The iconic Eden Gardens in Kolkata is all set to host its first international game in two years, and the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) has gone out of its way to ensure more than 47,000 people have smiles back on their faces without worrying about the diabolical times we are living in.
It is to be noted that the second COVID-19 wave hit India almost immediately after Chepauk (Chennai) and Motera (Ahmedabad) opened their doors to thousands of fans in February-March this year. It was also after a few groundsmen, along with cricketers, contracted the deadly virus that the IPL was indefinitely suspended in May.
CAB president Avishek Dalmiya has thus housed all his ground staff in a separate bio-bubble, inside the Eden Gardens premises. The New Zealand recce team had visited the stadium on November 5 and met with the office-bearers, expressing satisfaction over the preparations put in place.
“There will be quarantine facility in the hotel, staff there and staff at the stadium would also have to follow the quarantine rules. There would be a channel from where they [the teams] will be going to the ground. Not the regular entry that they take from the Club House, it will be from Gate No. 17, and they will be going to the dressing room through the interiors.
“We have shown them [recce team] the route, how things would function and what exactly is expected from the association, as far as the safety point of view is concerned. So we explained them the entire functioning of the bubble, which they found it to be in order and which they have also liked it,” Dalmiya said in an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda.
The Kiwi officials, though, have asked for all the groundsmen to be in PPE kits and wear face shields while sharing space with the players.
“Yes one suggestion that they have given is that, the groundsman should be wearing the PPE kits and face shields. Not that every stadium has that facility, but we keep the staff also in the bubble. So we ensure that the groundsmen and other support staff are not only tested but they are also part of the bubble. So they are lesser vulnerable than the others. But since they have asked for that, we will try to cater to it,” the CAB chief explained.
He further pointed out that the indigenous Bengal T20 Challenge was one of the first tournaments to be played in a bio-bubble in November-December last year.
“In fact, the Bengal T20 Challenge was the first tournament with bio-bubble in the country. So it’s not new to us, we are aware of the rules, we are aware of how the system functions. We will be having strict vigilance because we also have a Covid Task Force for the association, which is headed by the vice-president. We will ensure that every stipulation is followed and nothing is ignored,” Dalmiya added.
Even the second edition of the league this year was played behind closed doors, with spectators allowed in only one gallery for the final on September 23.
From social distancing to commute, fans to have a seamless experience
The West Bengal government has recently allowed sporting complexes to operate at 70 percent capacity, meaning that an approximate 47,000 seats of the 67,000-capacity stadium would be filled. Sportskeeda has reliably learnt that a little more than 21,000 of those tickets were given to the CAB members – life members, annual members, associate members, some guests – while the rest were available for the general public, priced at INR 650 and 1500.
Large groups will be split and seated, for the COVID-19 norms demand a vacant seat after every three occupied ones. Meanwhile, in a large-hearted gesture, the CAB will be handing out masks and sanitisers for free to everyone entering the stadium.
“It’s not just the sporting organisation that lay the norms, so it has to be whatever the current protocols and guidelines issued by the state and other government agencies, those will be followed. We are keeping one seat vacant after every three occupied seats, that is already there for the social distancing. There will be temperature checking at the gates also, and we are planning to give out masks and sanitisers for free to everyone who’s entering the stadium,” Avishek Dalmiya told Sportskeeda.
So, all those running a temperature, please stay home.
And for those of you getting seated before the first ball is bowled, BCCI president Sourav Ganguly will be ringing the bell at the Club House lower tier to signal the start of play.
Fans might be tempted to leave the stadium early to hop on the last bus home or avoid the app cab operators from burning a hole in their pockets once demand rises. But the CAB has held talks with the local government, Kolkata Police and various transport departments to keep the services running late into Sunday night.
The Bengal government, in a notice issued late on Saturday, announced relaxation of night curfew, pushing it by two hours. Instead of the usual 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. window, restrictions will kick in at 1 a.m. on Monday morning.
In good news for commuters staying along the metro line, Metro Railway Kolkata will run two additional services – from Esplanade to Dakshineswar and Kavi Subhash stations – at 10:30 p.m. In a press release, a copy of which is with Sportskeeda, the authorities noted that the booking counter only at Esplanade station will be running for the sale of smart cards and not tokens.
Eastern Railway also announced a pair of EMU Special trains - Prinsep Ghat to Barasat and BBD Bag to Baruipur - to cater to all those individuals associated with the match who stay on the outskirts.
For the record, the cut-off time for the match to end is 10:10 p.m. In case towels are needed to wipe off dew very frequently and the match gets stretched, buses and cabs are also expected to operate in large numbers from in front of the Esplanade metro terminal.
“The actual loss was that of the T20 World Cup not happening” – Avishek Dalmiya
The COVID-19 pandemic was as much a financial loss for players as it was for sporting organisations, all over the world. Not a single international match took place and the domestic games being played behind closed doors meant the Cricket Association of Bengal incurred losses in crore.
President Avishek Dalmiya highlighted that the T20 World Cup being shifted to the UAE robbed Eden Gardens off at least five T20Is. This was preceded by the IPL 2021 loss, where the tournament was again moved to the Emirates before Eden could host its quota of 10 matches.
It is worth noting that the host association receives 50 lakh for every IPL game in addition to the central revenue share from the BCCI and other contracts. Dalmiya revealed that CAB missed out on a hefty amount, to the tune of 35 to 40 crore.
“In the last couple of years, we have not hosted international matches. It generates about 8-9 crores of revenue per match - because you have the ground rights, parapet rights, ticket sales, pouring rights, stalls, hosting fee from the board. The actual loss was that of the T20 World Cup not happening, that was straight 5 to 6 games. So overall 7 to 8 such matches have not happened, which is a huge amount to even consider it as a moderate loss. I don’t think it would be anything less than 35 to 40 crore overall.
“So it’s huge money, when you talk from an association point of view. And the fact that the domestic matches are now happening in the bio-bubble, all at neutral venues. So the expenses have been quite high because you are not getting any home matches, and you are also not getting the hosting amount for that – it’s much lesser than usual,” the president elaborated.
The CAB has further planned to make huge investments in the growth and development of cricket in other districts of Bengal, for which it is inviting applications for Life Membership. Interested candidates can register via ‘Book My Show’ and make a payment of INR 1,18,000. If the application is rejected, the money will automatically be refunded.
“We have also raised the finances through life membership scheme, because we can’t wait. We have to do a lot of things in the days ahead – we have plans to install LED lights in the floodlights, because otherwise the metal-halide lamps take about 15 minutes to restart. We have plans for setting up a museum, we have plans for quite a grounds – one in North Bengal University, couple of grounds at Visva-Bharati in Bolpur, we have plans for Dumurjala.
“Overall, we have plans for 80-85 crore, so we want to generate from the membership. Also, we will be looking forward to the BCCI because as far as the infrastructure subsidy scheme is concerned, 50 percent is payable by the board. That will be reimbursed, so we will have to make the initial payment,” he concluded.
Eden Gardens now has two international matches to look forward to - the T20I against New Zealand tomorrow and an ODI versus the West Indies on February 21. Not only will cricket-starved fans get a much-needed adrenaline rush, but the influx of revenue will put smiles back on the faces of old men running tea stalls at Maidan, the ground staff of Eden Gardens, and even the people selling flags outside.
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