The snapshot had a certain amount of irony. Sourav Ganguly, the Cricket Association of Bengal’s (CAB) president-designate, walking barefoot and his trousers rolled up, overseeing the recovery job at Eden Gardens after a spell of sharp showers in the early afternoon. It rained at 1pm in Kolkata that lasted barely 25 minutes. The local Met office recorded a rainfall of 14.2 mm. At 9.30pm, when after third inspection, umpires Anil Chaudhary and Vineet Kulkarni, in consultation with match referee Chris Broad, called off the third T20 international between India and South Africa, the outfield was still soggy and the super-soppers were rolling.
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It mattered little in the context of the series, for it had already been decided with the visitors taking it 2-0. But in the grand scheme of things, the abandonment put a serious question mark over Eden Gardens’ ability to host the World T20 final on April 3 next year. April is when the Nor’wester arrives in the city. This venue has had an appalling record in terms of ground management when it pours. The list of recent damp squibs – the Ranji Trophy fixture between Bengal and Baroda from October 27-30, 2013, the IPL 7 Qualifier between Kolkata Knight Riders and Kings XI Punjab on May 27, 2014, the final day of the Ranji Trophy match between Bengal and Mumbai on December 31, 2014, the IPL 8 match between KKR and Rajasthan Royals on April 26 this year and the T20 international on Thursday — will attest the failures.
A collective responsibility
Today’s abandonment was down to callousness. They had only covered the main square and bowlers’ run-up despite the forecast of rain. The outfield was left exposed and once it became wet, there was very little chance of the game happening. Ganguly defended curator Prabir Mukherjee and ground staff, saying it was not “solely” their responsibility. “When we are hosting an international match, everyone (in the association) gets involved and it becomes a collective responsibility.”
A ground with a better drainage system would have comfortably allowed at least a truncated match, if not the full 40 overs. Eden Gardens’ nature of soil also didn’t help. As reported by The Indian Express on July 9, the BCCI had sent a mail, asking the CAB to overhaul the Eden outfield and improve drainage system before the World T20. It followed the IPL washout. “The BCCI’s advice is to increase the sand content of the soil. We don’t have any problems. If Mr Mukherjee thinks a course correction is required, we will do it,” Ganguly had told this paper then.
The BCCI’s East Zone curator Ashish Bhowmick had suggested the CAB to follow other state associations and change the soil content. “Look at Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mohali…Coring has now become a routine at almost every cricket ground. We use Pro Core 648 machines to bore holes that are about four to six inches deep. Clay is taken out and we fill them with sand. This is the best way to remove surface water,” Bhowmick had said.
The CAB has installed three new pumps since to remove surface water, but with the soil being made of silt clay, it didn’t make much of a difference. At around Rs 3-4 lakh, and in less than a fortnight’s time, they could have increased the sand content. So far the CAB hierarchy has listened to the 84-year-old Mukherjee who has had resisted the change. Even after today’s washout he refused to budge. “I thought the ground was playable, but at the end of the day it was the umpires’ decision.” The CAB has to take a call, for the ICC, too, would be keeping a close watch now.
India will host the World T20 with Nagpur, Mohali, New Delhi, Dharamsala, Mumbai, Chennai Bangalore and Kolkata have already been selected as match venues. And every centre except Kolkata has better facilities in terms on rain management. The ICC has the provision to shift the venue after its final inspection, likely in December-January.
If any venue doesn’t qualify, then all matches from that ground move to the alternate centre. Eden had suffered humiliation before, when the 2011 World Cup game between India and England was shifted out because the CAB failed meet the ICC deadline for the renovation work. The association, under the new management, should be more alert this term.
Today, Dhoni rued the missed opportunity to try a different combination. India had decided to bring in Ajinkya Rahane, Stuart Binny and Amit Mishra for this game ahead of the five-match ODI series that starts on Sunday. “We wanted to make changes in the side. In fact, we were supposed to make three changes; change a bit the batting order and try out different stuff. It’s sad that we didn’t get to play,” the skipper said at the post-match presentation.
“To have an abandoned game at Eden Gardens is most disappointing because of the crowd. These are circumstances that are not entirely in your control. The umpires know what’s the best for both sides. They know the one-day series is coming up two days from now,” India team director Ravi Shastri said.
“The problem in Kolkata is that you have had a lot of rain, and the ground can only take so much rain. So, whatever it rained in that one hour was so heavy that water was sitting on the top. If the same rain had happened in February or March, it would have gone straight down. They would have taken all these into the account plus the crowd. We would have wanted a match but these are unforeseen things. We waited for more than an hour. It’s unbelievable,” he added.
More than 25,000 fans turned up despite the fact that it was a dead rubber. When the documentary on the late CAB and BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya and South African anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela were shown on the giant screen, there were hardly 5,000 left in the stands. The game was already over without a ball being bowled.