| Where HAVE ALL THE CARS GONE' Two policemen, lunch packets kept aside, take it easy in the sun at the car parking zone on the Maidan opposite Eden Gardens on Friday. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Eat your apple before you enter the garden of Eden.
The same goes for the boiled eggs and bananas, luchi and aloo dum.
Those on a full stomach who could not oblige the policemen at the gates of Eden Gardens by gobbling up their lunch before the first ball was bowled were forced to chop up apples, skin bananas and split them in two, and remove the crust of boiled eggs.
The first day flop show at Eden — in terms of crowd count, not strokeplay — was marked by unprecedented security restrictions. “In the pre-lunch session of play, policemen and officers outnumbered spectators. This is a sad day for Eden Gardens,” said die-hard cricket fan Joydeb Roy Choudhury from Naihati.
The one positive of there being no more than 10,000 spectators when Shoaib Akhtar bowled to Wasim Jaffer at 9am was that they all managed to get into the ground in a hurry, despite the three-step security ring.
“Shuru hoye gechhe re (Here we go),” shouted a youth draped in a Tricolour — at the first check point. Step One: bags opened and rummaged. Step Two: pass through metal detectors. Step Three: frisking with hand-held detectors — some protested while a few managed to give it the slip.
“Such extensive checks take a lot of time. If the crowd was larger, huge queues would have formed at the gates,” observed an inspector, almost relieved at the low turnout.
But Eden enthusiasts could not hide their disappointment. “I have never seen Eden Gardens as empty as this for an international match,” admitted former Bengal star Snehasish Ganguly, blaming the poor turnout partially on a security scare triggered by the email threat.
Raju Mukherjee was more scathing than Sourav’s elder brother. “Why will people come'” demanded the ex-Bengal skipper. “They won’t let you bring in oranges and water bottles, bugles and kanshor-ghonta. Just because some hoodlums create problems does not mean you take away the charm of watching a match at Eden. If they are so scared of things that can be hurled, the first thing they should ban is shoes!”
Eden on Friday cut a sorry figure, with vacant seating areas inside and vacant parking lots outside, while the blame game between the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) and the security agencies raged on.
“They searched my bag 10 times. Is this the CAB’s match or the police’s'” grumbled N.C. Dutta, the CAB vice-president.
Sivaji Ghosh, the assistant commissioner of police (III), justified the security measures: “I have never seen so few people on the first day of a Test at the Eden but there’s no point in blaming us; we are reacting to a situation and taking all precautionary steps.”
So what was to blame for the first-day fiasco, with the crowd count barely touching the half-way mark of 44,000 when Sachin Tendulkar and Jaffer were batting'
The reasons for blocks H, F, J, G and D1 going almost empty ranged from security scare to the lack of Pakistani star power. “The response was tepid in the morning, but what do you expect with an early morning start and Pakistan struggling to field 11 players'” pointed out former Pakistan opener Ramiz Raja.
The “lack of quality opposition” was the primary reason for the low turnout, stressed Eden regulars like Subhash Gupta from Sukeas Street, Swapan Chatterjee from Guwahati and K.C. Paul from the CAB’s working committee.
It was left to singer Anindya of Chandrabindoo to spy a silver lining amidst the eerie silence of Eden: “Yes, this is the lowest turnout, but it’s also a sign of economic progress. There are fewer people in Calcutta who can spend a weekday at a cricket ground.”
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