Eden Gardens the perfect stage for India’s 250th Test at home
The best of times, the worst of times — Eden Gardens has been witness to all. So when the hour has come for it to host India’s 250th Test at home, there is an undeniable feeling of deja vu. Will it allow India to scale heights of greatness? Or is it going be an unwilling witness to doubts cast over India’s home supremacy? Despite their heavy loss, New Zealand didn’t play like pushovers. And this being the first time Eden Gardens is hosting a Test in September — when the last leg of monsoons is still clouding Bengal — not many can predict whether 15 sessions will be played out here.
Even if it’s a draw, the result could be of major significance for India. It would mean India are unbeaten at home for 13 Tests in a row, the longest since February 15, 1980 when England beat India by 10 wickets to snap an incredible 20-match unbeaten streak. That record started with a 140-run win against England in Bangalore on January 28, 1977 and ended with a thrilling draw against Pakistan on February 3, 1980 in Kolkata. Since then, twice have India remained unbeaten for 12 Tests at home but 13 always proved unlucky. One more unbeaten Test thus, can’t come at a more fitting venue than the Eden.
A win however adds more perspective to India’s journey at home. It was at the Eden Gardens four years back where India had slumped to a second consecutive defeat to England and eventually lost the series 1-2. To add to the embarrassment of defeat was the ruse that the pitches didn’t aid India enough. Unnecessary brouhaha brewed before the Eden Test when MS Dhoni asked for a turner but chief ground curator Prabir Mukherjee, a close lieutenant of Jagmohan Dalmiya, refused to accede to his request. The pitch turned though, only in England’s favour.
It was also at Eden Gardens three years ago that India were finally forced to start thinking about a new No.4 batsman after over two decades. In Sachin Tendulkar’s penultimate Test debuted Rohit Sharma who scored a hundred in front of his mentor. Since then Rohit has owned Eden in shorter formats but is still found short of meeting expectations in Tests. India arrive in Kolkata to play their sixth Test at home after Tendulkar’s retirement. In three years their batting order looks sorted and Rohit maybe another century away from finally breathing easy at home.
Between then and now, the scene of a Test at Eden Gardens has changed drastically. In charge of the team is a more aggressive captain in Virat Kohli who doesn’t mind changing a winning combination. Ensuring the smooth running of this Test is former captain Sourav Ganguly who has already hit a few sixes in his brief innings as administrator. A former great captain keeping a keen eye on another in the making, Kapil Dev ringing a newly-installed bell at Eden Gardens, gold coins for toss --- the momentousness of this Test is guaranteed. Only a win for India isn’t.
Eden Gardens, in fact wasn’t a favourite turf of India till Ganguly changed that on March 15, 2001. In 29 Tests before that, the visitors had won eight, India five and the rest were drawn. Since 2001, India have won six, drawn two and lost just one Test at Eden Gardens. But that one loss best summed up the denouement of India at home. Myths were broken, the record counter was reset and India had to begin from scratch. On Tuesday, they return a stronger team to a venue that has given them a lot of joy but also, more significantly, sometimes questioned India’s will.
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