As the relic of the Raj days, the good old Ambassador ‘kaala-pila’ taxi huffed and puffed its way on the Red Road enroute to Howrah Station, the silhouette of the iconic Eden Gardens was just about visible. As the rickety beast took a left turn from Nejati’s statue and was about to cross the Akashwani Bhawan , nostalgia stuck. The Temple, the end of the rainbow for the cricket crazed populace of Calcutta, the revered piece of concrete and turf among the Cricketing luminaries, the Garden of Eden was just a arms length away. “Darao! Ban dike jao!” I blurted. The tyres screeched as the driver responding to my cries desperately turned left and halted in a jolt. I looked at him sheepishly and apologetically requested him to take a ride around the stadium. The prospects of a hefty tip apart I could see no reason for the cabbie to accept my request.
|My 'Mecca' in Calcutta|
As the cabbie did a round and more of the veritable adda of my youth, memories gushed in torrents. Eden Gardens had witnessed epic battles on and off the pitch is well known and even better written about. Surprisingly none of the more famous (notorious?) incidents sprang to my mind. What came to mind first was the day two of the test match between a hurt and hungry for revenge West Indies and ‘World Champion’ India on 11th Dec, 1983. Day one was off on a sensational note with Malcolm Marshall knocking out Sunil Gavaskar of the first ball of the test and a late fight back by Kapil Dev which saw India bowled out for a modest 241. Day two started on a better note. A friend’s father gave away his tickets for the pavilion stand as he wanted to see only India’s Batting. Yes such people existed back then too, even in Calcutta! Perched upon one the best seats in the house, I was to witness what I rate was the best spell bowled by an India fast bowler ever. The three overs that Kapil Dev bowled , that reduced the best batsman of his era, Sir Vivian Richards to a novice. A series of magic outswingers interspersed with the one coming in, the searing bouncer, slower one and that surprise toe crushing Yorker. Eighteen balls laced with venom and a threat of bodily harm, crafty and canny which made a strokeless wonder out of a master blaster finally ending in the eventual dismissal.
Whether it was by design or by fate one doesn’t know but Dennis Lillee never played Test Cricket in India. And the only time he came to India to play cricket was in an innocuous exhibition tourney called the Double Wicket Tournament at, you guessed it, the Eden Gardens. It was such a sham tournament that we saw Garner bowling to a long retired Sir Garfield Sobers and a rotund Wesley Hall huffing and puffing to complete his run up. The highlight of course was the ‘clash’ between Dennis Lillee and Javed Miandad, their first on Indian soil and their last ever on a cricket pitch. Adrenalin runs high when the irresistible force meets immovable objects. Sparks flew as Miandad cut, pulled, drove Lillee for successive fours. The next from the cunning Aussie was a well directed bouncer. Miandad, playing sans helmet did what most sentimental people of the sub continent do, prefer bravado to discretion. As he shaped to hook, the ball took Miandad right on his head. Miandad took no further part in the tournament or in any other cricket tournament for the next few months. And when he came back, he came suitably dressed for the occasion, sporting a helmet!
|The best square cut ever!|
Lucky are those who have been blessed enough to witness what I am told is the best square cut ever. And the same I am repeatedly assured belonged to a certain Gundappa Vishwanath. For someone like me who never had the opportunity to watch and test the veracity of the above statement, fate offered a chance in what was G R Vishwanath’s last competitive game, the finals of the now defunct Wills Trophy between Karnataka and Board President’s XI in 1988. The prospects of acquiring bragging rights over having seen the great GRV in action in flesh and blood and in the hope to see that wondrous square cut was enough to lure me to the Eden Gardens. On reaching the ground I was to note that the same prospect had driven fifty thousand fellow Calcuttans to the Eden too! With the BPXI batting first, we endured guys like W V Raman, Riaz Poonawala, Ajay Sharma, Sanjeev Sharma, Robin Singh, good blokes otherwise but on that day they resembled the ‘sorry for the interruption’ notice on Doordarshan. Much worse were the two Karnataka dudes who opened their inning. Prayer for two wickets to fall so that God can bat is soooo passé now a days, seeds of which were sown then! The poor blokes soon enough obliged. Fifty thousand pairs of legs rose in unison, fifty thousand pairs of hands clapped rhythmically in unison, fifty thousand throats roared a war cry in unison too. What you God worshippers saw was the subsequent version of this original. GRV took guard, GRV twirled his bat, GRV took stance. A journeyman called Rashid patel was bowling his dollops. The ball pitched just outside the off stump and moved further away. GRV went back and across, the horizontal blade coming down in an angle, the classic square cut executed, fifty thousand pairs of eyes turned to the boundary for a square cut that never happened, the outside edge taken behind the stumps. Eden Gardens that day set yet another example for the Indian crowds to emulate once a certain No.4 got out, we walked out!
PS: Since that day, most of Sachin’s career has been to me nothing more than a ‘déjà vu’!
Kaala-Pila : Black & yellow Taxis seen in Calcutta.
Darao! Ban Dike Jao: Stop! Turn left!
Adda : Den