The year was 1967. It was New Year’s Day in Kolkata; the city of joy was just waking up post a lengthy New Year’s Eve celebration in Park Street.
Suddenly around a kilometer away from Park Street, there was a huge raucous. Police cars were lit on fire, public property were damaged and it all started from Eden Gardens, one of most iconic cricket grounds in the world, where the national teams of India and West Indies were preparing to play the second day of the test match.
Let’s start from the beginning!
West Indies team, led by Garry Sobers and including players like Rohan Kanhai, Sir Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith, and Sir Conrad Hunte, was touring India and Pakistan. After winning the first test in Mumbai (Then Bombay) they came to Kolkata (then Calcutta) to play the second Test at Eden Gardens starting on 31st December. Day one went pretty uneventful with West Indies scoring 212/4 in a slow track.
Also Read: Top 5 Historical Moments @ Eden Gardens
On day two all hell broke loose!
In those days Eden Gardens in Kolkata had a capacity of 59,000 people. But a lot of fake tickets were sold and around 80,000 spectators were present on that day. It is believed that even the complimentary tickets were also sold in the black market. No wonder that the stands were over-packed and the crowd was in a very bad mood. It didn’t take much time for the entire situation to take a nasty shape. Police started lathi charge seeing the audience trying to cross the fence even before the match began. But technically the spectators didn’t have any choice as they couldn’t hold back themselves due to extra pressure. They tried to protest with stones, bamboos and the police responded with tear gas. A veteran, Sitesh Roy protested and in return, he was attacked by a gang of policemen. The outburst happened to see the reckless behavior of the policemen against an old man. Eventually, the crowd went out of control. The canvas roof of the stands was set on fire, the bamboo poles were uprooted, and it soon turned into a riot.
West Indies players were extremely terrified and they ran outside the stadium. They lost their way amidst the crowd and finally were guided back to the stadium. Later on, they were escorted to the hotel with full security. On the other hand, the officials begged Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi to save them from the public outrage.
Meanwhile, the crowd saw a dark man risking his life and climbing the terrace amidst the fire to save the West Indian flag from being burnt. They believed him to be Sir Conrad Hunte, West Indies opener. However Hunte’s autography, ‘Playing to Win’ has a different story for us.
He busted the myth and revealed that “I looked up and saw our national flags fluttering in the breeze, threatened by the fire that was now coming towards the pavilion. I started to climb up to get the flags and avoid surrendering them, the symbol of sovereignty of our two nations, to ‘mob rule’. The plain-clothes policeman said, ‘Don’t you go. I’ll get them.’ He went and brought the two flags down, and gave them to me.”
The cricket fans at Eden Gardens didn’t miss a chance to romanticize the story event amidst such a hazardous state.
However followed by an emergency meeting among the Chief Minister of West Bengal Prafulla Sen, BCCI Vice President MA Chidambaram and the West Indies cricketers the match was resumed on 3rd January with the promise of emergency security services. West Indies went on to win the match easily by an innings. There was an inquiry regarding the incidents later on and a 400-page report full of suggestions of conducting future test matches was imposed on CAB with other limitations.