Eden Gardens: November 19, Bengal vs Gujarat.
Seats taken: 75.
Seats empty: 67,925.
The colossal ground made the turnout look even tinier. But the few vocal loyalists who had come to cheer the state team on Monday afternoon tried their best to make up for all the empty stands.
And they did have a lot to cheer about — Manoj Tiwari’s 191, Laxmi Ratan Shukla’s run-a-ball unbeaten century and a flood of enemy wickets before bad light forced an early draw of stumps.
Around the time when Team India was scoring the winning runs against Team England in Ahmedabad, Metro found two members of a near-extinct species — cricket fanatics of the longer form of the game, who had chosen to spend Monday at Eden Gardens cheering for Bengal.
Rajendra Nath Kar The Cheerleader
Retired salesman Rajendra Nath Kar is still an embodiment of the boisterous Eden fan, who hollers instructions to the players in the middle in the firm belief that they can hear every syllable.
“Shabash Ashok!! Oi khane rekhe ja (Bravo Ashok!! Keep bowling right there)” he bellowed as Ashok Dinda got one to swing away from Parthiv Patil with visitors Gujarat reeling at 4 for 2 in the second innings.
He was out of his seat, waving his arms and exchanging high-fives with a handful of fellow spectators a few overs later when Manoj got the opposition skipper to nick one to Wriddhiman Saha.
For the true-blue Eden veteran, the Ranji Trophy group league match has allowed him a life less ordinary for these four November days. “Otherwise, I follow the same routine every day — puja in the morning, followed by a trip to the bazaar, a siesta in the afternoon and then maybe visiting relatives,” said the man in grey T-shirt and black trousers.
Nath has been coming to the stadium since he was a teenager — yes, even for the first-class games. “There used to be many regulars like me in the olden days,” said Kar.
So, where have all the fanatics gone? “Back then the only way you could see top-class cricket was to come to the ground. But now there is an overkill of cricket. There are even channels showing cricket throughout the day.”
And then there’s the T20 formula in the time of fast food. “I can bet any match in the coming season of IPL will draw more crowds than the Test match against England next month,” said Nath.
So, what’s the one first-class match that has stood the test of time and memory? The Ranji final in 1990, in which Bengal beat a strong Delhi side. That match also marked the debut of a certain Sourav Ganguly.
Somnath Mondal The Student
The 22-year-old had a difficult choice to make on Monday after cricket practice at the club tent of Young Bengal. He could hurry to the bus stand and rush back to the mess in Sealdah where he lives and catch the final day of the India-England Test match on TV. Or, he could walk down to the Eden for Team Bengal.
Unlike Nath, Somnath Mondal sat quietly, eyes glued to the action to catch every stroke, every swing. “I am so happy that I chose to come for Bengal’s match. It was a treat to watch our local heroes dominate one of the rated Ranji sides,” said the medium-pacer, who idolises Umesh Yadav and loves to see him “clock 145kmph and make the English batsmen jump around”.
The Sachin Tendulkar fan, in blue T-shirt and jeans, found Monday’s “Manoj-Laxmi” show “terrific”. And when Bengal declared at 526 for 7, he had the chance to watch his local hero Ashok Dinda in action and maybe pick up some tips on how to do it right.
“I will be back tomorrow. I want to see Dinda — one of the the top three fast bowlers in India — and Sourav Sarkar finish things off,” he said.
Two seasons ago, Mondal was too shy to speak to Dinda during a Young Bengal vs Kalighat match. “But on Tuesday, I will surely walk up and speak to him after we win,” said the son of a policeman, who can “swing it both ways”.
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