Cricket is a sport of many uncertainties. Whether things proceed on the field mostly depends on the weather conditions, sometimes it came to a screeching halt unruly incidents involving the crowd. One such shameful day unfolded on the New Year’s Day of 1967 at the Eden Gardens in Calcutta (now Kolkata). It was second day of the second Test between India and West Indies.
The visiting team led by the legendary Sir Garfield Sobers and featuring greats like Charlie Griffith and Rohan Kanhai, were up in the series by 1-0 after outclassing India in Bombay. The first day of the Test was a dull one as the Windies finished a cautious 212/4 before all hell broke loose before a ball was bowled. Eden Gardens wasn’t the most sophisticated cricket venues that it is today and the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) had a lot to do with the anarchy and chaos that unfolded.
For a stadium that could hold a crowd of 59,000, tickets sold were up to 80,000. It is widely believed that CAB officials were behind the illegal sale of fake tickets. This obviously led to overcrowding and heated arguments among the people as some jumped over the fence, which wasn’t a steel barricade like today.
It soon got ugly as the police guarding the stadium resorted to lathi charge and soon had to face retaliation from the crowd who clearly outnumbered them. The crowd went after the police and the CAB officials who ran for their lives to the area where players were guarded.
The use of tear gas followed as the crowd started breaking the seats and setting fire to the stadium property. The riots spread like wild fire in the city as buses and business centres saw looting and arson. The visiting team ran out of the stadium in a panic and had to be convinced by India captain MAK Pataudi, Bengal chief minister Prafulla Sen and BCCI vice-president MA Chidambaram to keep playing in order avoid further public outrage.
The Test resumed on January 3 with day 3 declared as rest day. Sobers’ resourceful 70 in the first innings took the Windies to 390 while Lance Gibbs’ 5-51 forced India to follow-on and Sobers wrapped up a victory by an innings and 45 runs with a superb 4-56 in the second innings.
In what was the saddest debut for any player, Indian spin great Bishan Singh Bedi finished with 2-92 from his 36 overs. Keeper-batter Budhi Kunderan’s 39 in the first innings was the highest score for India across both innings. Soon enough, the CAB was sanctioned with several limitations by a special investigation committee while hosting Tests after defacing Indian cricket on the world stage.