We are in humid, smoggy, crowded, charming Kolkata. There’s been a drizzle and we are in an air-conditioned bus with a police escort vehicle clearing the way for us, so at the moment charming is in focus as we stare out of the window. PK and I are having a timid disagreement over the likeability of food in Kolkata. I love the taste of mutton cooked in mustard oil which PK clearly does not, though rosogollas are universally popular.
We are heading towards our hotel where we will spend the next two days in preparation for the Knight Riders. The team bus has settled into a pattern, though today it misses PC, who usually takes the back corner and is chirpy and reticent in turns. He will join us at the hotel, as he is not arriving from Chandigarh like the rest of us. Paul and Abhishek listen to music on their phones as do many others who are not chatting or city-gazing. Bipul and Mandeep have developed a recent habit of breaking into Punjabi duets. DK is playing with 6 month old Nivaan as he usually does when traveling with his family.
The team has had a couple of days off after Delhi and has a relaxed look before the fixture congestion begins. I am itching to get a look at the Eden Gardens. All the others have played there and are bemused by my excitement. Paul is clear that Mohali is the stadium he prefers. I haven’t scored a hundred at either venue, so can’t empathize with Paul’s bias.
On Thursday morning, David Miller is coaxed out of bed by fellow Durbanian Dino – who ensures we are more secure than Air Force One, by the promise of a breakfast to be cherished. It’s a good thing that the morning meal is suited for good appetites because the day is demanding as it progresses. Pool and gym followed by recovery sessions for some and an intense practice session in the evening. My day is easier and I utilize it to roam around the hotel lobby in team colors to get appreciative glances.
I walk into the team bus a sheepish minute late when we head for practice but my expression changes when I walk into the dressing room at the Garden. PCA Mohali, DY Patil Mumbai, Rajiv Gandhi Hyderabad, Kotla Delhi and now this. This is the shortest of walks from where you get off the bus at the entrance. An unassuming door opens into a broad well lit corridor which you realize is the dressing room as soon as you step in. It opens into a large room with comfortable chairs, a massage room and a wall mounted TV. While the others open kitbags and change shoes, I walk out of the other door and down a cemented path to the dugout. It is an imposing and grand stadium, though that has been true of each one I have visited. The difference here is that the upper-tiers are much further from the batsman than any other place I have seen. Other stadia have expanded vertically, Eden Gardens packs in people on a gentle slope.
Practice starts with some warming up and stretching with a fifteen minute game of football, aptly played in Kolkata ending the session. The group is divided into two teams for the football game and the bib-less team comprising the Ryans, Tim Brennan, PK and others beat the bibs who have Gilly, PC, Rimmo amongst their ranks. The winning team is called Barcelona for the rest of the evening while the others are named W**kers.
The net practice is typical of every session. Each batsman faces spinners and fast bowlers in turns with each bowler putting in a timed shift. I move around taking pictures and am happy with the result I get in the fulgent floodlights. I keep coming in the way of photo journalists there to shoot the event and while I am apologetic, I will admit that I get a kick out of being in positions that is forbidden for them. The practice is being held in the stadium itself, unlike in Mohali where net sessions are usually held in a separate area. On a third pitch, Jason Gillespie has placed markers on the pitch and a group of bowlers works to put the ball in the right areas.
There is some fun to be had at the end with a Barcelona vs W**kers six-hitting contest. Team logistics manager, Capt. Varoon throws two deliveries at each player whose sole objective is to hit a six. W**kers have Gilly, Paul, Nayar, Shaun and other half-dozen hitters in their ranks while Barcelona is filled with bowlers and all-rounders. But they are Barcelona for a good reason and they beat the W**kers by 10-9. PK and David Miller hit the biggest sixes. Clearly one enjoyed his breakfast and the other is a closet lover of Bengali food. I did spot him eating chaat on the sly before.