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In the Garden of Eden

A full view of the Eden Gardens ground taken during the first cricket Test match between England and India at Calcutta, India, on January 30, 1993. Photo: V.V. Krishnan   | Photo Credit: V_V_KRISHNAN

Raju Mukherji is not a cricket chronicler. I wish he was one. Conversations with him mostly revolve around cricket, the glorious cricket of the 1960s and ’70s, and he makes it so lively with his rich collection of anecdotes. He has been an avid student of the game and puts value to the traditions that mark the game. Gradually, these traditions have been eroded but not when Raju Mukherji is in charge.

As match referee in an IPL tie in 2012 he showed he meant business. “With the help of the umpires and the curators, I took a firm step to start a match that would have otherwise been abandoned because of wet ground conditions. We shortened the playing arena by two yards on all sides so that the most affected parts of the ground were beyond the boundary rope. The 70,000 plus crowd were happy with the decision, although some of the players were initially grumbling!” That is Raju Mukherji for you.

All these years, he was silently working on a project. A book on the magnificent Eden Gardens. It is titled “Legend & Romance” and was launched by Chandu Borde and Salim Durani along with Sourav Ganguly. “I handpicked the two former greats (Borde and Durani) because they were the architects of India’s win over England at the Eden Gardens in 1961-62. This was India’s first victory at Eden Gardens,” says Raju.

Knowing Raju and his passion for the game, the product is a must have for every cricket lover. “It took me close to 25 years of research. Actually my mother always thought that we Indians do not give sufficient importance to our own heritage, fellow men etc. Since I was very keen on the history, the laws and literature of cricket, she maintained that I should write on the iconic Eden Gardens, which has helped me to become whatever I am today.”

The book is a collection of anecdotes that make Eden such a fascinating cricket ground. Raju Mukherji’s flair for writing is evident as he takes you on a nostalgic journey with some vintage pictures adding to the lustre. “My parents and elder brother (former Bengal opener Dev Mukherji) were a constant help with their views as they have been watching cricket at Eden since the 1930s. Unfortunately neither parent got to see the result of their constant help and encouragement.”

Known to speak his mind, Raju chose to use his pen critically when writing on the 1990 Ranji Trophy title win that propelled Bengal cricket when the home team won on superior run rate. “But the main issue that rankled people was that the final day’s play had to be abandoned without a ball being bowled on account of overnight rain. Yes, there was some overnight rain in Calcutta, but the fact remained that all the club matches were played at the maidan, although those pitches were uncovered. Ironically, at Eden Gardens, where the best of modern, sophisticated pitch covers were used, there was indeed a huge wet patch on the pitch beneath the covers. The CAB (Cricket Association of Bengal) administration’s image suffered irreparable damage. The Delhi players thought that Bengal had played a dirty trick on them,” wrote Raju.

Most of the photographs in the book have come from the family collection. A few friends and neighbours also contributed some rare photos. He also has some personal memorable moments from the Eden. “As captain of Bengal when I scored 99 against Kapil Dev and Rajinder Goel in a Ranji Trophy quarter-final. Bengal trailed on the first innings but recovered to defeat Haryana. Then Rohan Kanhai’s 256 (in 1959) left an indelible imprint on my eight-year-old mind. How can one forget Gundappa Viswanath’s 50-plus against Australia in 1969? It is as memorable as the VVS Laxman-Rahul Dravid partnership against Australia in 2001.”

The book is a veritable feast of cricket stories and pictures. A fine tribute to an iconic cricket stadium.



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Printable version | Jan 24, 2021 6:02:07 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/in-the-garden-of-eden/article7286456.ece

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