Ahead of the opening day of the second season of the Road Safety World Series, the organizers’ main concern was how many attendances would be expected for the game between Sachin Tendulkar’s India Legends and Jonty Rhodes-managed South Africa Legends.
This weekend coincided with the final days of the Ganesh festival, with immersion processions throughout Kanpur through Friday, extending into Saturday. Sometimes it seemed like the whole city had descended on the roads, dotted with color, loud music and processions. Members of the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association, in charge of various features at the Green Park stadium on match day, could also be heard planning a visit to Lake Motijheel after midnight. In view of this, the official ticketing partners had apparently refunded all previous online bookings and announced that they would have ground counters on match day instead.
All fears were extremely unfounded, however. As the teams warmed up with around an hour and a half before the first ball, two-thirds of all the stands had reached their maximum capacity. By the time Tendulkar stepped forward alongside Naman Ojha to start the Indian innings, the stadium was nearly packed. As the Indian innings went on the numbers had swelled further, and to give them credit they endured a sweltering early autumn evening and stayed and cheered until about 11:05 a.m. of the evening, when Rhodes tapped a sweet delivery from Irfan Pathan to extra coverage. to ensure that his team is not eliminated, even though they are vastly outclassed.
Where there is Tendulkar, there must be Sudhir Gautam. The man who made being a superfan of individual cricketers a cult phenomenon was in full cry, twirling the tricolor as he welcomed his hero. Tendulkar couldn’t quite deliver on the night, falling once before his eventual dismissal, but Gautam’s enthusiasm all night couldn’t be dampened by such a minor aberration.
Then there was Sugumar Kumar, who is unrecognizable apart from his bright red Royal Challengers Bangalore winged bird uniform which he wears during matches at Chinnaswamy Stadium, Shikhar Dhawan lookalike Ram Bahadur, who had made the trip from Lucknow for the match, and Pintu Behera. Behera is an entrepreneur from Behrampur in Odisha, who was a cricket fan anyway, but lost all objectivity when he saw Virat Kohli smash Lasith Malinga all over the Bellerive Oval in 2012. He has since become famous as the man who tattooed Kohli all over his body – his face, some action shots and special scores for Kohli. He also had the chance to meet his idol in 2019. Although by his own admission, his favorite game watched live was when Kohli scored 8. Such is the fandom and such is the life.
My father spent his early years, until his early teens, in Kanpur. In fact, the day before the first game, I was able to spend some time visiting all the places where he and his siblings grew up. Their schools, the house they grew up in (which is now an “institute of magic and research facility”). My dad says he snuck out after jumping the perimeter wall and snuck out to play cricket or go watch matches in Green Park. In domestic and international cricket, Salim Durani was a crowd favourite, known for his ability to hit sixes on demand.
On Saturday, Stuart Binny and Yusuf Pathan channeled their inner Durani to perfection. Binny would later say that the talk of the team had been to not exceed their aspirations, to bring the score to around 160-170, and then to reevaluate. The Binny-Yusuf combination had taken India 129 for 4 when Yuvraj Singh fell for 6 in the 15th. With the local DJ adding to the clamor of the six (filled with the road safety theme song, a peculiar blend of a catchy tune and beat with lyrics that speak to how lives and times once lost never come back), the crowd was entertained as the duo plundered 74 of the last 24 balls.
India were the youngest team of the evening, and by far the XI with more of an international pedigree in the game, but for the fans it was a night where that objectivity and analysis could rest a little. other day.