The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cricketers take a stand in Gujarat

Ahmedabad, Nov. 14: Cricket’s mass appeal throbbed for a noble cause today when the country’s top stars took time off to salve the hurt of Gujarat’s young, forever scalded by the riots earlier this year.

Players like Virender Sehwag, Sanjay Bangar, V.V.S. Laxman and Jawagal Srinath met eight of these children, all victims of the carnage, when they came to see their heroes at the team hotel.

The programme was organised by the Society for Promotion of Rational Thinking (Sprat), a city-based voluntary organisation. The organisation had apparently got in touch with the recently-launched Indian Cricket Players’ Association, which obliged with a prompt green signal.

The children — Hindus as well as Muslims and all between six and 12 — have either lost their parents or siblings or their homes in the madness that turned the state into a boiling cauldron of hatred.

Srinath, who spoke on behalf of his teammates, said the need of the hour was to come forward and contribute in some way so that the world becomes a better place.

“We are responsible citizens, let us all take that extra step and walk together. Let us say no to communal violence and killing,” the speedster said.

But if the veteran pacer talked of a return to normal, things on another front have taken a U-turn.

Following the unprecedented chain of crowd disturbance, authorities here have announced a blanket ban on carrying any object inside the stadium for the fourth one-dayer tomorrow between India and the West Indies.

No water bottles or food containers will be allowed inside. Even smoking has been prohibited. The 50,000-odd spectators will be permitted to carry nothing save their tickets and money.

Apart from 1,500 policemen, there will be CRPF jawans, commandos and security personnel from private agencies to ensure that Ahmedabad does not experience what Jamshedpur, Nagpur and Rajkot did. Play was called off in Rajkot after three West Indians were hit by missiles thrown from the stands and India won by the Duckworth-Lewis formula.

Pramod Kumar, Gandhinagar DIG (Special Range), told reporters that although there is no information on the possibility of a militant attack, his men were prepared to combat “anti-national” elements.

Sections of the police force are, however, apprehensive that while all the attention tomorrow will be on the Sardar Patel stadium, miscreants might create trouble in the less-guarded areas.

If there is fear, there is despair, too — in a small and forgotten corner of the Cotton City. And cricket — the great opium of the masses — has so far failed to bring relief.

Twelve-year-old Asif Ali, who brings food for his grandmother who is still in a relief camp that has officially been wound up, can’t think of cricket any more. “I used to play and follow the feats of Sachin and Sourav,” he said. “But after losing my father and house in the riots, I don’t think of cricket any more.”

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