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Cricket World Cup 2023

Eyewitness at Eden: Virat Kohli lives up to the hype only Kolkata can create

On his second visit to the Eden Gardens this World Cup, this MK writer witnessed history from his idol

Debrup Chaudhuri | Published 08.11.23, 01:36 PM
Virat Kohli drew level with Sachin Tendulkar as the scorer of most ODI centuries in men’s cricket history at the Eden Gardens on Sunday

Virat Kohli drew level with Sachin Tendulkar as the scorer of most ODI centuries in men’s cricket history at the Eden Gardens on Sunday

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It was barely noon when the crowds started pouring in, a full two hours before India took on South Africa at the Eden Gardens for the most high-voltage 50-over World Cup game in Kolkata since the infamous semi-final between India and Sri Lanka in 1996. The vendors who had been missing in action during my last visit to watch Pakistan take on Bangladesh were back and busy outside the ground. Among the thousands of faces approaching Eden, one face stood out. The face that was omnipresent on posters, banners and life-size cutouts. The face of Virat Kohli, the birthday boy and owner of 48 ODI hundreds before the match.

Despite being a regular at Eden since 2012, this was the first time I had been able to secure a seat in the lower tier of the clubhouse. Entering gate two, I spotted just one water counter, a single soft drinks stall, one solitary man selling momos sitting on a chair and one food stall that sold chips. Observing that access from the other gates had been restricted, I was dismayed to realise that those without hospitality passes would have little to no access to food during the match.

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As I made the walk upstairs to my seat, I was pleasantly surprised by the view. Never before had I managed to land an Eden seat with such a central and clear view of the action. Seated directly above the Indian dressing room, I could see the Men in Blue train on my right and the Proteas warm up on my left. There were hardly any empty seats before the toss and the few that remained had also been taken up by the time the national anthems were sung. I had goosebumps as close to 60,000 roared to welcome Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill to the crease, moments after they had walked out to bat from right under my nose.

The possibility of witnessing history hung in the balance

Eden was packed to the rafters to watch a special knock from a special player

Eden was packed to the rafters to watch a special knock from a special player

Debrup Chaudhuri

With the Indian openers off to a flyer, the Eden crowd turned on the style. Every boundary was greeted with deafening cheers and every wide (poor Marco Jansen!) was mocked. When Rohit got out after a quickfire 40, parts of the stadium got to their feet. Not to give the Indian captain a send-off but to welcome the man of the moment. As Kohli made his way out, stands took turns to sing “Happy Birthday”, albeit mostly out of tune. But destiny would have its notes in place, or so I hoped, as the possibility of witnessing history hung in the balance.

In the row behind me, four senior ladies had travelled from Bangladesh to watch the action. The lifelong fans had previously watched cricket at Lord’s and were also present in Mumbai the night India last became ODI world champions. All of them acknowledged that the atmosphere at Eden was unmatched. Another lady sitting directly behind me, though, was not having as much fun. Armed with a walking stick, she was disgruntled for the most part as six police officers were standing in a way that blocked her view. “Who should get to watch the game? The ones who paid or the ones who are here for free?” she complained, unwilling to give the police their due for doing their duty.

Getting back to the action, I hung tight to my seat as long as Kohli was batting, only moving once during a drinks break to hydrate. As Kohli went past 50, I tried to shut out all the “will he, won’t he” speculation bubbling around me. With Shreyas Iyer making merry after a slow start, some fans started getting impatient with Kohli, saying things like “enough of tuk tuk… he’s playing for his 100”. I mostly ignored those words and admired my idol pacing another innings to perfection. Having said that, there was also a brief stretch of time when Kohli was in his 70s and Eden watched on silently. With the fours and sixes on hold, it felt as if all the world was urging Kohli to accelerate and end the wait. If only the run machine had a time machine!

When king equaled god

Kohli took his time but eventually gave fans in Kolkata what they had come to see

Kohli took his time but eventually gave fans in Kolkata what they had come to see

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And then, it happened. With a casual, anticlimactic single, Kohli had made history. King had equalled god. When Kohli had missed out on a near-certain hundred at the Wankhede earlier on in the week against Sri Lanka, I had imagined the thrill of watching him match Sachin Tendulkar in person. That thrill was real now, with Kohli making up for all the near-misses and lacklustre knocks he had previously played in my presence! Having watched Kohli since August 2009, I asked myself: “Is this really true?” A spontaneous glance at the scoreboard reaffirmed my joy. Holding back tears, I tried to grab a photo of Kohli making his way to the dressing room. The snaps were not as neat as his knock, but it did not matter. What mattered was that I had seen his 49th ton right in front of my eyes. What mattered was that I had seen greatness live up to the hype.

South African batters found India’s bowling far more mesmerising than the light show at Eden

South African batters found India’s bowling far more mesmerising than the light show at Eden

Debrup Chaudhuri

Overjoyed at the innings break, I decided to hunt for some food, having not eaten a morsel since breakfast six hours ago. I grabbed some momos before heading back for the chase. As the South African wickets fell faster than the momos into my mouth, the Eden crowd resumed its party. During the drinks break, the floodlights went off, and the cricket match temporarily turned into a rock concert, with Vande Mataram blaring through the loudspeakers.

After half the visitors’ side had been dismissed, the home fans only had one thing on their minds: “Kohli ko bowling do (Give the ball to Kohli).” In spite of Eden requesting every other over, skipper Rohit did not relent. Before the chants could get any louder, the ones who were actually bowling closed out the South African innings. Following his late flourish with the bat, Ravindra Jadeja became the first Indian spinner since Yuvraj Singh in 2011 to take five wickets in a World Cup match. South Africa, supposed to give India their closest match in the competition, had been comprehensively beaten. Routed, in fact.

Eden stayed packed for more than half an hour after the game. So much so that security personnel had to literally come and tell the fans that there was nothing left to see! I walked back home by jostling my way through the inevitable commotion. Getting pushed and shoved on all sides was worth it! For I had just completed my greatest stadium experience till date. Over to the semi-finals to see if the jeopardy of a knockout match can take things to another level at Eden.

Last updated on 08.11.23, 01:42 PM
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