Cricket: Ban threat to Eden Gardens

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CALCUTTA'S EDEN Gardens, one of the largest cricket grounds in the world, faces an uncertain future after an unruly crowd forced India and Pakistan to complete the Asian Test Championship in front of empty stands on Saturday.

Police and media outnumbered spectators as Pakistan beat India by 46 runs on the fifth and final day. Trouble on the last two days fuelled speculation that Eden Gardens could be banned from Test cricket for some time.

"Calcutta may lose Test-centre status for two years," the Indian newspaper the Statesman said on Sunday. "Save cricket, ban Calcutta. The city is unfit for the game," the newspaper declared in an editorial comment.

Spectators disrupted play for 46 minutes on Friday when they threw water bottles and oranges at Pakistani fielders after Sachin Tendulkar was unlucky to be run out as he collided with a fielder. On Saturday, spectators armed with stones and bricks disrupted play for almost three hours when India were on the verge of defeat after Pakistan took three quick wickets. Play resumed only after police evicted the vast majority of the 90,000-strong crowd.

Eden Gardens also fell into ignominy in 1996 when spectators threw missiles as Sri Lanka were on the verge of victory in a World Cup semi-final. The match was abandoned and then conceded by India.

Pakistan's captain, Wasim Akram, is reported to want a two-year ban on international cricket at the venue. "He [Wasim] felt that a two-year ban on holding international matches at the venue would be in order to teach trouble-makers a lesson," the Statesman said.

Officials of the Cricket Association of Bengal said they were disappointed by the crowd's behaviour. "We are very shocked. Before holding any match, we should think carefully now, " said a spokesman.