Kolkata Test: A Ballad of East and West

Shamik Chakrabarty
Many Bangladeshi players, including Mushfiqur Rahim, played age-group cricket at Eden Gardens.

The novelty of a day-night Test on Indian soil aside, everything else at the upcoming India-Bangladesh Test will likely be more of the same. An extra coat of lacquer on the pink ball to aid swing, a greener pitch that might result in exaggerated seam movement, dew and the twilight zone, a period that players dread because of the reduced visibility factor — all these issues are relevant when there’s a battle of equals. But between India and Bangladesh, the gulf in Test cricket is so wide that the hosts are expected to make light of the obstacles that a day-night Test could present.

On Wednesday, BCCI president Sourav Ganguly voiced his excitement that first four days of the Eden Test is a sell-out. Then again, Bangladesh would do well if they can take the game that far. In good batting conditions at Indore, they lost inside three days even after India had dropped a few sitters in both innings. So red or pink, the visitors’ degree of difficulty remains the same.

That doesn’t mean Bangladesh are an afterthought in the upcoming contest. Their weakness doesn’t make the affair any less significant for them.

A common thread

And yet, an India versus Bangladesh Test in Kolkata is special. Bangladesh have been playing Test cricket since 2000. They had to wait for nearly two decades to play a Test in the city where their national poet Kazi Nazrul Islam had established himself as an anti-colonial revolutionary through his literary works. This is where Rabindranath Tagore was born and bred and laid out his lyrical oeuvres including Amar Sonar Bangla — Bangladesh’s national anthem. Tagore wrote and composed the national anthem of both India and Bangladesh. So whenever the two teams play, the Nobel Laureate remains a common thread.

The pink balls that will be used in Kolkata have been manufactured by SG, an Indian company.

The Radcliffe Line divided the same people and same culture in 1947. Seventy-two years down the line, Kolkata or Bengal, like the Punjab region, still have a great many people who feel nostalgic about their ancestral homeland on the other side of the border. East Bengal Club secretary Kalyan Majumdar, in fact, bears a grudge that his ancestors were uprooted. “No, no, we don’t see any emotional connect with Bangladesh or their cricket team. When you have your past generations uprooted from their birthplace, anger had to be the only recourse. As for us, our generation and our children, we are Indians and we don’t relate ourselves to Bangladesh in any way. We were very happy to see India’s resounding victory at Indore. We would be very happy to see India roll over Bangladesh here,” Majumdar told The Indian Express.

His forefathers migrated from Noakhali in erstwhile East Bengal. Majumdar, an eminent writer, quoted William Wordsworth to describe his family’s past — “emotion recollected in tranquillity”. He helms a football club that still carries its pre-Partition name. “Our fan base no longer sees the East Bengal Club as an association for those who came here after the Partition. Far from it. But the name hasn’t been changed because of the fond nostalgia.”

Former Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) joint-secretary Subir Ganguly, also an ex-East Bengal official, concurred. “There’s absolutely no sentiment attached,” he said. But Ganguly also agreed with the “fond nostalgia” part.

Majumdar opined that even the ‘Bengali-connect’ bit has become passé. “That feeling existed till the 1970s. Now, in the era of globalisation, youngsters see themselves as Indians first and members of the world next,” he said.

Return to alma mater

As for the Bangladesh players, a lot them have returned to the place where they played cricket as kids. Under the late Jagmohan Dalmiya, the CAB had an exchange programme with the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) and the likes of Mushfiqur Rahim, Mominul Haque, Liton Das and Mohammad Mithun, and also Tamim Iqbal and Shakib Al Hasan, came here to play matches as U-14s and U-16s.

“Of course this is a special occasion for us. We waited 19 years to play a Test at Eden. For the players, emotions will evaporate once the match starts, but we will cherish the memory of this game,” said a Bangladesh team official.

Coming back to Dalmiya, he was instrumental in bringing Bangladesh to the Test fold.

https://indianexpress.com/article/sports/cricket/buzz-in-india-camp-pink-ball-will-kill-spin-reverse-swing-6127869/

“Even much before Bangladesh got Test status, the relationship between the BCB and the CAB was at a different level. I fondly remember the love that my father had received when the ICC Knockout tournament was held there in 1998. That was the first major ICC global tournament, which was also organised to generate funds, for the ICC didn’t have any funds at that point time,” Avishek, Dalmiya’s son, told this paper.

The knockout tournament was the opening gambit, with an eye to take Test cricket to Bangladesh. “The CAB had sent its curator and ground staff to ensure the (ICC) tournament was successfully organised. From that point of time the whole initiative that Bangladesh should get Test status started. In 2000, which was my father’s final year as the ICC president, Test status was given to Bangladesh despite some objections from certain nations. The Asian bloc supported the move and eventually it was a unanimous decision. So obviously, it has been a very long wait (to host Bangladesh for a Test) as far as Eden Gardens is concerned. And it’s a very nostalgic moment for all of us here. All the old memories are back again, which makes one emotional,” Avishek said.

It’s befitting that Bangladesh are part of this historic occasion — the first-ever day-night Test in India at Eden. Just that a full house would hope the visitors show some stomach for a fight.