When They Played At The
They were the best, the game could boast
in the country and in the world.
They came to play a cricket match at the Lord's
The Sri Sathya Sai Unity Cup.
It all started on a day when Sunil Gavaskar and
Alvin Kallicharan were speaking to Bhagavan. Sunil
is, of course, a cricket legend while Kalli is
a test star of distinction, hailing from the West
Indies. Both are Bhagavan's devotees, and have
been coming to Swami for many years.
On that day, both of them told Swami, "Baba, we see
devotees doing so much for you all the time. We too love you
very much and want to serve you. But cricket is our profession,
and we cannot obviously serve you like doctors and teachers
do. So, please guide us and tell us in what way we can serve
you, because we both are very keen to do so."
Bhagavan smiled and said, "Well, why
don't you arrange a cricket match for Me?"
The two cricket stars simply could not believe
what they heard. "Was Baba really serious?" They
Soon they discovered that Swami was not joking
but meant precisely what He said. And that was how the idea
for the Sri Sathya Sai Unity Cup, a one-day international
cricket match between India XI and the World XI,
With their wide international contacts, it
was not difficult for Sunil and Kalli to get in touch with
stars from overseas. Getting the consent of the Indian board
of control for cricket also was no problem at all.
As everyone knows, the schedule of cricket
stars is packed. Yet, when Swami wills, things happen smoothly.
It came as no wonder, that the overseas players invited for
the Unity Cup match had no problem, in finding free time slots.
In fact, 30th December, 1997, the day fixed for the Unity
Cup, came right in the middle of the Sri Lankan tour of India.
In spite of that, Indian and Sri Lankan players participating
in this match could easily make it.
Now, an international cricket match requires
a cricket field meeting international standards. When Gavaskar
and Kallicharan came up with the idea for a one-day international,
Puttaparthi did not have such a ground. So, where was the
match to be played? In Bangalore perhaps? Bangalore had a
full-fledged cricket stadium, and Swami also spent many months
in a year at Bangalore. So, may be one could think of Bangalore
as the venue for the match, since that also was Swami's town
- so many thought!
But Swami had other ideas. He simply said,
"The unity cup match will be played in the Hill view
Stadium, here, in Puttaparthi!"
"Hill view stadium, Swami? But we don't have a cricket
pitch there, in the first place. And, what about the galleries
to accommodate the huge crowds that would turn up?"
Doubting Thomases had a field day, raising
all kinds of questions. But they all forgot some basics. Who
brought drinking water to millions? Who was it that had built
an ultra modern hospital in a rural area, a hospital that
was treating thousands of patients absolutely free? Compared
to those achievements, a cricket ground was just chicken feed.
While the Thomases were busy with their doubts,
others became busy with various details connected with the
Unity Cup match.
The reputed, Larsen and Toubro, that had
built the Super Specialty hospital and executed the Drinking
Water project, was asked to get the stadium and the pavilion
ready, in good time, for the match. E.A.S Prasanna, a great
spin bowler of the past, became deeply involved with the preparation
of the pitch, the outfield, and supervising all aspects of
infrastructure development, including the pavilion and the
By the way, why was Swami particular that
the match be held in Puttaparthi? There were many reasons.
Firstly, it would enable rural cricket enthusiasts to get
a chance to see an international sporting event in their environment.
These young cricket fans could not afford to go to the cities
and pay huge gate money. But they loved the game nevertheless,
and Swami decided to make them happy. Swami also decided that
there would be no gate fee for the match, something totally
unheard of where such a sporting event was concerned. Not
just that. On the day of the match, Swami even gave free breakfast
and lunch to the crowd!
But this was not all. There was another and perhaps more important
reason. The Unity Cup match offered yet another opportunity
for Bhagavan, to grant the Blessing of Divine Intimacy to
students. And to establish a basis for this, as if one were
required (!), it was decided that the Unity Cup match would
be played under the auspices of Sri Sathya Sai Institute of
How wonderful were those days were for the
students! Practically every student and teacher of the institute
got involved with some duty or the other, associated with
the match. That is Swami's way of giving opportunities for
spiritual development and advancement. Swami once said, "God
does not ever want anything. But when He comes down as an
Avatar, He sometimes pretends that He wants this or that.
With much love, the devotee then tries to fulfil what he believes
God wants. And in this manner, the devotee earns much merit,
which he otherwise would not have."
An unprecedented event of this kind, that
proclaimed global unity via sports, could not be allowed to
pass without an appropriate chief guest. Therefore, with Swami's
blessings, Sri. I.K.Gujral, the Prime Minister of India, was
invited to be the guest of honour. The choice of Gujral was
befitting, since he had personally done much to promote international
D-day minus one. The whole of Puttaparthi
was in the grip of severe cricket fever and there was tremendous
excitement in the air. In the afternoon, the players all arrived
by air, and went straight from the airport to the Hill view
stadium. Almost all of them were coming to Puttaparthi for
the first time; and when they saw the ground, they were overwhelmed.
Such a beautiful setting, and so very different from the grounds
they had seen the world over. Yes, is there any another ground
in the world where Buddha, Jesus and a host of other Gods
stood atop, as spectators?!
They went to the middle and inspected the
pitch. It was unbelievable. Some of them said that this pitch
looked far better than many they have played on. Prasanna
who heard it all smiled. Yes, he had every reason to. What
would these very people have said if they had come to the
ground a few months ago?! Someone said, "How about checking
in at the Guest House and having some lunch?" The players
had other ideas. They wanted to see every inch of this wonder.
And so they went to the pavilion, only to discover that it
too was world class. And why not? Had not swami come there
every day to supervise every little detail, including the
chairs, the curtains, and the crockery? Meanwhile, a huge
crowd of fans had already gathered on the field, and movement
became somewhat difficult. The players were very happy. Nothing
gives players greater happiness than to play before large
crowds. They now knew that Puttaparthi was not exactly in
the middle of nowhere, as the saying goes.
Shanti Bhavan, the guest house, was the next
stop. My word, what a scene it was! Thousands milling around
to catch a glimpse of the cricket stars! "If it is like
this today, what would it be like tomorrow?" that was
the question many had. It was time for the evening Darshan.
Devotees made their way to the Mandir. But would the players
come for Darshan? They did! Who would miss Swami's Darshan?!
the big day. Crowds started filling the stadium even before
dawn. Villagers came from everywhere, and thousands perched
on the hill by the side of the Gods there. All the Gods had
plenty of company! There was a riot of colour all over, and
the new stadium was grand and marvellous. And, what about
the ground? The outfield was a wonderful green carpet, definitely
world class. And all along the boundary line, there were hoardings
carrying Swami's sayings. What a change from the ads that
one sees in the usual cricket grounds!
entered the ground in a ceremonial parade. He came in an elegant
sports car, white in colour, and driven by His student. At
the head of the procession was the popular favourite, Sai
Geetha. This must have be the only cricket match where a caparisoned
elephant formed a part of the opening ceremonies! Behind Sai
Geetha came the institute brass band, in a smart turnout,
followed by over a hundred students, in slow march, bearing
the flags of all nations.