Monday morning, it was not about the Virat Kohlis and Shikhar Dhawans at Eden Gardens. Sachin Tendulkar grabbed the spotlight as the Master Blaster walked in to train ahead of his 199th and penultimate Test match. The 40-year-old, who has several memories of the hallowed stadium, was greeted at the Dr B.C. Roy Club House with flower petals, paper confetti and children wearing Sachin T-shirts.
A mechanized shower was used to spray the confetti as mediapersons fought for the best positions to capture the event for posterity. Hundreds of fans were kept at a safe distance by the tight security around the club house gate. (Related: Kolkata police demand more money for security cover) Nobody was allowed inside the Eden Gardens when the players trained ahead of the first Test against the West Indies starting November 6. Tendulkar will quit international cricket after his 200th Test at the Wankhede Stadium. (Full coverage of series)
The Cricket Association of Bengal, who won a tight BCCI race to bag the 'honour' of hosting Tendulkar's 199th Test, is doing everything to make the game a memorable event for the retiring genius. Flashes of nostalgia came back to the Master Blaster when Tendulkar was greeted by a photo gallery that captured several moments of his 24-year-old international career. It had his photos with the Prince of Kolkata, Sourav Ganguly, and among others, the former Aussie tearaway Brett Lee.
There was a wax statue of Tendulkar waiting just before the entrance to the dressing room. The statue may not have the fineness of a Madame Tussauds, but it was a tribute to a legend who has mixed memories of Kolkata and especially, the Eden Gardens. The CAB authorities are planning to dedicate a section of the 70,000-capacity stadium after Tendulkar. Tendulkar has scored 1358 runs at the Eden Gardens from 13 One-day Internationals and 12 Tests. (Also read: A packed stadium expected for Sachin's 199th)
Once welcome hyperbole was quickly over, Tendulkar was quick to focus on his training. He was among the first to bat at the nets and also bowl to his teammates. Tendulkar has left no stone unturned to prepare for his last two Tests. Last week, he played a Ranji match for Mumbai at Lahli in Haryana and even scored a decisive 79 not out to win the Man of the Match award. (Match report)
He is expected to bat at his customary No. 4 position. Tendulkar batted for almost an hour at the nets, in two sessions, and followed it up with some throwdowns. He batted on a wicket on the central square and adjacent to the main pitch. Quickie Ishant Sharma bowled an extended spell as a clutch of net bowlers gave Tendulkar some much-needed practice. The Eden wicket is expected to be a slow turner with runs for the asking in the first three days.
Tendulkar has mixed memories of the Eden Gardens. On a happier note, Tendulkar has scored two Test hundreds out of the 21 innings he has played at the Eden Gardens. In October 2002, Tendulkar scored 176 against the West Indies and in February 2010, he slammed 106 against South Africa. In his last two Test innings at Eden in December 2012, Tendulkar managed 76 and 5.
On Monday, Tendulkar bowled at the nets. Old-timers will remember Tendulkar's exploits with the ball at the Eden Gardens. He was instrumental in India scoring a nail-biting win in the semifinal of the 1993 Hero Cup against South Africa. On a chilly November night, defending a meager total of 195 against South Africa, the Indian bowlers took the game to the wire. With six runs needed off the last over and Kapil Dev at his disposal, skipper Mohammed Azharuddin took a gamble and handed the ball to a young Tendulkar, who hadn't bowled a single ball in the match till then.
In front of a packed Eden crowd, Tendulkar conjured some magical spin bowling. His third and fourth deliveries were dot ball and South Africa were left to score five off the last two balls to win. Four runs were needed off the last delivery but Brian McMillan managed just one as Tendulkar scripted an improbable victory to send India to the final.
Tendulkar was also involved in a controversy during the 1999 Asian Test championship match against Pakistan. The game was completed in near silence after police cleared the galleries to quell violent protests over Tendulkar's strange dismissal. Attempting a third run, Tendulkar collided with Pakistan speedster Shoaib Akhtar as the throw from the deep hit the stumps, with the batsman short of his ground. Immediately, the stands erupted in anger over the Pakistan players "not showing sportsman spirit".
Scoring 862 runs from 12 Tests, Tendulkar has a modest Test average of 48 in Kolkata. He also lost the only Test he captained India at the Eden (against South Africa, 1996). Tendulkar will look to end on a high and if his ability to take on fresh challenges is any measure of his massive appetite for excellence, century No. 52 is not far away!