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Eden Gardens turns on the magic again

A pitch with bounce, plenty of runs, a capacity crowd and a last-over finish all made it a day to remember

Sarah Waris
Jake Ball drops a sitter at fine leg, India v England, 3rd ODI, Kolkata, January 22, 2017

A raucous full house increased the pressure on England in the field  •  Associated Press

Choice of game
Spoken in the same breath as the hallowed turfs of Lord's and MCG, Eden Gardens needs no introduction. Standing symbol to a number of historic achievements and path-defying victories, an opportunity to visit and revisit this stadium is always impatiently awaited.
The last ODI game in Kolkata has gone down as the "264 game", starring Eden's favourite son Rohit Sharma against a hapless Sri Lankan outfit. With Sharma nursing an injury, innumerable theories were floating around as to which batsman could repeat and possibly even break his record.
It was here, way back in 2009, that Virat Kohli notched up his first ODI ton in international colours. Seven years and 26 more ODI hundreds later, he returns as India's captain. Can Captain Kohli replicate that feat?
As far as England were concerned, the haunting memories of Carlos Braithwaite's four sixes had just started marking an exit from their wounded minds, and here they were, less than a year later, having already lost the series. Could they wade through the thoughts of that painful night to script a face-saving victory?
With eternal favourite Yuvraj Singh making a comeback and MS Dhoni possibly playing his last international game at Eden Gardens, this match just could not be skipped!
Team supported
Just like all cricket lovers would say, a good balance between bat and the ball JUST had to exist. But, unlike the other cricket lovers, I will not state that I did not worry about who emerged victorious as long as cricket was the winner. It had to be India.
The majestic view of Eden Gardens
This was not my first visit to Eden Gardens. It was almost my twentieth. Yet, after you have climbed the stairs, struggling to balance your ticket, ten pouches of water, chips and popcorn in the two hands, at the sight of the field, you pause in wonder. That one second is enough to fill you with an inexpressible nostalgia, as thoughts of all the legendary players that have walked this grass come rushing forth. Filled with childlike excitement, one somewhere becomes aware that the next few hours will be filled with enchantment and ever-lasting memories. It never fails.
Shot of the day
There can be a few contenders for this honour. Jason Roy's late cut off Yuvraj's bowling in the 17th over was timed perfectly and executed with the perfect technique. Middling a quicker delivery that was pitched outside off, Roy managed to beat both sweeper cover and backward point as it raced away towards the boundary.
Yuvraj 's pull off a Ben Stokes delivery in the 22nd over had class written all over it. Using the bounce of the ball Yuvraj, in his trademark way, stood tall to set the delivery towards cow corner for four.
But the shot of the day is handed to KL Rahul for hoisting Chris Woakes' back of a length delivery over extra-cover for a huge six in the very first over of the Indian innings. Rahul's stroke is what sent the volume rocket-high inside the packed Eden Gardens.
One thing that I would have changed
I would have preferred Yuvraj to be handed one or two more overs in the England innings. With Jasprit Bumrah going for runs, bowling Yuvraj would have slowed the momentum. Also, I would have loved to see Kohli take a gamble and introduce Ravindra Jadeja while Jason Roy was batting early on in his innings. Having dismissed Roy both times in this series, Jadeja's left-arm slower deliveries have proved to be a menace for Roy. Although he did eventually dismiss him, Kohli could have gotten Jadeja earlier. Mind games, they call it!
Also, rather frustratingly, India's unwillingness to push for the extra run in their innings stumped the spectators. On occasions, batsmen Kedar Jadhav and Hardik Pandya just refused the tight single, thereby refusing to push pressure on the fielding unit. In all, almost ten runs were refused, which proved to be the deciding factor in the end.
Away from cricket, the food stalls need to be better at this ground. Cold and expensive patties with equally inedible chicken rolls not only burn a hole in the pockets but also didn't satiate one's hunger. Whoever said a cricket lover cannot be a foodie?
You just cannot expect much silence from a 67,000-strong Eden crowd. The ground is known for the chants of one of the most passionate crowds in the world and it did not disappoint. Blaringly hoarse trumpets, which seemed to annoy more than anything else, were interspersed with chants of "Dhoni Dhoni" and "Yuvi Yuvi". Sharing a laugh when a stray dog silently posed in front of the English team's dugout or having animated discussions about Sourav Ganguly or Rahul Dravid, this Eden crowd decided that this was not the day when silence would prevail.
After having sportingly given Jason Roy, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow standing ovations, the Eden crowd was ready for India's batsmen. And when India bats, a plethora of emotions flow. From friendly (or not so friendly!) advice to the batsmen on how to tackle Moeen Ali to starting endless rounds of the Mexican wave (finally after so many attempts!), a carnival setting had seemed to grip the ground.
Rahane fell but instead of a hushed silence, rapturous roars on thoughts of seeing Kohli bat greeted his exit to the pavilion. Kohli fell, and the roars doubled on seeing Dhoni, Kolkata's own son-in-law, probably for the last time in Indian colours. But it was when India was struggling to stay afloat that the sound-o-meter touched its summit. Either they could have remained hushed, looking onwards impending doom, or create a cacophony of sounds to get behind the batsmen. And that is exactly what happened.
It was the small children, with tricolours painted, who led the way when Eden threatened to tone down. Taking cue from their never-say-die spirit, what followed were 10 overs of synchronised clapping to the beats of a distant dhol. Silent prayers found a place in this mayhem and when Jadeja pocketed a few runs, it was the arrhythmic dancing that garnered laughs.
Best interplay of the match
This pitch had plenty to offer both the batsmen and the bowlers. Getting adequate bounce and swing, two periods of play stood out. Hardik Pandya's short pitched deliveries in the last ten overs of the England innings were a treat to watch. As Bumrah continued leaking runs, Pandya bowled cleverly, bamboozling the batsmen on a number of occasions.
But the best phase was the first 15 overs when England was bowling. With a slight swing, the English seamers slowed down the flow of runs when Kohli and Yuvraj were batting. With the batsmen having to fight for their runs, a period of pure and delightful cricket was on display. It can even be called the best period of fast bowling by any visiting team in India!
Overall experience
Travelling to Eden Gardens is cherished by cricket lovers because of the enlightened debates in the stands and for the crowd's ability in getting under the skin of the opposition, courtesy their ear-splitting chants. As Dhoni was felicitated by the Cricket Association of Bengal yesterday, with a short video clip on the former captain playing out, many had a quiet tear to hide. In this deafening environment, emotions were aptly controlled and displayed, even as England ran away with a win. Yes, even though India did not win, cricket did emerge victorious and Eden Gardens, very spiritedly gave credit where it was deserved.
Points on 10
It had drama. It had emotions. It had a pitch that refused to aid only one department of the game. It had outstanding displays of fielding. It had moments of frustration and instants of hope. As the established heroes fell, a new hero in Kedar Jadhav emerged, and Eden Gardens deserves nothing but a full score to describe the experience that was witnessed yesterday.

A student of Masters in English Literature, she spends her hours gorging on food and blabbering nineteen to the dozen, while awaiting the next Indian sporting triumph. She can be reached on Twitter here