Eden, sweet Eden

Inzamam, now playing for the Indian Cricket League, at a training session. His heart still beats for Pakistan.-AP

At Eden Gardens, you can almost see the footmarks of the greats from the past, and listen to the heartbeat of the ground where the game’s spirit lives on, notes S. Dinakar.

Inzamam,

“Tendulkar’s 50 in ...” thunders scorer Abdur Rahman. “They have heard it in Karachi,” quips Pakistan chief selector Salahuddin Ahmed.

Laughter breaks out.

Yes, Rahman and his booming voice continue to dominate the Eden Gardens press box.

Eden Gardens, like much of Kolkata, enthrals. You can almost see the footmarks of the greats from the past, and listen to the heartbeat of the ground where the game’s spirit lives on.

Almost magically, everything appears enlarged — from 35mm to cinemascope. Great grounds can broaden vision. They can also inspire. The players are focussed and the scribes tend to concentrate just a little harder on the action in the middle.

“This ground has character,” acknowledges Ahmed. The structure is simple but aesthetically pleasing. Eden Gardens has understated elegance. Kolkata too oozes character. Buildings, not clouded by the mists of time, continue to glow even if they have not been freshly painted. They also carry the changing eras with them — from the Raj to modern governance. The yellow cabs are ubiquitous in the city. The tongas can be spotted too.

Despite apprehensions, the city is serene and peaceful. The security, however, is tight. The cops are taking no chances.

Dusk sets in quickly in the East, and the markets are throbbing. The nights are long in Kolkata. Time, however, is in short supply for Pakistan. Its pace spearhead Shoaib Akhtar is admitted to a local hospital with a chest infection. Skipper Shoaib Malik has a twisted ankle and a few others are down with flu.

Senior Pakistani journalist Abdul Majid Bhatti, Sports Editor, ‘Daily Jung’, has an interesting tale to narrate. A big man, he has eyes that laugh. “Inzamam-ul-Haq has been trying to contact Shoaib Malik for giving him advice, but has not been able to reach him. Shoaib has changed his mobile number,” reveals Mr. Bhatti. The Pakistani great, Inzamam, is in India, parading his smooth-stroking skills in the Indian Cricket League (ICL). Yet, according to Bhatti, his heart is still with the Pakistan team.

Bhatti, incidentally, was with Inzamam in Jamaica, working on his column when the duo received the shocking news: “Bob Woolmer found unconscious in his hotel room.” Among the first to break the news, he shudders when he narrates what the Pakistan team subsequently went through.

Bhatti and his journalist colleagues underwent another harrowing experience in New Delhi. “We had to catch the Shatabdi Express in the morning and a fellow journalist from Pakistan failed to turn up at the hotel lobby. We and the hotel staff knocked at his room for half an hour without any response. I could feel the Woolmer incident happening all over again. Then, our friend opens the door groggily. He had overslept!”

Well, all is well that ends well. The Pakistani journalists manage to board the train — in the nick of time.

A dented Rawalpindi Express runs out of steam at the Eden Gardens though. Still under the weather, Akhtar disappoints.

In the press box, some of the Pakistani journalists are still waltzing. Such is the effect of singing and dancing with the famous vocalist Usha Uthup at a function organised by the Kolkata Sports Journalist Club. “It was a great evening,” says Bhatti. “You see we (Indians and Pakistanis) are the same people. Only the governments are different.”

Eden Gardens sports a different look; the stands are not completely full. The CAB media coordinator V. Kumar explains that the crowd will be bigger on weekends. “The fans now have the option of daily tickets,” he says. The official figures for day one — around 44,500 spectators — would still do any Test match arena proud. The crowd for Saturday is bigger and it spots a tiger of the Royal Bengal kind. Sourav Ganguly notches up his first Test hundred before home crowd. Kolkata’s favourite son has delivered. The feisty cricketer does have the eye of the tiger. Ganguly continues to roar, much like Abdur Rehman.