Why the Eden?

Hype has it that watching cricket at the Eden Gardens is an unrivaled experience — and for once, hype is not misplaced. Further, it is a pity that politics — namely the antagonism between Jagmohan Dalmiya and the honchos who currently run Indian cricket — has kept the Gardens from getting its due share of international fixtures. International cricket deserves to be played in the best possible venues, and there is no doubt that the Gardens, when on song, is as good as it gets.

Not this time, though; not for India versus South Africa. The short series  against the Proteas has come as manna from Test heaven; had the two boards not worked this out, we would have through all of 2010 contented ourselves with games against Bangladesh, now over, and Zimbabwe. Oh, and of course, Sri Lanka. At a time when India is statistically the world’s number one and, more to the point, the Test team has confidence and a degree of form going for it, what you really need are marquee games that can create excitement among the fans — and India-RSA, marketed right, can provide exactly that.

To get the buzz going, though, you need to guarantee butts in the seats — and right now the Gardens is in no position to do that. In December 2009, when India played Sri Lanka, the CAB opted out of selling tickets and reserved all available space for its members. [That game as you recall was marred by a fiasco to do with the floodlights; an inquiry was promised, but thus far what we have got is a tentative agreement on the inquiry committee, so no point holding our breath waiting]. The CAB now says it won’t sell tickets for the upcoming Test either.

Closed for maintenance

The reasons may be valid: ground upgrade, renovation with an eye on the 2011 ODI World Cup, whatever. Fact remains, though, that a marquee contest between India and South Africa, with the notional standing of the world’s number one Test team at stake, will be shut out for the fans — whose energy and passion is what gives cricket at the Gardens the aura it currently enjoys.

Did we really need to shoe-horn a Test into a venue that is currently capable only of catering to a closed group of ‘members’, while leaving the fans in a cricket-crazy city standing on the outside looking in?

On a tangentially related note, the Test team is out — and it is either predictable, or predictably surprising, depending on where you stand. With Laxman reporting fit, the selectors only needed to fill the slots currently occupied by Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh [in the latter’s case, I’d think it is about time the selectors made a long term call about his fitness, or lack thereof, for Test cricket]. The committee could have gone in many directions: bringing in Cheteswar Pujara, to see if the much-talked about lad has what it takes to eventually step into the shoes Dravid will one day vacate; bringing in Rohit Sharma, to see if he is finally ready to match his talent with the discipline and commitment required at this level; bringing Suresh Raina into the ranks, swapping a left-hander who can bat, bowl and field with another young talent in the same mould…

In the event, the committee seems to have played safe. Vijay is already in the side; the selectors brought Badrinath in, and a case can be made that he has deserved the call up for his consistent performances at domestic level over the past two, three seasons, and by virtue of the fact that he has a game well suited to Tests. You don’t need to agree that this was the best possible direction for the selectors to go, but you certainly can’t make a case that the selections were flat out wrong. Mithun being brought in, just when he has the wind in his sales, was a good move [though it seems improbable that he will play, just being in the frame, and in the dressing room with the seniors, will do the lad much good]; I wish the selectors had on similar lines punted with Manish Pandey.

The Mithun pick is interesting — and timely — from another aspect. Here’s Harsha [who, incidentally, believes Badri merits the chance to debut], at the tail end of his latest column:

The greater fear though is with the bowling. Ishant Sharma took wickets but looked well short of top form in Bangladesh, Sreesanth is injured, RP Singh hasn’t demanded the world look at him, neither has Irfan Pathan with the ball and Munaf Patel, I’m told, is around somewhere. It leads to a rather scary conclusion. If Zaheer Khan breaks down, India might just be the side to queue up to bat against.

Arising from that, here’s a thought/question: Does India want to go into the first Test with its traditional six batsmen, one keeper, two seam and two spin bowlers formula, or does it want to cover for its inconsistent bowlers by being a batsman short, and lining up Zaheer, Ishant, Mithun, Bajji and Ojha? The five-bowler line up is the one I fancy; I’m fairly certain though that the team will stick to its favorite template.

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26 thoughts on “Why the Eden?

  1. Prem, No way they are going in with 5 bowlers. The Indian batting line-up is way too shaky against genuine pace; and Eden is a fairly good pitch (from the Ind-SL ODI game, I seem to remember some respected commentator saying: “Wish there was a test match on this pitch”…seems like you got your wish!). They will try to ensure the draw; rather than go for the win, at least in the 1st test.

  2. Prem, it’s a pity that the stadium will not be filled due to the renovations. My best cricket experience was watching Laxman and Dravid kick some Aussie behind in that memorable test from the Life member stands with a screaming Eden crowd.

    However, I once I went to watch a game with a normal ticket and I remember that the stands for the common people were in a pretty bad shape. The seats are not comfortable and there is no shade in some parts of the blocks near mid-wicket/cover. I am glad that the CAB is finally doing something about it.

    Here’s hoping that Eden will come back up stronger…..

  3. off-topic, but ummm – “just when he has the wind in his sales,” – wondering what Mithun’s annual numbers were for him to break into the team!

    • I doubt they are picking Mithun for his annual numbers so much as they are punting on current form and the confidence that comes with it, Vijay. It’s a gamble that could pay off big time; the maximum downside is, he will turn out to be fairly ordinary, in which case that is a lesson learnt too.

  4. Well the Gardens deserves a big ticket test match, but yeah I agree not now. Eden Gardens is at its best when you have its 100,000 roaring. One would miss the real Eden with it only being filled by stiff upper lip Club House upper deck member types.

