Indian cricket’s home is Mumbai, soul resides in Kolkata
Saurav Ganguly understood the importance of India featuring in day-night Test cricket more than administratorsUpdated: Nov 22, 2019 00:36 IST
While tackling multiple contradictions to put together a coalition government in Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar would have also kept a keen watch on the build-up to the first-ever day-night Test match that begins tonight in Kolkata. Likely with some regret too, that this landmark event did not come to Mumbai. Playing host to a match of this status, which has garnered global attention, is a missed opportunity to reaffirm the city as the bastion of cricket in the country.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been mulling if Pawar could have swung such a decision in Mumbai’s favour a few years back. When the first-ever day-night Test was introduced in November 2015 at Adelaide (between Australia and New Zealand), the Indian cricket administration was in turmoil.
Jagmohan Dalmiya had passed away in September of that year, and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) presidentship had gone to Anurag Thakur. Pawar was former president of the BCCI and had helmed the International Cricket Council (ICC) too. He was now only Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) chief, but a significant figure on the Board still — perhaps the most powerful at that point since N Srinivasan had been removed.
The issue of day-night Tests had the cricket world agog. I had travelled to Adelaide for that match on assignment and to see packed crowds was a thrilling experience. That Test finished in three days but it was, in Mumbai lingo, paisa vasool all the way. True, there were hardships — about the colour of the ball, how much it would help (or not) the bowlers, etc — but it was abundantly clear that this was the way for Test cricket to survive. To get fans back into the five-day format, some traditions had to fall.
Disappointingly, the Indian administration seemed diffident to the idea from the outset. India’s tour of Australia was scheduled only in late 2018, but feelers were being sent to the BCCI about a day-night Test a couple of years earlier. These were spurned. Pawar resigned from the MCA in early 2017, after the Supreme Court Justice RM Lodha committee recommended restricting the tenure of administrators. I don’t know whether the issue of day-night Tests ever came to his attention, or if it did, what his reaction was.
As cricket administrator, he was known to be pragmatic and forward-looking, speed in decision-making being a great virtue of his. The renovation of Wankhede Stadium, for instance, was achieved at breakneck speed to coincide with the 2011 World Cup.
The final of that event, memorably won by India, was held in this city. Pawar had ensured this. Maybe the importance of day-night Test cricket had not been brought to his attention with enough vigour. Or maybe, by 2017 his interest in cricket administration was waning… who knows.
The point is that the Indian administration was slow to wake up. And the SC appointed Committee Of Administrators (COA), which took charge till it was disbanded recently, had neither the imagination nor the gumption to take up the issue with any conviction.
Interestingly, former India captain Sourav Ganguly became president of the Cricket Association of Bengal after Dalmiya’s death in 2015, paving the way for him to become the BCCI chief in dramatic circumstances. He changed the narrative.
Ganguly understood the importance of India featuring in day-night Test cricket more than administrators who’ve never played the game. He pursued the idea aggressively, undaunted by time and logistical constraints, bringing it to fruition within a few weeks. In Kolkata obviously!
Historically, Mumbai has not only produced the most players to play for India but has also been at the forefront of keeping Indian cricket well-oiled, as it were, and giving it direction. The Cricket Club of India, constructed primarily for the sport, is testimony to Mumbai’s erstwhile pre-eminent position even though the Brabourne Stadium now hosts few matches. I say erstwhile with due deliberation because the day-night Test marks a subtle shift.
Kolkata, while it has not produced anywhere near the number of international cricketers as Mumbai, has been the romanticist’s delight: for the endearing ethos of the city, as well as the manic support cricket enjoys there, has been the subject of much wonder and deep study.
The marvellous Eden Gardens has been host to several important events, including the 1987 World Cup final. But Kolkata always seemed a step behind Mumbai in the pecking order in Indian cricket. Now, it has gone a step further.
While Mumbai is still the home of cricket in India, the soul resides in Kolkata.