As cricket’s biggest stage, the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, returns to India after 12 years, stadiums across the country brace and deck up to host the carnival. Buzzing with chatter on the perfect combinations, strong and weak zones, crucial powerplay overs and everything under the cricketing sun, Kolkata is in its cricketing element as well. All roads lead to the Eden Gardens, which is scheduled to host five World Cup clashes this time around, having got just the one match, between Zimbabwe and Kenya, back in 2011.
My Kolkata spoke to Sujan Mukherjee, Eden’s chief curator, as the final touches begin to roll in before the start of the World Cup.
Nothing should be one-sided about the games
Commenting on the pitch and how it is looking before the World Cup, Mukherjee said, “Monsoon is in full swing in Kolkata, and I’m almost done with preparing the wicket. I’ve been here since 2015, and the feedback has always been positive. The teams have always enjoyed playing here. I hope the incessant rain comes to a halt soon, so that we can put forth the best wicket in the coming weeks.”
When asked about what goes behind preparing the Eden wicket, Mukherjee said: “I’ve played a fair amount of cricket myself, and I've always believed that the satisfaction of the players is tantamount to the satisfaction of the spectators and the other stakeholders. Nothing should be one-sided about the games. That’s the primary thing I have in mind while curating a venerated wicket like that of Eden’s.”
Eden has had a rich legacy of valuing the pitch as numero uno, to the extent of standing strong in the face of former Indian skipper Mohammad Azharuddin or current Kolkata Knight Riders’ captain Nitish Rana. Mukherjee maintains a strong hand when it comes to not favouring a single side or just the batters or bowlers over the course of a game. Eden’s wicket, according to him, has something to offer for everybody, if utilised properly.
‘Since 2015, Eden has received four best ground awards. I hope to keep that legacy intact’
Sujan Mukerjee (left) has been in charge of the Eden pitch since 2015Image courtesy: Sujan Mukherjee
“It used to be perceived earlier that Eden had a slow wicket, which offered a lot of turn. We don’t have that anymore, but the wicket has always turned out to be a brilliant wicket for teams. I aim to deliver an enjoyable sporting pitch for the World Cup, like we always have. Since 2015, Eden has received four best ground awards. I hope to keep that legacy intact for the tournament ahead,” said Mukherjee, hinting at the previously notorious rank turners that Eden would produce, including a virtual dustbowl when India played Sri Lanka in the semis of the 1996 World Cup.
When asked if there is a difference in approaching pitch curation before something like the World Cup as compared to the rest of the year, Mukherjee spoke of the vigilant eye he needs to have to ensure no flaws: “This is one of the most historic pitches in the world, and curation with care is something we have to ensure throughout the year. A small lapse could throw a spanner in the works, which is why there has to be 24x7 monitoring of the field.” For Mukherjee, there is no difference between preparing the pitch for the World Cup and the local matches throughout the year. “There are always a few suggestions of sprucing up the field before international events of such magnitude. Although I’m not a big fan of the same, there might be some cosmetic changes on the periphery that we decide on,” added Mukherjee.
On dealing with the dissatisfaction of captains and coaches and their say on the pitch, especially in the aftermath of Nitish Rana’s comments earlier in 2023 on Eden’s wicket not favouring the home side, Mukerjee believes that everyone is entitled to an opinion on the pitch. His primary lookout is curating a wicket that ensures beautiful cricket.
“I’ve been consistently receiving positive feedback from everyone, including legendary players such as Brian Lara, Kumar Sangakkara and Muttiah Muralitharan, who had played on this very field and were equally satisfied when they visited during the IPL as well. It’s not possible to cater to individual needs as a curator. I know the rules and the craft and I’ll do everything to ensure that the pitch satisfies everyone…You’ll know you’re doing a good job when a few people have some salty criticism to offer,” he smirked.
‘When I arrived, the pitch was bald and the lack of grass was being pointed out by many’
The Eden pitch has evolved from being perceived as a rank turner to one that has something for both batters and bowlers in recent yearsTT archives
Over the years, the Eden wicket has usually maintained its individuality, be it on a scorching summer afternoon, a rainy day or on occasions when a crisp winter breeze from the Hooghly wisps in through the stands. According to Mukherjee, it is the soil that makes the pitch stand out. The soil at Eden is of a different breed, maintained and enhanced by an impressive drainage system.
Talking about ICC head curator, Andy Atkinson, and his recent visit to Eden, Mukherjee observed: “When I arrived in 2015, the pitch was bald and the lack of grass was being pointed out by many. After the 2016 ICC Men’s T20 World Cup (when India beat Pakistan and the West Indies overpowered England in the final at Eden), I had completely changed the wicket, altering the grass and the soil. Atkinson was impressed with the wicket this time around and found it to be an incredible improvement since his last visit.”
Apart from the headline clash between India and South Africa on November 5 and the second semi-final (between the second and third-placed teams in the preliminary round) on November 16, Eden will host the Netherlands versus Bangladesh on October 28, Pakistan versus Bangladesh on October 31 and England versus Pakistan on November 11.