Choice of game
The distance between Kolkata and Dhaka is around 200 miles. Exploring the close bond between Bengali-speaking people on either side of the India-Bangladesh border was one of the reasons to escape from cold London to Kolkata and watch cricket in India for the first time. Only after I had booked my flights was it announced that it would be a day-night affair at Eden Gardens, which made it even more interesting. Sourav Ganguly, the BCCI president, would ensure it was a "prince"ly occasion in Kolkata.
The pink effect
Approaching the Eden Gardens, it was obvious this wouldn't be a run-of-the-mill Test. From afar, I could see the huge floodlight towers that were covered in pink lights. Once inside the ground, in every corner the pink-ball theme was apparent, from the pink lettering on the old manual scoreboard to the pink fabric covering every pillar in the stands. Before the first ball was bowled the emcee ratcheted up the anticipation with ever-louder appeals to the crowd to show appreciation towards the gathered dignitaries, with a marching band in brilliant white uniforms providing the soundtrack. In attendance were the who's who of Indian cricket, with Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman all around. The emcee also ensured Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina didn't go unnoticed by the crowd.
After all the pomp and ceremony, when the cricket did begin it took on a slightly frenzied, turbo-charged feel. Bangladesh lost four wickets in the first hour, eventually capitulating for 106, with two players substituted for concussion. It was disappointing to see the Bangladesh batsmen making elementary mistakes, with angled bats and feet being firmly planted in the crease resulting in a predictable outcome. Ishant Sharma took full advantage by claiming a five-wicket haul; his commitment was perfectly encapsulated during the tea break on day two, when he was practising his bowling.
Rohit Sharma's catch to dismiss Mominul Haque was an excellent low diving grab, but it was probably bettered on day two when Taijul Islam caught Virat Kohli on the leg-side boundary; had Taijul not intervened, Kohli's nonchalant flick appeared to be heading for a six. Similar to Ben Stokes' World Cup wonder-catch, Taijul caught the ball mid-air while diving backwards.
What I'd change
After watching a fair amount of cricket in Bangladesh, I've become accustomed to the spectator experience in south Asia, with the absence of queuing and questionable food hygiene being two features. The lack of clean seats is something that I hadn't remembered, so it was a clear mistake to wear a pair of white shorts to the game; some would consider it a mistake in the fashion sense too!
My first experience of boisterous Indian crowds certainly didn't disappoint. The stands at Eden Gardens looked full throughout the opening day and the noise generated reached a crescendo on either side of the tea break. The party vibe continued during the tea break, with local musicians performing on the outfield and a lap of honour from former India captains. An even bigger music and dance show was promised at the close of play, but I had to miss it as my jet-lag proved to be a party-pooper.
Eden Gardens came to prominence in my mind during the 1996 World Cup semi-final; the volatile crowd that day setting fire in the stands and forcing an abandonment. Happily the Eden crowd I experienced were only good-natured, showing an enormous amount of warmth and goodwill towards the Bangladesh players and the small pockets of Bangladeshi supporters. The affection was such that it felt like a Bengali bromance was being revived. It would make sense for the boards of both countries to take note and arrange a regular fixture at Eden Gardens; there's certainly an appetite among the fans.
Marks out of 10
A resounding 9, the sense of occasion and ceremony were unparalleled, even though Bangladesh's batsmen failed to live up to the billing. I'm already looking forward to my next Indian cricketing adventure.
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