Some call it the Mecca of Cricket; others compare it to the Colosseum, the largest amphitheatre in the ancient Roman world, where some of the bloodiest gladiatorial fights have taken place. Eden Gardens deserves all these and more. It is one of the greatest arenas in the world, and some of the most glorious and some of the most tightly-fought games in international cricket over the last 80 years (the first Test match was played in 1934 between the Douglas Jardine-led England and the CK Nayudu-led India) have been played here.
The early years
But the history of Eden Gardens actually began 70 years before the first Test match, in 1864, as a place where Calcutta Cricket Club (CCC) could play its matches. This venerable institution was established in 1792.
The history of the establishment of Eden Gardens is closely linked with Calcutta Cricket Club. The club used to play its matches in the area where Eden Gardens now stands, but which was then just open land. In 1840, Lord Auckland, the then governor-general, decided to turn the area into a garden and park. It was christened Auckland Circus Gardens, then rechristened Eden Gardens, after the sisters of Lord Auckland, Emily and Fanny Eden, in the early 1850s. In 1864, the eastern perimeter of the park was expanded so that CCC could play its matches without disturbing the park visitors, and that is how the year has come to be regarded as the year of establishment of the cricket stadium, Eden Gardens. The pavilion was initially a thatched stand, then replaced by one made of the finest Burma teak.
By the end of the nineteenth century, cricket started to become popular among the local population, as much as it had become among the Parsis and Hindus in Mumbai earlier. The locals were thrilled at the sight of Englishmen playing cricket, which resembled indigenous games such as danguli and pittu. And in the Kolkata of that time, it was mostly Eden Gardens where cricket was played at.
The stadium today – the spirit remains
Today, the stadium and the cricketing atmosphere is a far cry from those days. Gone are the days of spending relaxed winter afternoons watching a game being played out on the emerald green. Frenzy and excitement of spectators define modern cricket. And for the players, it is tough competition. The 125-by-25 feet teak pavilion is now a 66,000-capacity arena, and just as in the gladiatorial arenas of Roman times, the cheering and shouting can get to the players.
But whether a hundred years earlier or now, cricket is the ultimate winner. Eden Gardens does not belong to India alone, but to the world of cricket. It was here that the West Indies vice-captain, Conrad Hunte, risked his life to bring down the flag of the West Indies Federation in the midst of the flames on that fateful day of January 1967. It was also that Steve Waugh sportingly waved six and did not appeal for a catch when his right foot had barely touched the boundary rope at this very ground. These and many more such actions have come to define the spirit of cricket at Eden Gardens, the spirit of fairness, the spirit to fight and overcome barriers. Despite the many changes, Eden Gardens will continue to mesmerise cricketers and cricket-lovers alike.
The New Zealand-Zimbabwe match at the 1987 Reliance World Cup (The Hindu)
150th anniversary celebrations
To celebrate the 150th year of inception of the historic Eden Gardens, Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) today released 5,000 envelopes and stamps with photos of the world famous stadium along with its long-time president Jagmohan Dalmiya. A stamp will be affixed on a medium-sized envelope and put inside a cover, which will carry photos of former captains of Bengal on it. Four hundred and seventeen sheets of stamps, each with 12 stamps, have been printed.
Earlier, on October 16, a book, Eden Gardens: Legend & Romance, penned by the former Bengal cricketer, Raju Mukherjee was released. The book covers the entire journey of the ground, which came into existence as the Auckland Circus Gardens, to its present day. On that day, a documentary, Eternal Eden, chronicling the historic journey of the ground, which, besides cricket greats of several generations, witnessed football legend Pele in action in 1977 playing for the New York Cosmos against Mohun Bagan in an exhibition tie, was also screened. To mark the 150th anniversary, 150 of the oldest members of CAB have also been felicitated.
EDEN GARDENS: FACTS AND FIGURES
- 1st official Test – Jan 5-8, 1934 (also the 2nd official Test in India) (England defeated India)
- 1st Test with winner – Nov 2-6, 1956; Australia defeated India
- 1st Test won by India – Dec 30, 1961-Jan 4, 1962; defeated England
- Largest margin of victory for India – Mar 18-21, 1998; defeated Australia by an innings and 219 runs
- Highest Test total – 657/7 declared (by India against Australia in 2001)
- Highest career Test runs at Eden – VVS Laxman
- Most career Test wickets at Eden – Harbhajan Singh
- 1st ODI – Feb 18, 1987 (Pakistan defeated India)
- 1st ODI won by India – Defeated West Indies on January 2, 1988
- Highest ODI total – 317/3 (by India against Sri Lanka on December 24, 2009)
- Highest career ODI runs at Eden – Sachin Tendulkar
- Most career ODI wickets at Eden – Anil Kumble
- 1st T20 International – October 29, 2011 (England defeated India)
Written by Anushtup Haldar for Team M3.tv
Lead image: sportskeeda.com