Moral Rearmament delegation. He recounted that cricket match, and how he had saved the Indian and West Indian flags from ruination. We were all doting students in the ninth standard and listened to him spellbound. His talk couched in sensitive language was an impassioned plea for a non sectarian humanity. It still flashes across my mind now and then.
In the year 1969 the Australian cricket team came to visit India to play against a zonal eleven. The East Zone Eleven included the spinner Dilip Doshi who later on replaced the left arm spinning yarn -the brilliant but maverick Bishan Singh Bedi. This of course was not a test match, but I was excited to see the likes of a Bill Lawry, coveted player, puritan of the game, or a Paul Sheahan, who according to the Indian sports columnist Kishore Bhimani was endowed with Grecian looks. Dismissing the harrowing Calcutta ‘ episode ‘ from my fragile mind I settled down comfortably with my brother to watch an interesting match. This was in Gauhati, a city near my home town Shillong in North East India. An international cricket match in North East India was a rarity in those days, but Guwahati today is often chosen as a centre for international one dayers.
Now India, specifically the BCCI i.e. the Board Of Cricket Control in India is plenitude in cash, and can sponsor the IPL (Indian Premier League) which has attracted the best players all over the world-Shane Warne, Jayasuriya, Muralitharan, McGrath etc. Some infinitesimal names in this vast ocean of cricket maestros. Not to forget our own Sachin Tendulkar! Side by side it has given a grand opportunity to some totally unknown Indian players, to wield the willow, hurl the red cherry so much so that one of them engulfed with the plethora of hard cash was busy drinking till midnight in a pub, on the eve of a match, if one were to believe the gossipy Indian press. And guess where it happened? In Calcutta of course and the last straw; where did all this money come? From Calcutta of course, most of it from the famous or the infamous Eden Gardens, where way back in 1967 there were almost 90,000 spectators, the size of which was next only to the cricket ground in Melbourne, Australia.
This all goes back to square one – the Eden Gardens. History repeats itself. I wonder what E.H.Carr the historian would say.
Quiet please. India’s teeming millions, not exactly cricket lovers live in abject poverty