20 years later, curator Prabir Mukherjee’s U-turn on Eden wicket
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As I sit in my office on London's Great Portland Street, I only need to close my eyes to envisage the bedlam that's unfolding out east. The din of indignation can be heard wafting across the oceans, as the Indian media gets itself into a lather over the nature of the Kolkata wicket.
According to Prabir Mukherjee, the inestimable head curator at Eden Gardens, the deliberate preparation of a spinning wicket would be "immoral". To judge by India's performance on a Mumbai turner last week, "suicidal" would be the more appropriate adjective. And the fact that I have even written that the above sentence goes to show what an extraordinary parallel universe this series has wandered into.
However, with the greatest respect to the fearsome Mr Mukherjee, who yesterday was seen chasing Mike Atherton off his precious square, I cannot believe he had the same qualms 20 years ago this winter, when England last played a Test match in his fiefdom.
To recap, India took the field in that match with precisely NO specialist seamers — the allrounders Kapil Dev and Manoj Prabhakar (who opened the batting) bowled no more than nine overs in either innings. Instead, the heavy lifting was undertaken by the twirling trio of Venkatapathy Raju, Rajesh Chauhan and a young Anil Kumble, who would go on to claim 21 wickets in a 3-0 whitewash.
The match in question was possibly the most signposted car-crash that England's cricketers have ever taken part in. The home series against India had been a cakewalk thanks to Graham Gooch's 333 at Lord's, but the most notable moment occurred when Eddie Hemmings was smacked for four sixes in an over by Kapil.
Indian batsmen like facing spin, the selectors reminded themselves. So, despite a glut of notices warning "One-Way System" and "No Entry", they hurtled into the Kolkata cul-de-sac with a four-man pace attack of Devon Malcolm, Paul Jarvis, Chris Lewis and the debutant Paul Taylor, whose inclusion puzzled even Northants diehards.