More bayonets than bats
"One state has three first-class teams?" asked a puzzled Sri Lankan journalist when told about the three state associations, all in the state of Gujarat and all within a radius of 500 km, hosting the last three games of this series. And he was further confounded when told that Saurashtra and Baroda aren't states anymore but continue to field teams in the Ranji Trophy. The concept of the princely state was a bit too much for the already confused man.
Rajkot, the capital of the erstwhile state of Saurashtra, may no longer retain its princely outlook but it doesn't take too long for cricket buffs to talk about its contribution to cricket. The two famous Indian princes who earned their fame in England, Ranjitsinhji and his nephew Duleepsinhji, studied here. Saurashtra also produced two quality allrounders - Amar Singh, who opened the bowling for India in its first Test at Lord's, was long considered one of the finest allrounders, and Karsan Ghavri, who played in the '70s and '80s.
Ajay Jadeja was the descendent of the royal family and studied in the famous Rajkumar College, which also has among its alumni a certain MK Gandhi, apostle of non-violence and father of this nation. Unfortunately for the state side, most of these players never plied their trade here, and the team has for long been at the bottom in the Ranji Trophy.
The first thing that strikes you in Rajkot is the dust. As you approach the Madhavrao Scindia Ground, large swirls of dust puff up from the driveway and it's tough to get rid of the abrasive sensation on one's skin. What's even more abrasive, though, is the behaviour of the security guards. And there begins our story.
The last match played here, in November 2002, was abandoned because a section of the crowd had pelted the West Indian fielders with bottles. It came as a huge let down for the local association, considering that they get a chance to host international matches only once in around three years, and a slap in the face for the policing system in the region. This time, they just couldn't afford to slip up.
What resulted was around 1400 security personnel, including commandos from neighbouring Gandhinagar and police from around Rajkot, were summoned to patrol a stadium filled with around 15000 spectators. And none of these fans would be allowed to bring in anything. No water, no bottles, no cell phones, no pens even. The frisking process was crude with bags being rummaged and arbitrarily strewn about. Journalists had to wait for an age as their laptops and cameras were scrutinised. And once they got through one entry, they had to go through the entire process again at the next two. The irony was that none of their methods were efficient and food items, cigarettes and cell phones were still sneaked in.
Inside the ground, large groups of commandos and policemen sat amid the crowd, watching the match throughout but making sure they didn't show too much emotion as the Sri Lankan batsmen hiccupped, coughed and finally choked. Standing away from the stands, an inspector of police, however, brushed aside the role of the commandos. "Even if there is any major problem in the stands, the commandos can't do a thing without orders from the higher authorities," he said. "When it comes to the crunch, we are the only ones who will take control." The commandos, though, have a quick retort: "What were they doing when the bottles were being thrown in the last game?" one hollered. "It was us who finally brought everything under control." Good healthy rivalry, with neither side willing to give an inch. If only one could say the same about the contest unfolding in the center.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo