A Saturday evening at Eden Gardens. The sun is still merciless and is in no mood to sign-off for the day. You feel it’s better to stay indoors. But for some, even the rising temperature cannot dampen the spirit. Braving the sun, they are waiting outside Eden Gardens, requesting the security guards to let them in. Kolkata Knight Riders, KKR as they are popularly called, were having a training session and the fans wanted a glimpse of their favourite stars.
Though the buzz is still not there inside the Eden premises four days before IPL XV begins, the craving for cricket on the faces of those fans says that there is much to look forward to. The IPL is set to return to its original, pre-pandemic home-and-away format from this season onwards and the iconic Eden will be hosting seven KKR matches after three years.
“There is an air of excitement in and around Eden Gardens. It’s a huge thing. IPL matches in Eden are like a festival. It’s like Durga Puja in summer. It’s returning after three years, so the excitement is bound to be there. The planning, execution, branding... Eden will go purple since that’s the KKR colour. I would say it’s busy time now,” Ashif Biswas of the Calcutta-based Arun Sign, the central branding agency of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), told The Telegraph.
“More than 200 people — under Arun Sign’s payroll as well as outsourced — work for us at the Eden when KKR host matches. You can understand there is also an employment generation connected with these matches,” Biswas, who is the company’s director, sports management, added.
That’s just one company. There are numerous other agencies. And on matchday, food stalls are there below each of the blocks. “The return to the old IPL format will be a boost for the ancillary units. Everyone goes home happy when the league comes,” someone who has been with the organisational part at the Eden for the last 15 years says.
Yes, the IPL keeps the money moving. Last week, even when the excitement was far from its crescendo, the canteen at the Eden did good business. Around 60-odd workers, who are at the stadium working on behalf of different vendors, had lunch at the canteen. The canteen moves to Block H of the stadium on matchdays and business generally is very good. “It’s yet to pick up like it used to be before Covid-19, but in the week leading to the first home match, I am sure the demand will be much more,” Shakti Bhuiyan, who runs the canteen, says. The first home match is on April 6 against Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB).
KKR have not been overwhelming home favourites, like say Chennai Super Kings (CSK) at the Chepauk. There have been instances when it was like Calcutta versus the franchise. For example, when Sourav Ganguly turned up in Pune Warriors colours years ago, the city did not think twice to show who their loyalty was with. It’s more like ATK — before the merger with Mohun Bagan — who tried their best to be the ‘home team’ in football and failed miserably.
Since cricket is now more about following the stars than the game, a Virat Kohli or a Mahendra Singh Dhoni fan in the city will always root for RCB and CSK. Sample this. Five engineering students from the city are planning to watch KKR play defending champions Gujarat Titans on April 29. All of them are Hardik Pandya fans and will shout their hearts out for Gujarat Titans. It’s a 3.30pm start, but a crowd of 67,000 is expected to turn up. While Kohli plays at the Eden on April 6, the Dhoni show will be on April 23.
The demand for tickets during IPL matches is such that at one point officials switch off their phones. The Cricket of Association Bengal (CAB) used to earmark 30-35 tickets for each of its member associations for each game. If a club wants more, it can buy from the association.
“The politicians, the players, our sponsors — we have to cater to everyone. So even if we get 35 tickets, it’s nothing. We have to buy tickets. The demand-and-supply chain goes for a toss during marquee matches. If KKR perform well or the visiting team has a big name like Kohli, it goes out of control. So we have to do some rationing while distributing complimentary tickets,” said a club official.
The common practice is that a franchise gives 10 per cent of tickets to the hosting association. “If the association can bargain hard, the franchise may raise it by five per cent,” an official informed.
This IPL may see an unprecedented spectator interest at the Eden. Calcutta has not hosted a big-ticket match since the November 2019 pink-ball Test. That was when Sourav Ganguly had just become the Board president. With once-nondescript centres like Ahmedabad now getting plum games, it’s very unlikely that Eden will get a marquee tie during the World Cup. Unless of course there is an India vs Pakistan clash.
So these seven home matches of KKR are all a cricket lover in the city has. And if KKR principal owner Shah Rukh Khan chooses to be at the Eden for some of those matches, it will be a blockbuster ambience.