Preparations for the upcoming cricket World Cup have revived unhappy memories in India of the chaos that accompanied the build-up to last year’s Commonwealth Games.
While the reputation of the Commonwealth Games was partially salvaged by some frantic last-minute repairs, the slow pace of renovations had already cost this month’s World Cup one of its most anticipated occasions — an India match at Calcutta’s Eden Gardens ground.
The venue had been earmarked to host the India-England group-stage game, but that had to be relocated because Eden Gardens was deemed to be not ready.
Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium was also in doubt as a World Cup venue because of behind-schedule renovations, while a poor quality pitch at New Delhi’s Kotla ground also threatened its involvement, but both were finally given the green light to host games.
Hundreds of workers were assigned to Eden Gardens to hasten renovations, but a visiting International Cricket Council (ICC) inspection team ruled the stadium would not be ready for its first match on Feb. 27.
India offspinner Harbhajan Singh, who took a hat-trick in a test against Australia at Eden Gardens in 2001, said the hosts will miss the special atmosphere of playing at the 65,000-capacity ground.
“Not playing at the Eden Gardens will be a big disappointment for us,” Harbhajan said. “It is our main ground and we have several good memories of the venue.”
It was even more of a disappointment to former ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya, whose Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) is responsible for organizing matches at the venue.
“It comes as a shock because when the ICC inspection team was here, we were given to understand that they were happy with the progress of the work and had suggested only a few minor modifications,” said Dalmiya, who was one of the main organizers of the 1996 World Cup.
Dalmiya met several high--profile politicians in a bid to grant the ground a reprieve, but the decision was largely out of the hands of local officials, as the World Cup was being organized by the ICC, not the local associations that ran the 1987 and 1996 World Cups in India.
Protesters in Calcutta alleged politics in the whole affair as Dalmiya and current ICC president Sharad Pawar were known to be bitter rivals in the Board of Control for Cricket in India.
Former India soccer captain Chuni Goswami, who was also a first-class cricketer for Bengal, was among those who saw the embarrassment coming.
“I was disappointed that the match was taken away from the Eden Gardens, but it is not exactly unexpected. The authorities became overconfident to do everything at a time when they should have done it in parts. Things could have been different had the CAB planned their work better,” he said.
It was a bitter blow for fans in Calcutta, which hosted the 1987 World Cup final when India began to emerge as a power in the game — both on the field after winning the 1983 edition and as the sport’s commercial hub.
Eden Gardens was a forgettable host in the 1996 World Cup, by which time the sport’s power base had firmly moved toward the subcontinent amid an eruption of sponsorship funds.
This time around, India is firmly entrenched as the financial powerhouse driving the game and the administrative failures are bound to be all the more glaring.
Though security is always a concern for any major sports event, India has long experience in handling any threats, via high-profile targets like the Indian Premier League and Champions League in recent years.