After a gap of more than 2 years , Eden Gardens in Kolkata , once again gets a chance to host a cricket test match. Since the memorable test match victory in the spring of 2001 , when the mighty Australians under Steve Waugh lost the match even after enforcing the follow on, Eden Gardens has been deprived of its annual test match thanks to some step motherly treatment by the BCCI management who were at loggerheads with the local association. Of course the move was disguised under a "rotational policy" where Nagpur & Mohali got more than their share of annual quota. It is yet another matter that test matches at both these new centers are often played in front of empty stadiums while Eden Gardens has nearly always presented a full house of knowledgeable spectators.
However, this time around , Eden Gardens seem to be lucky as they get ready to host the second & final test match between the topmost test match sides. South Africa dominated the first test match at Nagpur on all 4 days & closed the match giving the injury-struck Indians a thumping innings defeat .
The Eden Gardens test match , to be played from 14th to 18th February, has all the ingredients of a competitive battle as Indians will look to square the series by winning this match and thereby hang on to their number one ICC ranking by a thread. South Africa has only to play for a draw to move up to the top spot.
The compositions of both the teams are also top class.
South Africa has Darrel Steyn, top ranked pacer who alone bundled out India in the first innings of the Nagpur test & took the man of the match award. Hashim Amla who made his debut at Eden Gardens in 2004, intends to carry on from his 253 n.o. in the first test. Kallis, the veteran & scorer of a century at Eden Gardens in 2004, is in sparkling form both with the bat & the bowl. Kallis's 173 in the first test, was a picture of matured aggression. Paul Harris, the left-arm leg spinner has a nagging length and got Dhoni & Tendulkar's prized scalps in both the innings in the first test. Graeme Smith is a proven world class captain and save for his inexplicable vulnerability against Zaheer, is expected to lead this "absolutely-professional" side to a victory.
India has Gambhir, current top ranked batsman in the world, partnering the blistering Shewag in the opening pair just as in 2004 match at Eden Gardens. The ever-young Tendulkar will have the 2001 double-centurion veteran , VVS Laxman, for company in the batting line up. Suresh Raina & Dinesh Karthik should bolster the middle order's strength while Sreesanth's comeback might add a zing to his partner Zaheer's swinging ones. Of course Indian captain , Dhoni, will like his trump card Harbhajan, to come out a winner just like Bhajji had done in the 2004 match at the same ground.
Who will win the match and wear the number one crown ? Cullinan, a centurion in the 1996 test match at Eden and now a commentator, feels its a dream for the South Africans to play in Eden and do well. Eden Gardens has hosted the South Africans twice before. In the 1996 test, India lost by 329 runs in a match where the current Indian coach, Kirsten, scored a century in each of the innings. Of course , India squared their result in 2004, with a eight wicket win. More significantly, India has never lost a test match at Eden Gardens starting from the 2001 victory against the Aussies.
May the spectators have their money's worth & I sincerely wish, Eden Gardens has a lively but sporting wicket for this mega-duel.
Picture Source : Cricket.butJazz.com