Odds and Eden
As the third Test between England and India begins tomorrow in Kolkata, MiD DAY provides an anecdotal recall of Test matches played at the iconic venue
BISHAN Singh Bedi won’t forget his Test debut – against the 1966-67 West Indian tourists at Kolkata — for more reasons than one. Skipper Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi is believed to have brought on his Test debutant with the clock a couple of minutes before 12 pm.
Also, for the riot, which took place because the authorities allegedly sold more tickets than the iconic stadium could hold. Although the rioters did not attack the players, the West Indians led by Garry Sobers found their bravado challenged to the hilt. Amidst teargas and flames, they were crammed into cars and driven to their hotel. According to Sobers, fast bowler Charlie Griffith decided against using the car and ran all the way to the hotel, an activity, which he felt was safer. Ray Robinson in his wonderful book, The Wildest Test, wrote that one spectator was so frustrated at losing his seats that he went up to captain Pataudi, displayed his two tickets and asked him why were his seats occupied by others. Conrad Hunte ran off to save the West Indies flag from being destroyed and Sobers expressed his regret that he couldn’t accompany the peace lover in undertaking this task, considering how volatile the situation was.
MORE unruly incidents were witnessed in the 1969-70 Test against Australia whose captain Bill Lawry was accused of striking a photographer on the field. While the press said that clearly, Lawry said he was trying to protect the pitch and pushed the photographer as his bat was placed on the ground. When Lawry was picking up his bat, he gave the impression that the bat had fallen off his hand while attacking the cameraman with it. Keith Stackpole, who was Lawry’s opening partner, said in The Wildest Tests: “He (photographer) was still hanging around so the Phantom (Lawry’s nickname) went to chase him away. The chap started running so Bill followed him, prodded him on the backside with his bat and said: “Now get off! The photographer stumbled and fell.”
The lensmen were on the field to get their angles after a mob from one section of the Eden Gardens ran on to the field since they were reportedly pelted with rubbish from the top floor of their area. Also, India were not faring all that well. There were also cases of violence outside the stadium because of over-selling of tickets. And what added to the confusion was the fact that some cricket lovers believed that Doug Walters had gone to fight the Vietnam War. Yes, he was in the forces, but his duty did not require him to step put of his country.
GEOFF Boycott will be in Kolkata again for television commentary. And the fact that he played the last of his 108 Tests for England at the Eden Gardens will surely still be on his mind. Boycott scored 18 and six in the Test and was not on the field when England fielded because of a so-called stomach upset. It was later discovered that he spent the afternoon playing golf at one of the city’s golf courses. In his book, Boycott justified his go-golfing decision to the need of getting some fresh air as per recommendation from the physiotherapist Bernard Thomas.
When the team management demanded an apology, Boycott wrote it out and stuck it along with his resignation on the door of a fridge, because every member of the team would see it because it contained beer. Boycott was sent home the next morning. It’s ironical that Boycott comes to India more than any of his then England colleagues to be in the commentary box. And yes, he loves Sourav Ganguly, who he calls The Prince of Kolkata.
That’s so sweet
The 1981-82 Test versus England witnessed the Laurel and Hardy of umpires doing duty — Mumbai-based M V Gothoskar and the large Swaroop Kishen. Gothoskar in his book, The Burning Finger, writes about how the two of them were well looked after by Ajay Srimani, a cricket fan, who used to feed them ‘sandesh’ every morning in the umpires’ box. Srimani would also perform Hindu rituals before the start of play to ensure the umpires had an easy time on the field.
SUNIL Gavaskar invariably had a rough time at the Eden Gardens. In 1983-84 against the West Indies, he was dismissed off the first ball of the Test, caught Jeff Dujon b Malcolm Marshall. The next Test he played at the Eden was against England during the 1984-85 series where he was pelted with rubbish for batting at a pace, which the public frowned upon. He didn’t play the next Test hosted in Kolkata — the third Test against Pakistan. Gavaskar now though is quite at home in the city and his son Rohan played for Bengal in the Ranji Trophy.
Allan Lamb, the vital batsman, in David Gower’s English batting line-up of 1984-85, decided to entertain himself in the dying stages of the Kolkata Test back then. Since there was nothing at stake in the Test, India decided to open with Manoj Prabhakar and Ravi Shastri (who went on to open the batting for India in more serious circumstances in later years, although Shastri had already performed the opener’s role in Pakistan 1982-83). Captain Gower threw the ball to Lamb after his regular bowlers did their bit and the South African-born, feisty cricketer marked out a run-up and planned to go the Bob Willis way to deliver.
In his autobiography, Lamb wrote: “I measured out a long run and charged in with my imitation of Bob Willis. By the time I was halfway to the crease, I felt knackered and got slower before I let the ball go.
“Manoj played three different shots before he tried a fourth as the ball hit the pad. Out. Plumb lbw. It was my first and only wicket in a Test match.”
One of the most famous of Ricky Ponting’s controversies was about being thrown out of a bar in Kolkata where he allegedly misbehaved.
But what’s the story behind that night of shame? In his book Taylor and Beyond, Malcolm Knox provides an interesting build-up to the bar action where Ponting is believed to have done things which may not have gone down too well with the ladies.
Australia had lost the 1998 Kolkata Test to Mohammed Azharuddin’s India. The innings and 219-run defeat was Australia’s heaviest in 60 years. On their return to the hotel, the Aussie players headed to the bar and watched the Australian Rules Ansett Cup final played out between North Melbourne and St Kilda.
Shane Warne and Ponting had a bet and Ponting won when Warne’s St Kilda lost. After this, Ponting headed to the Equinox Club at the Peerless Inn Hotel, where Ponting later admitted that he had so much to drink that he couldn’t remember what he did.
Eden photo album
Do you know me, Sachin?
Before the India vs Pakistan Asian Test Championship game at the Eden Gardens in 1999, rookie Shoaib Akhtar walked up to Sachin Tendulkar and asked him: “Do you know me?” When the Indian batting god replied in the negative, maverick Shoaib uttered: “You will, soon enough.” A few days later, Tendulkar did come to know more about the Pakistan speed demon when he was clean bowled for a duck.
Tendulkar’s second innings too was disappointing – run out in controversial circumstances for nine, which led to crowd disturbances. In his autobiography Controversially Yours, Shoaib said he had a bet with spinner Saqlain Mushtaq about who would dismiss Tendulkar. Shoaib won. The Test ended with Pakistan winning with no spectators watching. They were disallowed from entering because of the possibility of another riot.