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Cricket from the gallery

By Harish Kotian in Kolkata
Last updated on: March 17, 2005 00:22 IST
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Which is the best place and time to enjoy cricket?

The answer: an India-Pakistan Test at the Eden Gardens, when the Indian batting at its fluent best.

At most Test venues seldom does one find a full house on day one of a Test. But the Eden Gardens is different. On Wednesday, day one of the second Test between India and Pakistan, the 100,000 capacity stadium was bursting at the seams.

At the start of play, most of the stands were half-filled. But once news of Virender Sehwag's heroics, which gave the Indian innings a launching pad, spread through the narrow lanes of Kolkata, the influx of fans increased.

You suddenly found the stands filling up. It was as brisk as the runs that flowed from the blades of the Indian batting maestros.

By the lunch, the stadium was almost full.

An hour into the match and it was clear that a run feast was on the cards. It turned out no different, except that India ruined the script in the final session, losing four quick wickets.

Flags flew high and the sound of horns and whistles was deafening. Every Sehwag run was greeted with a huge roar from the crowd. The appreciation grew even louder when the ball crossed the boundary.

"Aur ek chouka, chakha (one more boundary or six)"

Sitting next to me during the second session was Pritam Mitra, a local schoolboy. The 13-year-old had rushed to the ground straight from an examination.

"I have been following cricket since the last seven years. I love to watch India whenever they play at the Eden Gardens, and I try to come here whenever I can," said Mitra.

He had an Indian flag, which he waved after every boundary or a six, or on a batsman reaching a milestone.

Asked how much the flag meant to him, he replied: "I have prepared this Indian tricolour myself. We have a sewing shop in Kolkata and with my brother's help I have made this. I bring it to the ground every time I come."

Indeed, the flag really meant a lot to the lad. As he prepared to leave minutes before the close, he neatly folded it and tucked it into his schoolbag.

But while it was all fun in the stands, for security personnel it was a tough time as they braved the hot sun with their helmets on.

"The helmets have become so hot, you cannot even touch it. But we have to wear it at all times. All our top officers are here, so we follow all the rules," a security man said.

Kolkata being in the eastern part of the country, the sun sets earlier than in most parts. Thus, spectators started trooping out well before the last few overs of the day were bowled.

"It will be such a commotion if we leave at the end. There will be a huge crowd at the end. It is better to leave early, otherwise, later on, even the buses will be full," said Suman, an office-goer.

The Kolkata police has ensured top-class security for both the teams. The entire area around the main entrance of the Eden Gardens is cordoned off. Only journalists holding proper media accreditation can access the area, while others have to face the wrath of the tough policemen.

At the end of the day's play, policemen on horseback cordoned off the playing area to make sure no one got to the ground or the players.

"We are not taking any chances," said a policeman.

Certainly, they left nothing to chance.

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Harish Kotian in Kolkata

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