Cricket was an excuse for a winter picnic
The declining crowds at Test matches has been a talking point of late. Although many may infer that lower attendances indicate the reducing popularity of the longer format, Shiloo Chattopadhyay offers an interesting observation in the Kolkata-based Telegraph. He describes the usual atmosphere at Eden Gardens when Tests attracted packed houses:
Come to think of it, very little of pure cricket was discussed or even consumed. How could we? Most seats on this block (others were worse) were at third slip or wider. Making out whether a ball is outside the off stump or the leg stump was difficult till one saw the wicketkeeper collect. We would mostly applaud the gross — a boundary or a wicket. Indeed, not many of us had the cricketing acumen to appreciate a defensive stroke on the back foot that made a chest high ball drop docilely at the batsman’s feet. On top of it India seldom won any matches those days. So, to the vast majority of us, cricket was an excuse for a winter picnic in the Maidan.
Some decades back, the cricket authorities in Bengal — especially its current supremo — felt that such peripheral enjoyment was detrimental to the game of cricket. So Eden Garden was concretised. Annual members were shunted to the other end of the ground. The space given for seating a spectator was brought down to the bare minimum. Toilets were made unusable. Drinking water was impossible to find. Food was expensive and scarce.
All this was done with one objective — make the spectators as uncomfortable as possible so that they have nothing else to concentrate on except the cricket. After all, spectators cannot be allowed to open hampers to eat food when the great Tendulkar is square driving McGrath. The authorities were successful. Most people stopped having fun in Eden Gardens — because they stopped going there.
Mathew Varghese is sub-editor (stats) at Cricinfo