ICC World Cup build-up: Eden fire, rejigged fixture matches raise concerns

Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) does not rule out foul play behind Eden Gardens fire, tightens security; but says 15 September deadline will be easily met

Eden Gardens (photo: National Herald Archives)
Eden Gardens (photo: National Herald Archives)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

A fire in the visiting team’s dressing room in the Eden Gardens stadium, which is undergoing major renovation work before World Cup 2023, is the latest headache for the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)—or maybe just the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB)—in the run-up to the tournament starting 5 October.

With matches to be played across 10 venues from 5 October, the reworking of fixture matches by the International Cricket Council (ICC) on Tuesday, August 8—more than a month after the schedule was unveiled, on June 27—betrayed some faulty planning that could concern travelling fans too, especially as venue cities are reporting hotels and hostels booked chock-a-block since June.

Yet, barely four days after the joint inspection team of the ICC and hosts BCCI gave the work in progress at Eden a thumbs-up, a fire broke out close to midnight on Wednesday/Thursday, 9–10 August, raising concerns about the safety and suitability of the venue.

Two fire engines were pressed into service and the fire was reportedly brought under control within an hour. But the stench and smudges linger.

The CAB, as the hosting state body, said that a probe has been initiated and would not rule out foul play yet. Indeed, nighttime security arrangements have been beefed up with immediate effect.

However, the fire is in no way going to affect the deadline of 15 September 15 for completing the renovation work, the CAB held.

Speaking to the National Herald, CAB secretary Naresh Ojha said, “The initial reports suggest that the electrical connections to the sauna bath, which is being dismantled as per the new plans, were still plugged in. There were a number of players’ towels stacked there and a short circuit in the electrical line was the apparent source of the fire. We will wait for the experts’ comment on the same.

“It was, however, not a major fire and there is not even a remote possibility of us not meeting the deadline. The association has, in fact, distributed the work between 8–10 tenders and we are very much on course to wrap things up by early September,’’ he added.

Old-timers in the CAB, however, feel that whatever be the reason, they cannot put a foot wrong after the association had just managed to wrest away one of the marquee semi-final matches from Chennai, using the influence of CAB president Snehashis Ganguly and Abhisek Dalmiya with BCCI supremo Jay Shah.

Five matches in all, including the semis, will be played at Eden. The unpleasant memory of the 2011 World Cup, when the high profile India–England group match was taken away from Eden because it was not quite ready, is still fresh in their memory.

However, the historic venue had also hosted the 2016 World T20 final, an India–Pakistan game, with success—the last time an ICC event took place here.

What has also struck a false note in the build-up to the extravaganza is the manner in which dates (and some timings) of as many as nine fixture matches were rescheduled on August 9. The lapse in planning the date of the India–Pakistan game, easily the biggest money-spinner in the early stages, was out in the open—it was originally scheduled for 15 October, the first day of Navratri, which would make security arrangements a nightmare for the local police in Ahmedabad, where the festival is a big deal.

Pakistan, England and Bangladesh have been the worst hit by the changes, as the dates of as many as three (each) of their matches have been changed.

Adding to the confusion of rescheduling, the staggered sale of tickets in seven phases (with the first ones going on sale from August 25) will make it tough for fans who will have to wait till the last minute before making their travel plans afresh.

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