"Change!change ! Change ! Change ! Change ! Change ! "--- this one call is enough to tell you that a match is about to begin at the Eden Gardens. hordes of fans throng the lanes leading to the Stadium , shouting at the top of their voices , calling out to potential exchangeable ticket holders , so that friends can sit together ! The enthusiasm of getting similar tickets and the satisfaction on procuring the required ones portray the Joy of Cricket in my Kolkata .
Growing up at a time the '96 world cup fever had gripped the nation , it wasn't a surprise that Cricket became my passion. My dad can also take the cake for igniting the flames of irrepressible penchant for Cricket , which my mom failed to douse !
i was lucky to be among those kids who could have the good fortune of staying in a complex , so i always had the blissful presence of a green playground . Every evening , friends would call each other to come down. The excitement of going to wield the willow was the only stimulus that could make me sit for studying , otherwise i wouldn't be allowed to go out to play cricket! we enjoyed the 'gully cricket' to the fullest , complete with all our extravagant rules ! initially, 4 intact bricks, one above the other made our wickets. ICC might have never heard of Boundary 2 runs or a Boundary 1 run, but these were our versions of the MCC Rulebook of cricket--- else, how would one award a run to a batsman if a ball has been hit into a drain or has got temporarily lost in a particularly dense grass cover of the field ??
Our matches were complete with all the formalities like 'pitch report ', where one of us would get down on our pintsized grass covered undulating playing pitch , and imitate the Commentators who did pitch reporting ! Fielding was easily the most hated part, while everyone was reluctant to let go of the bat. Windows all around were smashed , and the culprit batsman was summoned by the aggrieved neighbour , where he meekly promised to the angry person that he would not hit a ball that way again . then, returning proudly to his friends he would declare that it was the 5th window that he had broken and that he had also managed to retrieve the ball which had gone in and been confiscated. It was as if there was an unwritten declaration, that the player with the most number of broken window panes to his credit, was the most accomplished batsman !
Everyday, after returning, I jotted down the number of runs scored and wickets taken that day, in my career book, which I meticulously maintained , side by side with my Cricket Scrap Book. It was still early days to understand batting or bowling averages, so in the Average Column in my book , i copied the averages of players which were shown on TV.
Those days, Bubblegum companies used to give free Cricket Cards , with players' pictures and career stats printed on them . Collecting the cards was a craze ---- often, the bubblegums were not taken, and shopkeepers were persuaded to provide extra cards in place of the cards. Parents and relatives were coaxed as we found out new ways to extract money from them and add to our ever growing repertoire of cards. First time false bat stickers became available in the market,i procured Kingfisher stickers (used then by Sourav Ganguly) for my bat and my brother stuck MRF ones(that of Sachin Tendulkar) on his.
Cricket was the only common factor for a huge section of our society --- the only time a Company Executive and a poor unemployed youth would stand together and share their emotions , would be outside a TV shop , where TV sets showed live telecast of a cricket match . our local club was strictly "Members Only" but the restrictions were lifted and the club room was full of outsiders on a Match day, as , the club television showed the game live .
On our way home from the school bus , we would shout at every point where the matches were beamed live, "UNCLE , WHAT'S THE SCORE? " mobile phones were not yet rampant in the early part of the last decade, so transistors were the only way to get updates on-the-go . Smuggling a radio into the school was an exciting event, you were always on the verge of getting caught. Toilets were the ideal place to catch up on some live commentary. On one such occasion , i had even been caught with a transistor in the toilet , by a teacher, but Sourav Ganguly saved the day for me. He had just scored a 100, and the euphoria of the event rubbed off on my teacher , who let me go with a warning , without having my radio confiscated !
Cricket also happens to be the most easily understood science , with everyone having a say in the proceedings. The day after the disastrous 2003 world cup final, i had gone for a haircut at the local shop. The barber was shredding Zaheer Khan into pieces with expletives ,for his wayward opening over and pointing out the things which he should've done , while cutting my hair . I had been depressed by India's loss, but his expert analysis put a smile on my face.
The Eden Gardens holds a very special place in my heart. eden has given me many unforgettable moments , right from the days it was a 90000capacity stadium , to the new sparkling stadium it is now . As a young kid , i had wished for my Dad's head to be smashed by a 6 hit by a batsman at the ground, when he refused to take me to the stadium with him! I'm now an Eden regular at all the Tests, ODIs and T20s . Every time i climb up the concrete stairs, my heart beats faster , the Eden roar makes my Adrenaline rush . I've had the good fortune of slipping into the Eden , without even having a ticket of my own once(thanks to a Police Officer)! The sheer joy on watching my heroes right before my eyes is something that i can't express in words. It still gives me goosebumps when i see Sachin Tendulkar fielding at the boundary, and everytime he turns at us , just to wave a hand , the whole of the gallery behind him rush forwards. I vividly remember Harbhajan Singh , urging the crowd to raise their voices , when , a South African wicket wasn't falling for a long time on the last day of a test match; Shoaib akhter running in to bowl from almost the end of the field , or showing his biceps to us in the gallery; almost 50,000people , who had braved rains and stayed for 4hours in the stadium, shouting in unison, "WE WANT MATCH ! WE WANT MATCH!" as the umpires inspected the pitch, but the ODI was washed out due to rains in early 2007; and the famous Mexican Wave--Everytime it came to me , as if by impulse, i had to raise my hands!
Even as we grew up, weekends meant having full fledged matches . A funny event often happened, when , anticipating a short ball , one went for a pull & the ball, landing on a wicked pit on the uneven surface , hardly rose , and hit "where-it-mattered-the-most"!!! Bat thrown away, the victim slumped to the ground, while tongue-in-cheek buddies gathered around & tried the age-old maneuver of closing the nostrils, bending the legs . All was part of the game, there was no bad blood and at the end of the game, both the bowler and the batsman shared a good laugh about the incident.
It beats me sometimes nowadays when i hear about people getting killed on the cricket field from minor incidents. these days, it's commonplace to read in newspapers about frequent fights on a cricket field. I'm a junior doctor at a Medical college and only last month, a young boy came to the emergency with a cracked skull . The reason? ? He was hit with a bat on his head, just over an altercation about who would go out to bat earlier. This is not what the picture should really be . Cricket has the power to be the unifying factor in a country that is often torn apart by issues like politics, religion, floods , drought . Cricket makes us talk, laugh, cry , love, hate - but that is all done in a good sense, why not make a society built on these, so that we can point our fingers proudly at our system , and say , "how's that? " or rather , "HOWZZAT !!!"