SPOT THE SPECTATOR: The Eden Gardens during Sunday’s Zimbabwe-Kenya match. (Goutam Bose)
Zimbabwe: 308; Kenya: 147; Eden Gardens: 15
A season of discontent has come full circle for the Eden Gardens with its last match in World Cup 2011 meandering to a mechanical end before empty stands, even the complimentary tickets failing to liven up the inconsequential Zimbabwe-Kenya engagement.
“We sold just 15 daily tickets in the lowest-priced category of Rs 700 on Sunday and not a single one in the Rs 1,000 tier. In my 40 years on the job, I have never seen anything like this.” said a veteran manning one of the ticket counters at the Mohammedan Sporting Club ground.
“The few thousand people you saw in the stands got free entry and did not stay for more than 15 to 20 overs each,” he added.
The Eden Gardens, of course, has the dubious distinction of once finishing a Test — India versus Pakistan in 1999 — in front of empty stands after the stadium had to be cleared out following crowd trouble.
But never before had the ground, the favourite of many an international cricketer, seen as low a turnout in an ODI as the one on Sunday. That India was playing the West Indies in Chennai the same day was the unkindest cut for the Eden Gardens.
A police officer said many of those in the stands on Sunday seemed to be “first-time spectators”. Attendants and those accompanying holders of complimentary tickets made up a sizeable section of the turnout.
The crowd count, according to those in the stadium, was not more than 5,000 at its peak. The enthusiasm of even the most die-hard Eden regular then began to wane as Kenya lost wickets in a heap, starting with David Obuya in the first over. By the time their stuttering effort ended, the ground was pretty much empty except for the 1,000 policemen on duty, the TV crews and officials of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) and the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Officials of the CAB claimed that there were 12,000 people in the stands, just as they had claimed to be almost ready for the shifted India-England match when the ground was looking like a war zone.
Old-timers blamed the CAB for the fate of what used to be a worthy rival to Lord’s and the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Others cited “non-cricketing reasons” for the marquee India-England match going to Bangalore, saying that the ICC could have been lenient towards the Eden Gardens like it was for Mumbai’s Wankhede.
But wasn’t this the same ground that was half full for a Cup match involving minnows Zimbabwe and also-rans New Zealand 24 years ago?
“Some of us will remember that the Zimbabwe-New Zealand match in the Reliance World Cup had attracted a crowd large enough to fill half the stadium, and the capacity was around 90,000 then. There was something about entering the Eden Gardens in those days,” said a 68-year-old Eden regular.
So what next for the Eden Gardens?
The CAB is hoping that the seven home matches of IPL IV, starting with a Knight Riders-Deccan Chargers game on April 12, will get the ticket-buying public back. Later in the year, India and England will play two matches at the ground, though the spark of a Cup encounter will surely be missing.
“We are looking forward to the India-England ODI and Eden’s first T20 international between the two sides in October-November,” said Biswarup Dey, the joint secretary of the CAB.
For now, the Eden fan doesn’t seem as excited about the prospect of watching India and England square off eight months too late.