Has Eden Gardens become a pawn in cricket board politics?

By Sirshendu Panth, IANS
Friday, February 4, 2011

KOLKATA - Kolkatans could not have imagined even in their worst dreams that they would not watch India playing a World Cup match at Eden Gardens. Unable to fathom the real reason for the decision, they say they can only speculate and feel the hallowed stadium has become a pawn in the power politics of the cricket board.

Heartbroken cricket lovers are now blaming the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) for not completing the work in time.

The ground steeped in history — having hosted India’s second Test match way back in 1934 and the World Cup final 24 years back — seems headed for more tough tests as uncertainty looms over the three remaining matches of the mega event next month. The bone of contention is the roof over the two new galleries and the International Cricket Council (ICC) insisting that the work be completed.

However, CAB treasurer Bablu Ganguly said: “We had made it clear to the ICC in December itself that we won’t cover these blocks. Then they kept quiet and now they are raising the issue all of a sudden.”

Said an aide of CAB chief Jagmohan Dalmiya: ICC stadium consultant Eugene van Vuuren had told us earlier that the roof is not mandatory. In fact, our contractors suggested we make the structures to hold the covering. And that itself is looking like a great design. We will do the roofing after the Cup.”

The roof dispute apart, the slow pace of work by the contractors and the lack of proper supervision are being cited as the key reasons for Eden Gardens losing out on the match, which will cost CAB Rs.5 crore as match fee. The loss could rise to Rs.20 crore if all the four games are taken away.

“Supervision should have been better. Even the stadium committee chairman, directly responsible for the renovation work, was absent when the ICC team carried out the Jan 25 inspection,” said former CAB joint secretary Samar Pal, a long time Dalmiya opponent.

Pal also pulled up CAB for being short-sighted. Seven IPL matches were held at Eden. And work was halted for about one-and-a-half months. They should have avoided hosting the IPL matches, but they only looked at the Rs 3.5 crore rent accrued.

“Look at Mumbais Wankhede stadium, which also underwent major renovation. No IPL matches were staged there. The authorities understood the urgency of the World Cup. The Eden Gardens should not have hosted the South Africa Test in February last year,” said Pal.

A top CAB official argued that the venue would have suffered in the rotation roster for Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODI) if it had not hosted the 2009 ODI and the Test against South Africa last year.

“We had to host the IPL as Kolkata Knight Riders is our city team led by our own Sourav Ganguly. Had we not held the IPL matches, there would have been a huge outcry from the local fans,” he said.

The Dalmiya aide claimed it was mandatory to hold at least two first class matches on a ground in the run-up to the Cup. “What about Wankhede? Did it hold any matches?”

Another CAB official saw in the move a continuation of the seven-year battle between ICC chief Sharad Pawar and Dalmiya for which “the citys cricket fans have been made to suffer now.”

“Pawar can never forget the public humiliation of having lost out on the BCCI presidential race in 2004 to Ranbir Singh Mahendra following Dalmiyas casting vote. Though he won next year, all this while he has not managed to get back at Dalmiya. The World Cup provided him the opportunity,” he added.

“How else can one explain the 14-day grace to Wankhede to complete renovation? We wanted only 10, but even that was not granted.”

However, Pal disagreed. “Pawar is a national figure and a former BCCI president. When his own country is hosting the Cup, why should he play foul with Eden? That will only end up showing his own country in poor light.”

Former national selector and West Bengal’s only surviving Ranji Trophy winning captain Sambaran Banerjee, a regular visitor to the Eden Gardens, said: “Things have been handled very unprofessionally. Last year between March and May the work really slowed down.”

Ex-Indian soccer captain P.K.Banerjee said thousands of sports lovers were feeling let down. “Something, somewhere must have gone wrong. But more than doing a post-mortem I feel sorry for the cricket fans.”

Now everybody seem to be waiting for Feb 7 when the ICC inspection team will decide whether the iconic stadium — which hosted the finals of the Hero Cup in 1993 and the MRF World Series (Nehru Cup) title clash in 1989 — would be fit at least for the three remaining World Cup games.

(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at s.panth@ians.in)

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