The Eden Gardens crowd’s love affair with Sachin Tendulkar resumes on Wednesday, though statisticians will be quick to point out that this is not his favourite hunting ground.
As cricket’s biggest icon prepares to play his 199th Test against the West Indies, there are mixed memories. The huge billboards in the city apart, the way the Cricket Association of Bengal has gone about celebrating his penultimate Test makes one wonder whether cricket is about 22 players or just one.
To be sure, even West Indies captain Darren Sammy did not mind all this, as he called Sachin a global ambassador for the sport on Tuesday.
With Kolkata’s die-hard cricket fans lining up to buy tickets even on Monday evening, Sachin mania is at its peak.
It is hard not to recall with pain a couple of incidents relating to Sachin in Kolkata, which left him hurting and brought tears for thousands of fans.
In February 1999, after much dilly-dallying, India and Pakistan played the inaugural match of the Asian Test Championship here.
Eden, one of the most spectacular places to play cricket in the world, witnessed a high-quality game between the traditional rivals.
The spectator response was incredible with almost one lakh people turning up on the first four days.
But Kolkata showed its anger after Sachin was given run out in the second innings, after colliding with Shoaib Akhtar. Instead of going back to the dressing room, Sachin went straight to TV umpire KT Francis and watched the replay. He shook his head in disbelief and so did the fans, after which all hell broke loose.
Spectators burnt newspapers in the stands and empty water bottles were thrown on the field, holding up play. It required the magic of Sachin’s appeal for cricket to resume as he went out with ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya to pacify the crowd, though on the last day, spectators were not allowed inside the arena as a safety measure.
Six years later, when India again played Pakistan at the Eden Gardens in 2005, Sachin showed what a thinking cricketer he is when he engineered one of the most superb run outs.
Sourav Ganguly was chasing the ball from mid-on to long-on.
But it was Sachin who ran from mid-off to long-on and showed more than amazing cricketing sense. Rather than going for the simpler throw to the nonstriker’s end, Sachin threw perfectly to the striker’s end, where wicket-keeper Dinesh Karthik ran out inform batsman Asim Kamal. Surely, Sachin knew, Kamal would have thought he was running away from the danger end.
Yet, the joy was short-lived for Sachin the same day as he was controversially given out by Steve Bucknor, who had referred his run-out to the third umpire six years ago. Rahul Dravid and Sachin had added 98 runs when Bucknor struck, raising his finger to the shock and horror of most present.
Sachin had batted beautifully for 52 when he was beaten by the late swing from Abdul Razzaq.
Replays showed Sachin’s bat had not made contact with the ball, though Bucknor thought otherwise.
Surely, knowing Sachin, he would have still drawn joy as India went on to win that Test match.
As images of Sachin’s 24 years come back in a flood, it would be apt to hope that he can conjure up some magic one last time at the spiritual home of Indian cricket.