In 1996 when I was barely 11 years old, I went to Eden Gardens for the first to watch an India vs Pakistan match. In those days, bucket seats were a fantasy. So, everyone pretty much would sit on the cement slabs and Eden could hold 1 lac people at one time. So, on the first day , Javagal Srinath ran through the Pakistan batting line up and every time a wicket fell, the crowd would be on their feet and roaring. Imagine 1 lac people roaring for 3 sticks being uprooted, sounds pretty weird but that was passion. From that day, a few things stayed with me forever and that left a big imprint on me.
First, it was the way Azhar would walk around the field as if he owned Eden Gardens and hence was always the favourite of Eden, then his trademark dive at gully to save a certain boundary which would definitely attract loudest roar of the day and then the whole crowd clapping whenever there was a great shot from Salim Malik. Eden crowd always showed appreciation for great and sporting players from the opponent. Something I miss now a days. Oh, I almost forgot to mention my backside was aching by the end of the day because of jumping up and down on the cement slabs.
India was all out just after tea and then I had what I would call my first and only man crush. I saw Wasim Akram coming at Indian batsmen at full flow. Even at that age, I could feel that he was running with fire and he was spitting venom and the batsmen had no clue what was hitting them. I have seen faster bowlers, I have seen many swing bowlers but I have not seen a better bowler. If I had to pick someone to bowl for my life, it would be Wasim Akram every time. When I left the field that day, I had fallen in love with that game and I could not stop blabbering about the same to my parents. Anyone who knows Bengali’s, football is our first love but I always felt that day cricket just took over. I started following the game, learnt the names MCG, Boxing Day, Lord’s Cricket Ground and many others. Somewhere in my mind, I wanted to go to all these places, but you never know.
26th December 2006, I was in Melbourne as a student and with another 3 of my friends were thinking what to do since we really did not want to go shopping. Just to let everyone know, during Boxing Day, you get everything for dirt cheap and usually its a holiday in Australia and somehow everyone is on the streets either shopping or drinking beer and enjoying themselves at Federation Square, if you are in Melbourne. Someone in the group suggested lets go for the match since we took it for granted that tickets wont be sold out. We went in, bought the tickets from the counter and entered the stadium.
Luckily, we got the lower tier seats absolutely next to, from the where the players would walk out to field. India were already batting and I was just standing and looking at the magnanimity of the place, the lush green outfields and everything. That day I got to see Sachin and Sourav bat together and take the Aussie bowlers to the cleaners. I somehow took a flag from someone and started dancing on the seats. Left the day highly disappointed with India playing horribly after lunch.Another Test, I went to watch and India lost, just like the Kolkata test. But what remained with me is Dada walking out to bat and me shouting ‘ Dada century chai’ and Dada turns around and gives me a thumbs up, Sachin Tendulkar warming up right in front of eyes inside the rope, I could have jumped to his feet but I was too much in awe of him at such close range. I left satisfied to have watched India play.Cut to 9th September 2018, I was entering Lord’s Cricket Ground as a tourist and not to watch a match. I had an opportunity to watch the Test match at Lord’s but I had to pass. Anyway, the moment I entered I was a little nervous and ’96 Eden memories rushed through my mind. I turned a child again. Something was going on inside me but I could not explain it to myself even. I crossed the huge gates, security check, crossed the Middlesex shop and into the reception and the first thing that caught my eye was the Prudential Cup that Kapil Dev won in 83.
I could have fainted then & there. A group of people were there and someone was explaining the whole history of Ashes, I heard it but I kept looking at the signed jersey of Sachin Tendulkar inside the glass room behind us. We walked out and it was time to walk into the cricket ground but before you get there, you have to stand in front of the statue of WG Grace. I had no option but to show my respect in my country way. I literally touched his feet because you cant know cricket without knowing him. So everyone went ahead with the guide and I kept loitering and absorbing this huge thing and suddenly I see that a door is open, unmanned and that would lead me straight to the grass of Lord’s. I was ready to risk it and had started walking towards it. That’s when a guard appeared and told ‘ you are not allowed, Sir.’ I argued for a while but he wont relent and I had to give up.
I , finally , reached the long room where I thought the view was alright but I was itching to see the dressing rooms and honors boards. So, we first went into the home dressing room and except a few things nothing interested me so much. Then it was the turn of the guest dressing room and this is where the fun began. The guide went on to tell about different stories about the place. There were hardly any Indian in the group and there were people who did not come with the understanding of the game.
I really thought, if Sourav Ganguly is not mentioned here, I would be robbing all these innocent people off the most beautiful thing that happened at Lord’s ever. So, I asked the inevitable question, ‘ is this the same balcony where Ganguly took off his shirt?’. At the very mention of Ganguly, the guard and the guide put their hands on their head and said something like ‘ oh gosh!!! He was another one!!’ This expression of the Englishmen was priceless for me. So, they showed me the exact spot where it all happened and I requested permission from the guard that I be allowed to take a picture waving my jacket. The guard simply smiled and granted me the permission. My wife took the photo and when I saw the photo I said to her, ‘ Now, I can die in peace.’ Interestingly, my son started showing off some of his jumping skills in this balcony and thats when I thought to myself, we own this balcony. After that, we went to the stands and that’s as close I could go to the grass of Lord’s and when I walked into the stands, it was surreal, I could visualize Kapil Dev lifting the trophy, Kaif and Zak hitting the winning runs, Yuvi running to the field and Dada taking off the shirt. I could feel all of it, right in front of me. The guide went on with the history and everything but I had just two questions, one about the Lord’s slope and why the slope has not been leveled yet.
Then , we went up to the media center which is one of the most amazing architectural work. I was amazed by the view and how sun cant disturb you ever. Then it was time to hit the Lord’s shop and then move out. Just before I was about to walk out of Lord’s I asked guard again, are you sure I cant step onto the field and feel the grass even once, I come from Kolkata which is like 1000s of miles away but again he declined. Before he closed the huge gates onto us, I looked at the ground and had a quiet conversation with it which mainly, I could not feel the grass this time, but I will be back and I will feel it, one way or the other. I think Lord’s replied ‘ will be waiting for you, mate’
I finished my trip of ‘Meccas of cricket’ and I feel happy about it. Don’t know if I can ever explain anyone the feeling of it or the madness about it. I wish someone who reads this will understand sometimes you just fall in love with some things and the child in you is spurred by those things. I had my moments and I consider myself lucky to have been to these grounds but the journey does not end here, I wish to go to the home ground of none other than Sir Vivian Richards, the man who redefined cricket.
Special thanks to Debdeep for sharing this article. Debdeep Bhattacharya is a cricket fanatic with an analytical insight of the game, a hardcore Dada fan who believes everything cant be measured in stats!