Ahead of the opening day
of the second season of the Road Safety World Series, the organisers' chief concern was around what the attendance would be for the match pitting Sachin Tendulkar
's India Legends against South Africa Legends, led by Jonty Rhodes
This weekend coincided with the last days of the Ganesh festival, with immersion processions all over Kanpur through Friday, spilling over into Saturday. At times it seemed as though the entire city had descended on the roads, strewn with colour, loud music and processions. Members of the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association, in charge of various functionalities at the Green Park stadium on matchday, could also be heard making plans for visiting the lake Motijheel past midnight. Given this, the official ticketing partners had apparently refunded all prior online bookings and announced that they would instead have ticket counters at the ground on match day.
All fears were hugely unfounded, though. With the teams warming up with about an hour and a half to go for the first ball, two-thirds of all stands had swelled to capacity. By the time Tendulkar strode out beside Naman Ojha to start the Indian innings, the stadium was packed in close to capacity. As the Indian innings proceeded, the numbers had swelled even further, and to give them credit, they endured a sweltering early autumn evening and stayed and cheered till about five past 11 in the night, when Rhodes patted a gentle Irfan Pathan delivery towards extra cover to ensure his team wasn't bowled out, even if comprehensively outclassed.
Where there's Tendulkar, there has to be Sudhir Gautam
. The man who has made being a superfan of individual cricketers something of a cult phenomenon was in full cry, twirling the tricolour as he welcomed his hero. Tendulkar couldn't quite deliver on the night, dropped once before his eventual dismissal, but Gautam's enthusiasm through the night couldn't be dampened by such a minor aberration.
Then there were Sugumar Kumar, who is unrecognisable outside his bright red Royal Challengers Bangalore winged bird uniform that he wears to matches at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, the Shikhar Dhawan-lookalike Ram Bahadur, who had made the road trip down from Lucknow for the game, and Pintu Behera. Behera is a contractor 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 is famous since as the man who has tattooed Kohli all over his body - his face, some action shots and scores special to Kohli. He also got the chance to meet his idol in 2019. Although by his own admission, his favourite game watched live in the flesh was one where Kohli scored 8
. Such is fandom and such is life.
My father spent his first years, right up to the onset of his teens, in Kanpur. In fact the day before the first game, I was able to sneak some time into visiting all the places he and his siblings grew up around. Their schools, the house they grew up in (which is now a "magic institute and research centre"). My father tells tales of sneaking out after jumping the boundary wall and sneaking off to play cricket or to go watch games at Green Park. In domestic and international cricket, Salim Durani
was a crowd favourite, known for his ability to smack sixes on demand.
On Saturday, Stuart Binny
and Yusuf Pathan
channelled their inner Durani to perfection. Binny would say later that the team talk had been not to overshoot their aspirations, to take the score to about 160-170 and then reassess. The Binny-Yusuf association had taken India from 129 for 4 when Yuvraj Singh fell for 6 in the 15th over. With the local DJ adding to the clamour for sixes (replete with the road safety theme song, a peculiar mix of an upbeat tune and beat with lyrics that talk about how lives and moments once lost never come back), the crowd was entertained as the duo pillaged 74 off the last 24 balls.
India were the younger side on the night, and by far the XI with more of an international pedigree in the game, yet for the fans, this was a night where that objectivity and analysis could rest for another day.