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At 40 Eden Gardens just getting started

28th September 2016

Arindam Basu

There is this old adage "Life begins at 40". When India and New Zealand walk out to toss at this hallowed ground, Test matches in this stadium will turn 40. Life is just getting started at Eden Gardens, with more good things to come. But it will be nice to take a quick look at how we arrived at this magic number.
The first Test match India played in Eden Gardens was against D R Jardine's England with a young C K Naidu leading the Indian side. The match was drawn, but it set the tone for a winter carnival in Calcutta. Test cricket became synonymous with Christmas, New Year, plum cakes and a learned crowd that appreciated the game like none in the world. Today we find it difficult to fill the stands, but in those days there wasn't enough space at Eden Gardens. People thronged to the ground, queued up outside the stadium waiting for a chance to enter, squat around the ground in hundreds with transistor glued to their ears.

My grandfather told me that in the old ground, people would get on the terrace of All India Radio to watch a match. Every cheer inside the stadium was responded with echoes from outside. Every hush and despair resonated on the streets around the ground. Such was the magnetic charm of Test matches in Eden Gardens.
During the course of the 40 test matches, Eden Gardens has matured from being three sides open, to becoming one of the best stadiums in the world with world class facilities. The pitches have also changed direction to the High Court end. The wickets have become a little more predictable than what it was earlier. But the emotions have remained the same. And so has the charm.
During this time we have played some memorable matches also. The first match that yielded result was the one against Australia, when the visiting team led by Johnson defeated Umrigar's India by 94 runs. The next match that comes back to memory in a flash is the India Pakistan match in 1960/61. If for nothing it has a historical significance. This was the first time the two countries were playing in Eden after Independence. F Mahmood led the visitors against the Indian team led by Nari Contractor. The match was drawn, but Eden was packed to the rafters that day and according to the witnesses the crowd spilled over till the Monument.

India won at Eden Gardens for the first time in December 1961, when they defeated E R Dexter's England by 187 runs. India, led by the redoubtable N Contractor, piled up 380 in first innings with half centuries from the Nawab of Pataudi and Chandu Borde. This set up the tone of the match. England scored 212 and 233 in two innings, but fine bowling from Durani, Borde and Umrigar meant a second innings effort from the home side of 252 would be enough to seal a victory. Calcutta witnessed extended Christmas that year and new year had more spring on its steps.
Four more matches sum up the variety that has spiced Eden's journey. South Africa returned to world cricket after international sanctions and in the November of 1996 firmly established themselves as a cricketing nation here with a victory by over 300 runs that was both audacious, as it was prodigious of the bag of talent they brought. They also gave pace attack a new grammar when they unleashed the White Lightning Alan Donald and a Zulu warrior Lance Klusenar who left the Indian batting in tatters. Only Md Azharuddin's strokeful century were the nuggets the Indian team brought home.
The next three matches marked India's highs and low at Eden. Sandwiched between two famous victories against Australia, who called India the final frontier, was the loss to Pakistan in the Asian Test Championship that saw the rise of Shoaib Akhtar. But that is the fun of Test cricket, its unpredictability, its capacity to surprise and hold in awe. Sourav Ganguly's all round performace was the cornerstone of success of the win against the Kangaroos in 1998, while V V S Laxman and R Dravid's epoch making innings aided by Harbhajan's guile left the world champions out of gas in 2001.
As India celebrate the 501st Test match overall and 250th Test on Indian soil, pause a bit as Eden turns a leaf.