Varun Shetty in Kolkata


The BCCI’s idea to host the first day-night Test on Indian soil came to life only about three weeks ago, but it is now very much here. It has whirred at Virat Kohli’s three-second agreement, sputtered in wait of the BCB’s confirmation, grabbed the attention of the two most powerful politicians in the Bengali-speaking world, and done it all so quickly that paratroopers might be enlisted to deliver a soft landing.

Kolkata’s palette is firmly blue and white, but there is a ball-shaped pink blimp hovering over Eden Gardens that signals the big event. It draws you to a ticket counter that now only serves as a second step after you’ve booked online.

The communication is clear: No offline ticket sale. No cash sale.

There is a line nonetheless, and every few minutes, a new person begins negotiations through the gate. A portly man with a handlebar mustache hangs around, claiming he can arrange tickets to Block B. They’ll cost INR 500 – that’s a 350-rupee premium that no one is paying him, not even in these circumstances.

Four days have been sold out, says Sourav Ganguly; the ticketing partner’s website shows that season passes across all price categories are gone. At least 5000 of those are in the hands of travelling Bangladesh fans.

One of them is Zeeshan Hasib, 48, who runs a financial consultancy firm, and who played for Sylhet Division in the 80s, before Bangladesh gained Test or first-class status. He’s never watched Bangladesh away from home before, but this won’t be his first slice of history involving an India fixture.

“I have watched Bangladesh play their inaugural Test match back in November 2000,” Hasib says. “In Kolkata, Bangladesh will be playing their first day-night Test match – and I think it is a historic event and I just wanted to be a part of the history. I will watch only the first two days of the Test match and will be back in Dhaka for work.

“I am not wary about the fact that the first Test ended in three days. India is a tough team to fight with, especially in India where you will find most of the visiting teams struggling. They are the No. 1 Test team in the world. I am, however, expecting Bangladesh to fight back in Kolkata.”

These are also the sentiments of the gentlemen we bump into on Wednesday, wearing Bangladesh limited-overs jerseys as they walk through Sudder Street. Anyone who knows Kolkata knows this isn’t a particularly rare sight. It is a popular tourist destination, and the fact that it hosts branches of famous Dhaka restaurants means the tourists are usually Bangladeshi.

A part of this particular group on Wednesday is Bullu Das, who has been a helper in many capacities around cricket in Mirpur, mostly as a photographer’s attendant. He’s also something of a cricket magnet. He’s everywhere – serving tea in Dhaka, in Khulna, to MS Dhoni, to Sachin Tendulkar. Bullu once claimed he was Tendulkar’s lucky charm. It was only natural he showed up.

“I will witness history,” Bullu says. “I came here by bus, and it took nine hours through the Benapole border. I am staying around New Market [close to Sudder Street]. I will be having my meals there too.”

He plans to meet Dada (Ganguly) and then the Bangladesh players in their hotel across the ground. It’s unlikely, but this is a man who once convinced Lionel Messi to take a photo with him in Dhaka.

Still, it’s not an easy task. Just before sunset, Ganguly’s car departs and for five minutes before, no one is allowed within 50 yards of the CAB office gate at the stadium. If they were, one of the things they would have been forced to think about was which of the two mascots was manning the entrance – Pinku or Tinku.

Whichever one it was, they only arrived much later in the day, and were among those artistic flourishes made for this Test that began to pop out more in the fading light. Like the various versions of scoreboard plates of Liton Das and Virat Kohli. White with pink text, white with black text, black with pink text – the ball isn’t the only thing being scrutinised for its visibility.

One of the benefits of playing cricket in the evening is that the ad rates are a lot more lucrative. It’s not surprising, then, that amid the various work-in-progress parts of the stadium, a primary sponsor’s banner is already up, adjusted to pink, visible from everywhere. It is, perhaps the only other area of concentrated pink than the pavilion stand, where many members of the press have unwittingly become part of the show by turning up to the ground wearing pink.

Someone jokes about how over-the-top things get when Australia hosts a pink Test in Sydney, in January. You can’t help but wonder that if the two recent, radical ideas in Indian cricket – this Test, and Kohli’s suggestion of five constant Test venues – come together, then Kolkata could bring a new facet to what over the top, or even what a pink Test, means.

For now, this event – let’s face it, it’s an event now – is humming along subtly, and the buzz two days before the game is largely from Bangladesh’s fans. Three weeks is not enough time to turn a city around, or build a culture around something. But if manic turnarounds can happen inside 36 hours at any Test venue, this one is it.

Additional reporting by Mohammad Isam

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