A special ground for Laxman and Azharuddin
There is something about Eden Gardens: an electric ambience, and an audience that recognises and appreciates quality performance, even if it comes from the visiting team. When full, the venue is transformed into a theatre of joy.
A cricket contest at Eden Gardens can be an experience of a life time, for player and spectator.
Just ask Mohammad Azharuddin. Or V.V.S. Laxman.
Laxman made 10 Test appearances at Eden Gardens and Azharuddin seven. Laxman crafted a career-best 281against Australia in that epic match in 2001, and Azharuddin produced a 110 on debut against England in 1985. Both have five centuries each at the venue.
Of course, Azharuddin was to produce a gem seven years later when he cracked a sensational 182 against the English. The 281 and the 182 are two regal batting demonstrations that continue to evoke passionate discussions even today in the paras (neighbourhoods) of Kolkata.
“There are certain grounds where you know you can do nothing wrong. For me, Eden Gardens is the one,” says Laxman.
“For me too,” says Azharuddin. “I don’t really know the reason but I always looked forward to batting at Eden Gardens.”
He was 14 when he first played at Eden Gardens in a Duleep Trophy match. “I was in awe. It was a huge ground,” he recalls.
Azharuddin’s captaincy was on the line in 1993. He was given the job for just that Test. His response was a knock of 182, but the 141 against Pakistan in 1987 remains close to his heart.
“It was my toughest hundred to make. The conditions (ball was moving a lot) and the pace attack (Imran Khan and Wasim Akram) made batting a very difficult task. The applause echoes in my memory to this day,” recalls Azharuddin.
No different was the 281 for Laxman.
“I remember every moment, every shot. It is a pleasant dream that unfolds whenever I reflect on that match.
“Eden Gardens is a very special ground for me. Terrific ambience, and the pitch is ideal for Test cricket…and then the people make it very special too. You can feel it from the time you arrive in Kolkata. The entire city becomes involved in the match,” gushes Laxman.
Laxman raves about curator Probir Mukherjee’s work.
“The pitch suits my style of batting. The ball comes on nicely, and the outfield is unbelievably fast. It adds value to your shots,” he says.
Azhar says: “I always found the pitch worthy of producing quality cricket. You play a shot and just watch the ball scorch the turf. It gives you indescribable joy.”
Laxman once said he would have loved to play an innings like Azharuddin’s 182.
And, Azharuddin returns the compliment. “I would be proud if I could bat like Laxman in that 281,” says the former India captain.
Laxman says: “It has an imposing structure, actually imploring you to give your best. Kolkata has a great sports culture.
“Yes, the ground staff is very understanding. In fact, nothing changes at Eden Gardens, the staff at the ground and the dressing room, even the caterers. I love a visit to Eden Gardens.”
“The ground staff is so polite and kind. It is the best ground in India,” says Azharuddin.