Sachin Tendulkar’s sweetly timed shot may have landed Test No. 199 on Eden’s lap but fans in Calcutta are unlikely to enjoy home advantage.
Of the 68,000-odd seats in the house, barely 5,000 will be up for sale. The rest are for members of the Cricket Association of Bengal and its affiliated units, dignitaries and former players.
If that doesn’t diminish the chances of the ordinary fan getting a final glimpse of Tendulkar in whites, the decision to sell all 5,000 tickets online will. Officials of the CAB said tickets to Tendulkar’s last match at the Eden Gardens wouldn’t be sold from counters in continuation of a policy adopted for the first time for the India-Pakistan ODI on January 3.
“There could be a law and order problem because of the limited number of tickets available. So we thought online was a safer option,” a CAB official said.
Online ticket sale is likely to commence “around October 28”, nine days before the start of the first Test versus the West Indies on November 6. “The date and time will be finalised at a meeting of the CAB’s working committee early next week,” the official said.
While online sale of tickets nullifies any home advantage that Calcuttans would have had, the fan brigade is determined not to give up without a fight.
“Even if online sale of tickets opens at midnight, I will be awake and ensure that I am one of the first to click on the ‘buy’ button. After that, it is luck. I will be praying that I can get in,” said Shatadru Mitra, who would have been “satisfied” watching Tendulkar live on TV had it not been the master’s penultimate Test.
The 26-year-old botanist with the Calcutta Municipal Corporation realises he could still be watching the Eden Test against the West Indies on TV rather than from the stands.
Biswarup Dey, the CAB treasurer, said 5,000 tickets could disappear in 30 minutes. “We are aware of the emotions attached to this match. We will place advertisements declaring the exact time when online sale will open so that everyone gets a fair chance,” he promised.
No such worries for those with a strong CAB connection. Sources said 30,000 tickets would be reserved for life, associate, annual and honorary members. Around 24,000 tickets are to be shared by the 121 affiliates while 9,000-odd will be kept aside for the BCCI, state associations, former Test cricketers and officials.
Commentator Harsha Bhogle had tweeted that the cricket administration’s policy of setting aside the bulk of the tickets for its members and patrons was unfair on the fan. “Hope ticketing at Wankhede & Eden Gardens is fan friendly. Can’t have only few tickets available for the general public as in the past,” he said.
Abhijit Mukherjee of Kalighat is mighty upset that luck and his Internet bandwidth will determine his chance of getting hold of a ticket. “There are many factors at play. I hope my Internet speed at least doesn’t fail me,” the 40-year-old said.
While fans like Abhijit will be praying for a ticket each, the irony is that many free member passes are often gifted to people who might not be interested. This results in empty stands, especially during Tests. The last India-West Indies Test at Eden in November 2012 had seen 1,000 fans turn up on the first morning.
Tendulkar’s penultimate Test is, of course, likely to be the exception. Former cricketer Gopal Bose is among the old-timers planning a return to Eden after a hiatus so long that he doesn’t remember when he last watched a match there. “I had heard about but did not see Bradman in his last Test appearance (when he got out for a duck). I will never miss the opportunity to watch the second Bradman in his last match at Eden,” said Bose, who played for India in one ODI.
Subir Ganguly, joint secretary of the CAB, said there was little chance of any member, affiliated association or club not picking up the allotted tickets this time because of the Tendulkar connection. “It is almost a given that no member or affiliated club or district will fail to collect even one ticket that is theirs,” he said.
It means fans who don’t know anyone who knows someone influential in the CAB or its affiliates will have to bank on a lucky click of the mouse to land a passport to Tendulkar’s last Eden show.
Dey said the CAB would have “loved to set aside more tickets for online sale” but its hands were tied. His mobile phone hasn’t stopped ringing since Calcutta was officially declared the venue of Tendulkar’s penultimate Test on Tuesday.
The CAB’s affiliates include 94 clubs, 18 district associations, eight universities and the West Bengal Office Sports Association. While they have always got their share of passes, the number of tickets for sale declined by 21,000 after Eden’s capacity was reduced from 89,000 to 68,000 during renovation prior to the 2011 World Cup.
Sources said Eden was not even in the running to host Tendulkar’s 199th Test. The CAB was more interested in his 200th. But Tendulkar’s wish to play his penultimate game in his “second home” and the final one at home got priority over cricket politics.