So much has transpired since a one-day international was last played at the Eden Gardens and yet so little has changed. When India played South Africa here in November 2005 Sourav Ganguly was out of the one-day team and the crowds got right behind Graeme Smith and his men, creating an embarrassing situation where the Indians were booed in their own backyard. Jagmohan Dalmiya was then president of the Cricket Association of Bengal and fighting tooth and nail to claw his way back into the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
Now, Dada is back in the side in style, and Dalmiya has become mostly a fragment of memory. When close to 100,000 pack the Eden Gardens tomorrow, the support will very much be with India. Yet, the ground itself wore the usual chaotic look on the day before India's first match of this four-match series against Sri Lanka. Last-minute preparations were on in full swing as the players turned up for pre-match practice sessions.
India were struck down by some serious fitness concerns, possibly limiting their options in the forthcoming match. Irfan Pathan nursed a sore shoulder and did not bowl at all. Yuvraj Singh had a stiff back and took no part in the practice sessions. Ajit Agarkar, still dogged by the fever and flu that he picked up in the course of the Ranji final, did not even make it to the ground. This left India with only twelve fully-fit men to choose from. Although Rahul Dravid held his cards close to his chest at the pre-match media briefing, there was every chance that India would bench Anil Kumble, and go into the game with three seamers. India have drafted in Manoj Tiwary, the Bengal batsman, to assist with 12th man duties if required.
No Vaas, no Murali but plenty to play for
It's almost unthinkable to imagine a Sri Lankan team without either of their bowling stalwarts, Muttiah Muralitharan or Chaminda Vaas. But, with the World Cup around the corner several teams are giving key players a break, and it's much the same with Sri Lanka. Interestingly, they're speaking the same language that Greg Chappell and Rahul Dravid have been for a while, stressing on the need to build a squad of fifteen members each of whom could win a match if called to. With this in mind, the first two matches - all teams have to announce their World Cup squads by February 13 - provide an ideal stage for Russell Arnold and Upul Chandana, who have both been more out than in the Sri Lankan team, to push for berths.
This is the first instance where a day-night match is being played in Kolkata in the month of February, dew is expected to play a part. All through the recent Champions Trophy, held in October and November, there was talk that the dew would play a part, but it never materialised. Here, though, with the game starting at 2.30pm, and the sun setting fairly early given how far east Kolkata is, both teams are bracing themselves for the prospect of some pretty slippery conditions while fielding and bowling second under lights.
Many grounds in India resemble each other in terms of conditions and pitches, outfields and appearances, but there is nothing quite like the Eden Gardens. When the stands are packed with what usually is a partisan crowd, the stands come alive like nowhere else. The sheer volume of noise generated - and this is not merely when the crowd is chanting together - ensures that the crowd imposes itself on the proceedings out in the middle. It's not merely a question of players being unable to hear each other, but the atmosphere can be plain intimidating for the visiting side. This didn't quite happen the last time there was international cricket here, but with Ganguly back in the Indian team, much water has flown under the Howrah Bridge, and there should be plenty of support for India and Bengal's favourite son, though not necessarily in that order.
India (likely) 1 Robin Uthappa, 2 Sourav Ganguly, 3 Virender Sehwag, 4 Sachin Tendulkar, 5 Rahul Dravid (capt), 6 Dinesh Karthik, 7 Mahendra Singh Dhoni (wk), 8 Harbhajan Singh, 9 S Sreesanth, 10 Zaheer Khan, 11 Munaf Patel, 12 Anil Kumble.
Sri Lanka (from) 1 Mahela Jayawardene (capt), 2 Sanath Jayasuriya, 3 Upul Tharanga, 4 Kumar Sangakkara (wk), 5 Marvan Atapattu, 6 Tillakaratne Dilshan, 7 Chamara Silva, 8 Russel Arnold, 9 Upul Chandana, 10 Farveez Maharoof, 11 Lasith Malinga, 12 Dilhara Fernando, 13 Malinga Bandara, 14 Nuwan Zoysa, 15 Nuwan Kulasekera.