You have to admire the spirit of the Kolkatans. From 8am on Wednesday, when the sun was already shining bright, they had started lining up at the Eden Gardens gates.
With a 9am scheduled start for Day One of the first Test, Sachin Tendulkar’s 199th, fans were keen to lap up every minute of the action.
There was disappointment when Indian skipper MS Dhoni lost the toss and India had to field first. But the way debutant Bengal pacer Mohammed Shami bowled on an unhelpful track, he won the hearts of the 50,000-odd spectators.
A four-wicket haul and one run out was enough to make him the hero of the day.
The superhero of world cricket — Sachin Tendulkar — could not be left behind. As he fielded in the covers, the crowds kept rushing to the area behind him. Spectators had come with India colours painted on their faces and bodies. The more ardent Sachin fans painted his name on their cheeks or on their backs in bright colours.
This is early winter in Kolkata but the youngsters did not mind shedding their shirts and painting Sachin motifs. It even included the No. 10, though the maestro retired from ODI cricket a while ago.
The movement in the stands close to where Sachin was fielding was a bit distracting, but nobody minded it. Finally, at 1.35pm, minutes before tea, there was loud roar as Dhoni tossed the ball to Sachin.
The clapping and cheering was fitting enough for a batsman after scoring a hundred, but this was Sachin as anything he does in the twilight of his career is so significant.
Sachin’s varied repertoire was on view as he bowled an accurate first ball from the High Court end which Shane Shillingford treated with respect. The second ball was a googly which went down leg for four byes. But off the fourth delivery, he struck with his uncanny flight and dip to trap Shillingford LBW. The entire arena chanted the familiar “Sachiiiiiin...Sachin!” after the dismissal and the umpires decided it was time for the tea break.
For Julie, who spent many years packing Leander Paes’s tennis bags, this was a beautiful day at Eden. “I got my tickets only last night as I had come especially from Mumbai for Sachin’s match,” said the lady who has spent more time watching tennis matches around the globe.
“Who does not love Sachin? I am glad I got to see him bowl,” said Julie, who is Leander’s father Dr Vece Paes’s partner.
Kolkata loves sport and its icons. At a time when people are wondering how Test cricket can be saved, an attendance of close to 50,000 midweek was amazing.
Apart from the sheer nostalgia surrounding Sachin’s last appearance in this city, there is genuine interest in cricket, whatever the format.
With India batting, Thursday could well see a full house at Eden as Sachin is likely to make an appearance. For the city’s policemen who are controlling the traffic and flow of spectators into the arena, this will be a huge challenge.