For Shivaji Dutta, watching the game from the comforts of a corporate box is a new experience at the Eden Gardens. He is entitled to a prime seat as a member of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB), but it was so different 49 years ago when the venue resembled a battlefield.
India was playing the West Indies in the second Test of the series. The response to the match was overwhelming. “More people came to watch than could be accommodated,” recalled Dutta.
Obviously the organisers had bungled big time. “It was total chaos. CAB and the police had no clue on crowd management,” said Dutta, who watched the crowd trouble from the pavilion end.
The passionate crowd, eager to watch international stars such as Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Wes Hall and Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, squeezed into the stadium even as police struggled to control the fast deteriorating situation. The West Indies ended the first day at 214 for four.
The Eden Gardens exploded on the second day of the contest. There was not an inch of vacant space inside. Play had not even started when the spectators spilled onto the field and trouble started in the stands. The police resorted to lathicharge and one of the galleries was set on fire.
The West Indies opener Conrad Hunte displayed the valour to retrieve his team’s flag. The crowd trouble spread to all the stands and there was pandemonium.
The visiting players fled the Eden. “Some of them ran to the Great Eastern Hotel,” said Dutta, who was 27 when he witnessed riots at the Eden on his first day at the iconic cricket venue. “I had just returned home after finishing my studies in England,” he said.
Extra day’s play
Keeping alive the spirit of the game, the West Indies agreed to continue the match at the behest of Frank Worrell. “For the first time an extra day was added,” said Dutta.
India lost the match but Eden, the crowd trouble notwithstanding, managed to keep its status in place.
CAB has learnt its lessons from the fiasco. There was improved management in the sale of tickets and crowd control. But as Dutta recalled CAB was locked in a series of litigation by the spectators who had suffered because of the callousness of some officials.
“You could not leave your seat because you stood no chance of regaining it,” lamented Dutta. The seats are numbered today even though the capacity of the stadium has been reduced by almost 20,000.
In another instance, 32 years later, a Test between India and Pakistan was completed in-camera following crowd trouble.
Dutta was not amongst the spectators. “I was out of town,” he said.
Like most die-hard fans in this sports-loving city, he has made it a point to be at the Eden for almost all cricket events.
As Dutta says, it is a pleasure coming to the Eden, a far cry from that day in 1967!