“A visit to this place will give you a feeling of going back in time. It is hard to believe, a lush oasis like this still exists in such close proximity of a metropolitan”.
During the British regime, Kolkata, formerly called Calcutta, was the capital of India from 1772 to 1911. In that phase, the city was the hub of the British Raj and the Englishmen tried to shape it like the ‘London of the East’. And with them, the British brought their cricketing heritage.
Well, very few people know, like London, the ‘City of Joy’ too has an Oval and a Lord’s. Almost 170 years old, these two grounds are even older than Eden Gardens, which is the main cricket centre of Kolkata.
Situated on the banks of the Hooghly river, the Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology (IIEST) in Shibpur, is just 15 minutes of drive away from the hustle and bustle of the central Kolkata. And inside the leafy surroundings of the campus, lie the two grounds, namesakes of two iconic venues of the cricketing world. But unlike those familiar counterparts, Kolkata’s (read that greater Kolkata) Oval and Lord’s have remained as college playgrounds, despite the rich history.
According to The Telegraph, the earliest available record of these two hidden treasures of Kolkata, date back to 1848, when the Oval appears in a painting of a building called Principal’s House by the British artist Charles D’Oyly. Whereas the first pictures of Eden, on the other side of the river, appeared in the 1850s before it was formally established in 1864. In the 1840s, when the Lord’s and the Oval were formally inaugurated, there was no IIEST here as the campus used to belong to the famous Bishop’s college.
However, between the two, the Oval by far, seems more suited for a formal cricket match.
At one end of the ground, a tin tent has “OVAL” written in large white letters on its roof. Right beside it stands a broken old-fashioned scoreboard. Recently, two small concrete stands have been built up on either side of the changing room, which is situated towards the main entrance. In fact, the quaint set-up, the lush-green field, the tall deodars trees around the ground (arguably planted by the British), the Victorian architecture of the 195-year-old residence of the principal of the Bishop College — now the IIEST director’s bungalow as well as the nearby Madhusudan Bhawan that houses a chapel may give you a feel of English village cricket. Furthermore. with the Hoogly river just less than 400 meters away, you will always encounter strong wind here.
Nevertheless, the entire atmosphere is unlike any other cricket ground, which we see in India.
“This ground is very special for us. It is close to our heart. Just the surroundings and everything makes you feel special, seems like a typical English set-up. It is much older than the Eden Gardens and the rich history of the Oval actually complies with the heritage of this place,” says Swapnil Roy, a final year student and member of the IIEST cricket team, who will soon bid an emotional farewell to this ground.
A few years back, the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) was keen on taking over the Oval and making it a First-Class venue. However, due to a stiff protest by 1000-odd students, who were against this transformation, the association had to drop its plan.
Meanwhile, let’s now shift our focus towards the Lord’s.
In London, the Kennington Oval and St John’s Wood are separated from each other by 7kms and the Thames river in between. However, here in Shibpur, to reach the Lord’s from the Oval, one just needs to walk for a couple of minutes.
The Lord’s is a multipurpose ground where primarily soccer and athletics are being played in the evening. There is only one building structure around the ground and unlike the ‘Home of Cricket’, here, to enter this so-called member’s pavilion, you don’t need to wear the perfect attire.
A visit to this place will give you a feeling of going back in time. It is hard to believe, a lush oasis like this still exists in such close proximity of a metropolitan. Yes, the Oval and Lord’s of Kolkata do not have any honours board, but for any cricketer, playing a match in this surrounding will certainly be a sheer pleasure.