    As an aside, I understand Gardens has promised a sporting deck with some grass being left on the pitch! Look forward to that, though I remember what happened the last time Gardens had a greenish top and yeah we were playing against SA! And remember with significant portions of the stadium having been broken down the wind from Ganges just might be a bit stronger..heh heh I expect good fun!

    • Yeah, I read that and was a bit intrigued. SA has good quicks, but if Ishant is in form and Zaheer maintains his, we have enough firepower to embarrass them, too. It then revolves around whose batting can pull through. Like you say, should be fun — would have been totally great if a lakh people were in the stands, setting up a roar.

  5. One of the best lines I have read in a long time.

    “The committee will ensure that a repeat of the Eden Gardens light disorder is not repeated.”

  6. On the topic of fast bowlers – are we hyping Mithun too much (remember Munaf being the speedster who was going to be our Akhthar) ?I have seen Srinath / GR Viswanath etc hype him as the new speedster(I am in Blore so maybe I see this more). I was seeing the speeds that Mithun was bowling at and he very rarely touched even the high 130s – should we temper our expectation of him ? He was bowling well and has a good bouncer but is unlikely to be a “fast bowler”” – What is your impression of him ?

    • Thing is, in a limited sense Munaf deserved the hype. He was fricking quick when he needed to be. Just that his blood corpuscle count was on the low side — damned hard to wake the man up. But I agree to being startled by that >145 comment — I saw no sign of that on a helpful track during the Ranji game. He does have the tendency to hit the deck hard, getting lift off length. Pace, debatable. Overall, a decent prospect at this point, but IMHO not ready to be installed as the great white hope of Indian fast bowling.

      • Prem,

        Dont you think Vinay Kumar seemed to have been forgotten in all this? I dont have the numbers handy, but I think Vinay and Mithun have similar number of hauls this last season. He took a 5-ver in the Duleep match too and also hang around with bat better. He seemed to be the one always looking like taking wickets in the Ranji final. Mithun had good bursts where he took wickets in a hurry.

  7. I’d bat VVS Laxman at number 3 since Dravid is injured. Vijay can come in at 5, and I really wished the selectors had picked Pandey and/or Pujara, and one of them got to make their debuts.
    As you rightly said though, can’t say the selectors were flat out wrong about Badrinath.

    • Yeah, me too — actually, GG, VS, VVS and SRT coming back to back — assuming a measure of form for all of them — is a prospect to drool about, since all are batsmen who can keep things ticking over, and won’t surrender the momentum. I’d actually seriously consider batting MS at five, and either Vijay or Badri at six: MS can bat, and is invariably inclined to dig in and try and bat big, having another batsman below him gives him that buffer, so he gets to bat with one of the guys above him and when a wicket falls, there is still another batsman to continue building with before he is into the tail.

      • I thought you were of the opinion that we have to find replacements for SRT, RD and VVS before their time comes? If you still believe that, why not try Vijay, who has no chance of opening regularly, to fill in for RD at No.3 now and find out how he fares? Badri should come in at No.6 as a replacement for Yuvraj for the same reason.

        • I still am of that opinion, mate. The piece above is purely against the frame of those who have been picked — and that too for one Test only. An article on what we need to do for the long term is an option; let me find the time and space.

      • Vijay at Number 3 is a pretty good bet. He’s opened the innings credibly, but obviously cannot dislodge Gambhir/Sehwag. I think he should be thrown in at number 3.

  8. Prem,
    I wouldn’t go into THIS test with 5 batsmen simply because Dravid is not playing. If he was playing, Yes.
    JII

  9. Prem,
    If they had picked up Manish Pandey-Cheeka would have been accused of Regionalism-which he is even now! But yes could have been tried.
    On your choice of 5 bowlers-I would give a preference to Misra and Jadeja( I know he is not there in the shortlist) over Bhajji or Ojha,and yes we should have 3 seamers because one of the fast bowlers always runs the risk of injury.
    We could also have an interesting scenario if MSD sits out-we could have 3-4 debutants after a long time in tests.
    Vijay should have a settled place rather than floating,Badri could be tried at Number 3.Raina Could be tried in place of Yuvraj.
    I am not sure Rohit Sharma fitting could be tried when Sachin quits ,maybe Puajara can be tried at the moment.

    • Mahesh: How? Badri is from TN, Cheeka’s home state, and no one is accusing him of parochialism, which hits closer to home than regionalism, no? It is a matter of picking people who clearly merit it; do that, and all those accusations die still born.

      On the other, I’d rather leave out Bajji, too, but then this is SA. Where spin is concerned, it has a tradition of succumbing to reputations, not necessarily form on the day, so who knows? But i agree — Ojha and Mishra could be more potent.

      • Prem,
        Why is it that Bhajji cannot be touched when Sehwag & Zaheer could be dropped? Heck, they dropped-picked-dropped RAHUL DRAVID without any problem. He’s no bigger fish than that. There has to be something more than cricketing reasons here.

      • Prem,
        The accusers don’t look at merit! It is a situation of damned if they do and damned if they don’t.I would have been happy if they had picked Pandey,but really you can’t fault the selectors if they had picked any or all from Badri, Pandey, Pujara, Kaif, Rohit sharma, raina or kohli or left out any of them,as each has for and against.
        While MS has been prolific-His batting has not been blemish free and your suggested line up looks good-VS,GG,VVS,SRT,MV,MS and Badri-this line up can do without RD.
        My argument and just for argument sake is why bring in Vijay if he is not going to open or bat at 3? It may end up damaging his confidence.

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