April 21, 2008

Lawrence Booth and Sriram Veera on the Indian Premier League

Electrifying Eden

Cricinfo

By Malini Bose

Eden Gardens during the World Cup semi-final, India v Sri Lanka, 1st semi-final, Kolkata, March 15, 1996
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A crumbling pitch, a packed house, a power cut, sapping heat, too few sixes – and, eventually, a five-wicket win for the home side. The IPL’s first match at Eden Gardens had its share of drama, but eventually the spectators – 87,000, by most accounts – went home happy. The men behind the Knight Riders – led by the omnipresent Shah Rukh Khan - have some glitches to sort out for the remaining games, but the overall reaction and overwhelming support would have heartened them.

This match was different to anything I have seen at Eden Gardens – and perhaps different to anything this grand old stadium has seen. It was, typically, a feast of sound and colour, but something seemed different in the mix of the spectators: enthusiastic teenage girls, children not more than three feet tall, strapping men and countless women. I was part of a group of 15 friends. This was more of a family occasion than usual, and partisan down to every man, woman and child.

If there’s one word to sum up the atmosphere, it was electrifying (though that seems like a bad pun given what was to come): the singing, the chanting, the Mexican Waves, the typical Eden humour. The Bollywood music didn't stop, particularly songs that feature King Khan; though for some bizarre reason they threw in Rang De Basanti as well. And every so often, Korbo Lorbo Jitbo Re, the Knight Riders’s theme song, came on with the crowd chanting “All the King’s Men, we rule!”

The added twist was the presence of the cheerleaders, the IPL’s gift to Indian cricket spectators. They were enough to make even staid Bengali bhadralok (gentlemen) shed inhibitions. One of the many men who fell over each other to take pictures of the cheerleaders exclaimed, “Dada, ekta chhobi tule din na, bou-ke dekhabo!” (Please take a photograph of me with the girls, I will show my wife.”) One wonders what his wife would make of it.

Above all this, though, the major attraction was Shah Rukh, the team owner, mascot and guardian angel. He was there in his box with his retinue - Arjun Rampal and Karan Johar, who were in Bangalore as well for the first game, and Kolkata’s very own Usha Uthup, the singer, and actor Rituparna Sengupta. And a couple of very special guests – Rahul Gandhi, his sister Priyanka and her husband Robert. Shah Rukh’s box provided the hottest competition for the action on the field, and was the focus of most attention. After every ball, those in the nearby blocks would stand on the edge of their seats to watch him clap, dance, cheer; I heard, not surprisingly, one man was injured trying to get a better view.

And then there was the cricket. Enough has been said and written, I guess, about the pitch and though the low scores were a disappointment, it wasn’t really reflected in the crowd’s reaction. The Knight Riders’ fours and sixes – there were fewer sixes in the whole match than had been scored by Brendon McCullum alone on Friday - were greeted with a huge roar, the fall of every Kolkata wicket with a stunned silence (and vice versa for the Chargers).

The biggest cheers were reserved for Sourav Ganguly, whose gritty 14 helped put the team’s chase back on track. But he had tough competition, especially among the young girls in the stands, from the lanky and streaked-haired Ishant Sharma. Andrew Symonds was greeted with some jeers, but perhaps not as rough a time as might have been expected in the aftermath of the showdown Down Under earlier this year.

It wasn’t a perfect day out, though: food items such as chips, sandwiches, and soft drinks were priced at exorbitant rates; water, sold in packets, soon ran out. There were reports of the toilets running out of water: not much different, then, from the typical Eden Gardens experience. There were some tussles between spectators over seats. Sadly, the police and security were not very vigilant - instead of focusing on crowd control they were busy taking videos of the gyrating cheerleaders.

The biggest glitch, of course, was the sudden power-cut, one of the floodlights going off with the match poised at knife's edge, the home team needing 22 runs off 20 balls. The crowd was initially calm when play was halted, but as it continued people began to panic and there was a mini-stampede in the aisle next to where we were sitting (and at several other places in the stadium). People stumbled and fell over, and many simply left. But it was never really scary, and soon enough the crowd began chanting the theme song – led, apparently, by Shah Rukh – and a calm descended. After half an hour the lights came back, as did the Knights; David Hussey won the match with a big six and Kolkata went berserk.

That, ultimately, is what the IPL is all about, I guess. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would I return for more? Yes, I plan to watch a couple more matches. If only they can do something about the pitch and the power.

Malini Bose is a student of Loreto House, Kolkata

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