| The tiny Tendulkars and Akrams could not wait till Saturday. A group of tots, in blue and green, took to their terrace in south Calcutta for a sneak preview of the Centurion showdown. It was going fine, till little Akram decided he wanted the bat, not the ball. On his follow-through, he ran right up to Tendulkar, snatched the willow and walked off. Picture by Aranya Sen
Deserted streets, empty offices, overflowing TV rooms, adda and arguments, prayers and promises… Saturday afternoon fever is all set to grip Calcutta as the boy from Behala leads his men in blue out into the Centurion against the Burewala bomber and his green brigade.
Even as the city goes into bandh mode to catch the match of World Cup 2003, Dona Ganguly, Indian cricket’s first lady, will be rushing back early from her Odissi dance classes in Salt Lake, to stand by skipper Sourav.
Dona told Metro on Friday evening: “Sourav called a few minutes ago. He sounded relaxed, and so am I, since we have already made it to the Super Six.” To catch the action from the first ball, she will cut short the Odissi lessons she imparts and be in front of the TV “by 1 pm”, at their Biren Roy Road residence.
Daughter Sana, all of 15 months, who blew “flying kisses” to her dad on the phone on D-Day eve, will be around to keep Dona company and will invariably rush to the TV whenever “Baba” is on close-up.
Also keeping a close eye on Sourav will be one of his original admirers — octogenarian ex-chief minister Jyoti Basu. “I am not a regular watcher of the World Cup on TV. But tomorrow is different, and I am going to make an exception by watching the match. There is no escaping the tension and I hope India will keep its World Cup record against Pakistan intact,” Basu said on Friday.
In Sourav’s neighbourhood, the atmosphere was electric on the eve of the titanic tussle. Sakher Bazaar, which houses Sourav’s club Barisha Sporting, was already in frenetic freeze. “Many of Sourav’s childhood friends and our club cricketers can’t bear to watch the match when he’s batting, such is the tension in the area. His uncle, Arup Chatterjee, is among those who never watches when Sourav is at the crease,” said Ruchir Bose, the club’s cricket secretary.
Bose expected at least 70-80 members and diehard Sourav fans to throng the club premises and an equal number at Players’ Corner, the para club just outside the Ganguly residence, huddling around the television throughout Saturday.
“It’s a bandh-like atmosphere in our area whenever Maharaj is playing and we are all praying for him to do well on Saturday,” smiled a youngster, busy painting himself in Indian colours. The Barisha Sporting members and para youths are all padded up with crackers, sweets and abir to celebrate India storming into the Super Six, and “Sourav’s sixers”.
With tension mounting in the lead-up to the high-voltage match between the far-from-friendly neighbours, city police also clicked into contingency gear. A special control room, headed by an officer of deputy commissioner rank, has been set up to guard against anything unsporting, confirmed K.L. Tamta, deputy commissioner of police (headquarters). Six contingents of Rapid Action Force (RAF) will be kept combat-ready at the Police Training Centre, while 20 police stations have been identified for intensified patrolling throughout the day. All officers-in-charge of the 46 police stations have been put on alert and directed to intensify vigil.
For many, the battle between the greatest run-getter in One-Day International history and the highest wicket-taker; between the Butcher from Najafgarh and the Rawalpindi Express; between new-found hero Nehra and the out-of-sorts Pakistani batting line-up, make Saturday’s Centurion showdown the clash of the Cup. And the cash-in-on-the-cricket- craze caravan will go into overdrive.
For those not willing to stay indoors, there are options aplenty to sip-n-bite-n-see it all. Clubs and restaurants are determined to give their patrons enough reasons to drop in and stay put, through the match. So, the spirits will truly be high — with a round on the house — every time Sachin or Sehwag or any other Indian batsman belts a sixer in the Pak potboiler at Mainland China, on Gurusaday Road. Grain of Salt, super chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s new-age eating house at 22 Camac Street, is also marrying cuisine with cricket — three big screens, thermocol cut-outs and waiters in World Cup uniforms, adding to the leather-and-willow ambience.
Every restaurant on Park Street worth its menu card is dangling a bat-ball bait for customers on Cup day, while ensuring that not a moment of magic is lost. For those luckless souls — and students of several schools — who have to be on the move this big day, colourful Kookie Jar scoreboards at Gariahat, Bhowanipore, Camac Street and Park Street or New Market will provide ball-by-ball updates.