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When They Played At The Lord's…..

They were the best, the game could boast of…in the country and in the world.
They came to play a cricket match at the Lord's………..own playground!
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.

The Day Before

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 wondered.

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, was born.

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 scoreboard.

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 Higher Learning.

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 amity.

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 CROWDFinally, 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!

THE GRAND ENTRYSwami 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.



Volume 01: PDS / 04 Date : OCT 15 2003