Sunday, February 21, 2010

The magic of the Garden of Eden

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)

They call the Old Trafford in Manchester the Theatre of Dreams. That’s the home ground of the Manchester United football team.

But in Indian cricket, there can’t be a Theatre of Dreams other than the Eden Gardens. Any theatre must have drama. And when was the last time an Indian cricket ground saw as much drama as in the second Test against South Africa?

A Test match that had it all. One team on top, one team fighting for survival. Four centuries by the Indian team – from four of the city’s favourite batsmen. One opposition batsman emerging as a hero; standing tall amid his team’s ruins. Rain intervening and almost robbing the Indians of the win. And finally, a resistance that took the match all the way into its second last over.

If that isn’t drama, what is?

But the Eden Gardens and drama have always gone hand in hand – because of the cricket as well as because of everything that went on around the cricket. The rioting and the fire in the stands back in 1966. Then in 1987, when Saleem Malik slammed 72 not out from 36 balls to beat India singlehandedly. 1994 – the Hero Cup semi-final, when Sachin Tendulkar bowled a magic last over to beat South Africa. The 1996 World Cup semi-final against Sri Lanka, when India threw away the match, and there was a riot in the stands, and then on the streets of Kolkata. And, of course, the 2001 Test. Cricketing drama at his most enthralling.

Interestingly, there’s a major parallel between the 2001 Test and the 2010 Test. The heroes of the 2001 Test – VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh – were the big heroes of the 2010 Test as well.

It happens. Players get attached to grounds. Both of Brian Lara’s triple centuries were scored at St John’s, Antigua. Thomas Muster or Sergi Bruguera never did well at a Grand Slam except at Roland Garros (of course, they were clay-courters, and that’s part of the reason). A player’s game meshes with the conditions at particular grounds. Some tennis players play better on clay courts than elsewhere; not because they don’t want to, but they have a comfort level there that goes missing elsewhere.

It’s true of VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh too at the Eden Gardens. VVS now has 1041 runs at an average of 94.63 from 9 Tests here. Harbhajan has 46 wickets from 7 Tests at 21.76 (much less than his career average of 30.94). No cricketer has done better with the bat or ball than these two gentlemen.

And when they have come to the party, they have done so with drama being a central part of their performances. And that’s what makes the Eden Gardens the Theatre of Dreams that it is.