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.
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 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
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.
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
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
Thomases were busy with their doubts, others became busy with
various details connected with the Unity Cup match.
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.
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."
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.
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.
the Dias, Swami was ceremonially received by the Prime Minister
and other dignitaries. The Vice-Chancellor, then requested the
Prime Minister, to hoist the unity flag, an impressive mosaic of
the flags of all nations. The Unity flag was hoisted, to the tune
of specially composed music played by the brass band of the
Institute. The flag bearers, then ran towards the hill, and
planted the flags in an impressive row, all along the road leading
up to the Hanuman statue. As the flags fluttered in the morning
breeze, it really was a sight to behold!
and the Prime Minister then went down to the ground for the formal
introduction to the players of the two teams and for photographs.
As Swami, the Prime Minister, and the players took their seats,
the camera men had a field day, clicking away. Yes, the media
people were there in full strength, too. Doordarshan (the National
Channel) was telecasting this match, not only all over India, but
also to several countries overseas! Incidentally, this was one of
the subtle aspects of the divine drama. Thanks to the match, there
was a telecast. And thanks to the telecast, millions of devotees
all over the country and even abroad, were able to get Bhagavan's
darshan. Swami satisfies the aspirations of one and all, in
numerous ways. However, very few take note of it.
was time for the game to start. The rival captains, Sachin
Tendulkar of India and Arjuna Ranatunga of world XI went out into
the middle for the toss. India won the toss and elected to bat.
Runs came briskly for India, and the score board, operated by the
institute boys, incidentally, was moving at a good rate. And when
Sachin enters, there were electrifying fireworks. The crowd was
simply delirious with delight. The TV camera repeatedly swung from
the ground to the dais, giving viewers a heady mix of sport and
the Lord who willed it. It was just unbelievable! Swami was
surrounded by Sunil Gavaskar of India, Clive Lloyd of West Indies,
Hanif Mohamed and Zaheer Abbas of Pakistan; and all were absorbed,
watching cricket! Meanwhile, in the commentary box, Syed Kirmani
of India was going gaga, waxing eloquent on Baba's love rather
than the game in progress!
India piled up an
impressive score of 289 runs, in the allotted overs, bolstered by
a blitzkrieg by Sachin. It was then time for lunch.
children of the primary school came on to the field and presented
a most colourful as well as impressive half-time show. For the
institute students, it was their finest hour. They were on
hospitality duty everywhere. In fact, everyone had been working
throughout, and very have few have had the opportunity to see the
match, though they all would have loved to. But, as Swami says,
duty first! On the dais, Zaheer Abbas, a scintillating Pakistani
cricketer of yester years, was amazed by the service rendered by
the institute boys. Seized with curiosity, he wanted to know all
about how Swami trains his students!
lunch, it was the turn of World XI to bat. But, they were no match
for India, and were scuttled out for 161.To the delight of the
crowd, India won the Sri Sathya Sai Unity Cup!
Under Bhagavan's supervision, a simple but impressive ceremony had
been arranged. The visiting dignitaries made speeches; among them
was Clive Lloyd, former Captain of the West Indies. He said the he
was thrilled to witness this great spectacle and to see the
wonderful stadium come to fruition. He reminded the players that
their talent was a gift from God; and what they did with their
talent was their offering to God and gift to humanity. Words right
out of the Bhagavad Gita. Yes, if one's heart is in the right
place, as they say, then even without reading the scriptures,
wisdom pours forth. It comes gushing straight from the source!
the speech making was over, Swami gave a signal, and the Unity Cup
was wheeled in from the Shanti Vedica. It was huge! And made of
gold too! It could not be carried, and had to be brought in a cart!
Half a dozen people lifted the cup and held it up to Bhagavan, and
He blessed it by touching it! Sachin Tendulkar, the Indian captain,
was then asked to come forward and receive the cup.Sachin did. As
Sunil Gavaskar said, Sachin's batting performance in the field
earlier in the day was overshadowed by his weight-lifting
performance when he received the cup all by himself!
It was all over. The
unity cup match had not only become history but a part of His
But why did Swami want to have a Unity Cup? What is the
connection, between cricket and spirituality?
is not only cricket, but in fact everything in this universe has a
connection with spirituality. Five thousand years ago Krishna
declared: "Any good act if lovingly offered to Me becomes sacred.
This is the way to transform even ordinary work into Worship."
Baba was reminding man of this timeless message by hinting that
even a one-day international becomes spiritual, if it is played
entirely for the pleasure of the Lord and offered to Him with
E-Magazine 15th October 2004