Where have Calcutta's cricket-crazy crowds gone'
Most seem to have gone missing, some seem to have gone home, and the others seem to have gone strangely silent. Only a few still pad up religiously to salvage the reputation of a city sold on the sport.
Consider this. It's Sunday, the final morning of the crucial second Test of an India-Pakistan series. The home team needs nine wickets to go one-up.
Yet, there are only around 20,000 spectators in Eden Gardens when Anil Kumble gets a wicket with his first ball.
Yet, hardly a hundred are around when the victorious home-team heroes are boarding the bus to leave the grounds in the late afternoon.
Yet, no more than a handful is at hand when Kumble and Co. leave their south Calcutta star address for the airport later in the evening.
Yet, no one is out dancing in the streets to celebrate a famous victory.
'This is the most lukewarm response to an Indian victory ' that, too, over Pakistan ' I have ever seen,' rued Abhijit Bagchi, a resident of south Calcutta, who hasn't missed a Test since the 1950s.
Okay, there was hope left in the fact that the official crowd count at tea read a healthy 67,000. But then this is the 90,000-plus Eden, remember.
Okay, there were the small drums, the bhepus, the whistles, the dancing in the stands and the Mexican waves that upped the tempo as Kumble made Pakistani wickets tumble. But then, why did it all go so silent on a Sunday evening, within an hour of the battle being won and lost'
'The prime culprit must be the heat and humidity. This is just not the time of the year to watch five days of cricket in this part of the world,' grumbled a local cricket administrator.
The weather could even have contributed to the second big factor ' examination blues that forced school-leaving students to steer clear of the red-hot cricket arena.
But the young who showed up did let it rip on Sunday afternoon. Especially when a man called Sachin Tendulkar turned to blocks B and C and urged them to get behind the bowler.
As the chant of 'Kumbleeee, Kumbleeee' went up on cue, the Little Master turned to applaud the lung power.
At 2.53 pm, when Danish Kaneria fell to Harbhajan Singh, pockets of Eden went up in flames ' the paper torches lighting up K block under the scorching March sun.
By 4.15 pm, when the Team India bus rolled out, only the last of the die-hards were there to play cat-and-mouse with the mounted police and catch a glimpse of their heroes.
For John Wright, the half-full stands hardly mattered, it was the wholehearted support for his boys was all that counted. 'Eden is always very good,' the coach smiled before leaving the grounds.
It was close to 5 pm. The cops had given up as a small crowd closed in, eyes set on a black Ford Endeavour parked in front of the main clubhouse gate. Word was out that Sachin and Sourav were still inside.
The few final faithfuls ' there from the first ball to the last bow ' kept the Eden flag aloft.