The CAB under-17 tournament final being played to empty stands at the Eden Gardens on Wednesday. (Bhubaneswarananda Halder)
Tuesday, 1.39pm: Shah Rukh Khan and his Knight Riders are about to start their victory lap. The air is pregnant with possibilities: will he work the crowd with a trademark cartwheel today? No, look, he’s climbing the sightscreen scaffold instead, as if to jump over the fence and right into the crowd. The roar of approval from the 72,000-strong audience, 5,000 over the capacity, is deafening.
Wednesday, 1.39pm: Same time, same place. A day-night cricket match — the CAB under-17 tournament final — is about to start but Eden looks desolate. The two captains head out for the toss, watched by a handful of their family members and friends spread out on the two tiers of the clubhouse. Official crowd count? 122.
Eden didn’t just miss the buzz the day after the city went berserk celebrating with Shah Rukh, it showed withdrawal symptoms.
“I was here for another final my son played in a couple of years ago. This kind of a turnout is normal for such games. But after yesterday, it does feel as if the silence is being amplified,” said Soma Bal, mother of Subhankar Bal, a wicketkeeper-batsman she hopes will do a Manvinder Bisla someday.
Soma was in the upper tier of the clubhouse with niece Raima Majumdar and sister Tapati Chakraborty, their sense of solitude magnified by block after block of empty seats across a stadium designed to seat 67,000.
The few people who were around to cheer the Videocon School of Cricket and Asansol’s Shanti Devi Cricket Coaching Centre couldn’t stop talking about “yesterday”. More so the family of Videocon opener Chirag Ahuja, who were all present at the Eden Gardens on Tuesday to cheer for SRK and the Knights.
“It was my first time at the Eden and it was an experience of a lifetime. Looking at the sea of empty chairs now, who would believe this is the same stadium that had erupted in celebration just yesterday,” said Srishti, one of Chirag’s cousins.
For the players, there was little surprise about playing a final in front of empty stands. After all, when was the last time a full house watched a Ranji Trophy final, let alone an under-17 tie, at any ground in the country?
But almost everyone admitted that Eden’s silence on Wednesday felt different.
“It did feel a little strange to step out of the players’ room and be greeted by the emptiness of the Eden today. That’s probably because the images from yesterday’s celebration, which I watched on TV, are still fresh in my mind,” said Shreyansh Ghosh, who bowls both left-arm spin and right-arm leg spin.
Shreyansh’s last visit to the Eden Gardens had been for KKR’s match against the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Adrish Saha of Videocon, a medium-pacer who idolises Brett Lee, said SRK and the Knights dancing on the dais at the Eden Gardens on Tuesday was his favourite moment of the celebration-cum-felicitation organised by the Mamata Banerjee government.
“Needless to say, I am a fan of KKR. As they danced on the Eden podium with Shah Rukh with so many people cheering for them, I imagined for a moment that I was a part of the team and dancing with them,” admitted the Class XII student of Don Bosco, Park Circus.
Maybe he will do so one day and recall how an empty Eden taught him that there are no shortcuts.