Din at the Eden: When big boys played under lights
The first time the lights came on at a One-day International at Eden Gardens was at the Hero Cup semi-final on November 24, 1993.Updated: Nov 20, 2019 09:38 IST
“Khela sesh? (Is the match over?)” the slur and surprise in the question had those within earshot looking back and across in wonder. In the last row of the stands on the left of the club house, the questioner, his companion explained looking sheepish, had slept through the Sachin Tendulkar over that had sealed the deal for India.
Every dot ball—there were three—in that final over had had Eden Gardens throbbing in excitement; every dot ball was accompanied by a roar that pierced the night sky and was carried by the Hooghly that flows nearby. When Brian McMillan failed to score four off the final ball, Tendulkar exulted, India won by two runs and the Eden became a cacophonous cauldron. One loud enough to wake up the man knocked out by whatever his hip flask had contained.
Of the Hero Cup semi-final on November 24, 1993—the first time the lights came on at a One-day International at Eden—that is my most powerful recollection.
India being forfeited a World Cup semi-final was still some time away and you could take in liquor and liqorice—albeit by being discreet about the former—into the stands. The stands were craggy concrete slabs with craggy concrete backrests that could bruise your knees. They required a pair of tough jeans or sheaves of newspapers, or both, to ensure you went home unscathed after watching cricket. Eden could pack anything between 90,000 to 1,00,000, and for ODIs, it was usually a full house.
It was that when Mohammad Azharuddin and Kepler Wessels went to toss. The promise of a smorgasbord of colours—black sightscreens, floodlights, white balls, coloured clothes and cricket at twilight—had filled this “monument of cricket heritage” (Eden Gardens: Legend and Romance by Raju Mukherjee). You could see the four pylons on which the lights were mounted from far and like the pink-ball Test, Calcutta wanted to savour the experience. Some had pulled out woollens though many came in short-sleeves.
With Ajay Jadeja going early and Manoj Prabhakar and Vinod Kambli run out by Daryll Cullinan, the second with an underarm throw, the experience seemed to sour at the start. Azharuddin though batted like he always had at Eden. Last month, at an event to felicitate Sourav Ganguly after he became the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, Azharuddin said he was Bengal’s most loved cricketer. “When Sourav came along, I became No.2. After (VVS) Laxman, I am now No.3.”
A cover-drive off Richard Snell was followed by an on-drive off McMillan to one pitched on the off-stump. It was off McMillan that Azharuddin hit the match’s first six. Shoulders pushed back and collar raised, Azharuddin prowled with customary swagger and counter-attacked. There was an on-driven boundary and a steer for four off Alan Donald, called ‘White Lighting’.
From 53/4, Azharuddin and Praveen Amre had a 95-run stand before Amre (48) backed up too far and was run out. Azharuddin fell on 90 (7x4, 1x6) and got a rousing send-off.
In Wessels, South Africa trusted. Playing for Australia, the sinewy left-handed opener had scored 107, his only ODI century, against India on September 28, 1984, when New Delhi became the second city after Sydney to hold a floodlit limited-overs match. Wessels had scored 50 when Eden welcomed South Africa back from international isolation on November 10, 1991. But two Novembers later, he went first, trapped in front by Javagal Srinath. Andrew Hudson made 62 but chasing 196, South Africa kept losing wickets at regular intervals.
Yet when all looked lost, McMillan and Dave Richardson resuscitated the innings with a 45-run eighth-wicket stand. At one point, South Africa needed nine off 11 balls with three wickets in hand. As Eden started emptying, Richardson was run out.
By 1993, pocket radios had been banned but you could carry food—the idea of dinner at Eden had added zing to the evening for my friends and me—binoculars and bottles. You could have a post-prandial smoke or simply light up to relieve the tension. When Azharuddin, after conversation with Kapil Dev, ‘keeper Vijay Yadav and others, handed the ball to Tendulkar, many were chewing on cigarettes. Tendulkar had to stop South Africa from getting six runs in six balls.
The first ball fetched a run out; the last of the seven in the game. More importantly, it left McMillan at the non-striker’s end. In walked Donald—who, according to an Eden spectator in 1991, had such a long run-up that he could do with a bicycle—and failed to connect Tendulkar’s delivery pitched outside off-stump. Yadav rolled the ball back along the pitch. Another ball was played back to Tendulkar. Off the fifth, Donald managed a single and McMillan (48) couldn’t dispatch the last ball that was aimed at his legs.
“My teammates told me try someone different. I thought any bowler would anyway give five runs and said ‘if this works, it’s great and if it doesn’t, I will take the brunt’. I was facing it anyway,” said Azharuddin last year.
Tendulkar had figures of 1-0-3-0 and in the era before ‘Sachin, Sachin’ chants filled stadia, Eden paid obeisance by lighting paper torches, flares and bursting crackers. Next day, a newspaper questioned Tendulkar’s batting—he had made 15 before edging Snell to wicket-keeper Richardson.
Three days later, India beat West Indies by 102 runs to win the Hero Cup, Anil Kumble returning figures of 6/12 in 6.1 overs. “If you say we can’t play spin, it is a lot of crap but this Kumble is something else,” West Indies skipper Richie Richardson had said.