India v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 1st day March 16, 2005

Unimposing Eden

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This fan enjoyed what he saw, but not many turned up to watch the action at Eden Gardens © Getty Images

Eden Gardens. I had but glimpsed her since my arrival in Kolkata, despite the hotel being a mere five-minute walk away. I avoided her forebearing presence, partially because she carries such tales of legend and history - may be more than any stadium in the subcontinent. But I also feared seeing her empty, stripped of her ambience. Finally, today, as I walked to her, past the mud pathways and the wooden maze of fences into Gate 1, I expected a cauldron.

But today, at least, there is no cauldron. There is instead a half-full, curiously unimposing third-world stadium. Half-full is still fuller than most stadiums around the world, but stands are dotted with people, not cramped or teeming. There is noise, often raucous, when Virender Sehwag is busy putting Danish Kaneria in his place or when Sachin Tendulkar coolly strolls out. But as when Tendulkar waits and then completes his 10,000th run, it punctures rather than accentuates the atmosphere. It isn't riotous; it lacks the sustained din, the threatening wall of noise that should be the property of this ground.

Did Mohali not set up, tantalizingly, this match? Aren't India's batsmen a delicious enough way of spending the day? One family, in the stands underneath the press box, offers school examination time as an excuse, others the strangling, wilting heat. Others still mutter incomprehensibly and unconvincingly about low Test match attendances.

Just over the top of the stands facing the press box juts out proudly and prominently Calcutta High Court. Like many other buildings in Calcutta, the architecture is splendidly colonial and it gives the city an attractive nostalgic sheen. Behind the press box are the football grounds of Mohan Bagan, Mohammedan Sporting and East Bengal, stadiums and clubs which carry an equally rich heritage. Surely they have seen better Test match days - a couple perhaps against the Australians over the last few years - than this one, where Indian batsmen run roughshod over a threadbare attack?

So recourse must be found in the press box, and luckily there is much to entertain. Perched high above the ground, warranting binoculars and evoking the vantage point of a blimp, the box is livened up unendingly by the scorer Rahman, clad resplendently in what looks suspiciously like a brown safari suit half-sleeve shirt and trousers. He oscillates between school masterly in tone - an effect enhanced by the lecture hall d├ęcor and placement of the benches - and pure evangelism.

Not for him the staid, statistical monotone of traditional scorers who repeat `Dravid's 50, 99 balls, 102 minutes, eight fours.' He yelps it, screeches it, barks it with an enchanting rhythm, often using his hands to draw figures and always invoking journalists to believe in his message. His statistics are to be taken as gospel, delivering us from evil and infused with biblical threats: "Rajjak, thutteen owars, jeero, piphthy-two rans, jeero! Pleeej listen agayn...!"

Here is, as sure as a Rahul Dravid cover-drive, a man of legend, a legend that promises to unravel over the course of this Test match; his presence is made for television and the masses, not for the Eden Gardens press box and a hundred journalists. Surely, Rahman too has seen better days of Test cricket at this ground than today? If he has, he is not letting on: "Sachin become piphth, yes piphth player (puts up five fingers, praising the lord) after Brain Laara to score 10,000 runs!"

If, as many journalists are confidently predicting, the match will continue in the one-sided vein on display today, then Rahman's vigour will become ever more precious.

Osman Samiuddin is a freelance writer based in Karachi.