I was lucky enough to fulfil a dream last week when I visited Kolkata’s famous Eden Gardens cricket stadium to watch England play India in a test match. What’s more – if you’ll allow a little gloating – it was a historic success: England don’t often win in India let alone Eden Gardens and it was a thrashing to boot.
Eden Gardens is famous amongst the many grounds in India and elsewhere because of its size. It once held 100,000 people among its concrete seats; now proper bucket seating has been installed it has dropped to around 65,000. Nevertheless, it’s still an immense place and the noise when even only half full is something for the ears to behold. What’s more, the Indian crowd are known to be crazy here. Sometimes the enthusiasm and energy spill over into rioting and fires and there have been several incidents in recent years. But to focus on that would miss the point: it’s true that Indians cheer every ball batted by their cricketing heroes – the general consensus is the average fan of India prefers batting to bowling – and cheer even more loudly when the ball disappears over the ropes. The crowd were an enormous part of the experience and I chatted to many. All were friendly, despite being naturally zealous for their team in a country in which cricket is almost a religion. I’ll never forget the roars when Sachin walked on, or even fielded – and what you can’t sometimes hear is the polite applause when an Indian wicket falls, say. Here are some images taken from the ground; sorry for the poor quality, I hope they give a flavour of the scale and excitement.
We had some terrible trouble securing a hotel room; our driver, who duly was waiting for us at the airport, took us to another airport entirely due to a ‘technical fault’ with our room. It was a lie, alas. There was nothing wrong. The replacement hotel was expensive and not up to scratch. There, first time in India, I had someone try to convince me that the tap water was actually mineral water, despite being in a filthy bottle with no label: they had sealed an opened and closed the cap with what look like a heated blade. In such respects, this part of Kolkata was not a great advertisement for India, given how far it represented some of those malign traits that visitors are warned about in guidebooks. All will be recorded on Tripadvisor.
But that was all quickly forgotten once I took to the seat in the stadium. The ground is well-situated and you can walk to the green park nearby and on there to the Victorian Memorial, which is staggeringly beautiful first thing in the morning. I’ll blog on that soon. But for now here are the photos of the ground, a place I’ll never forget and which in England’s cricket team made history.