Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium turns into a fortress

As India and South Africa practiced in right earnest, the police, in khaki, were patrolling alongside the boundary ropes. Private security guards, clad in black, accompanied every player, from the stadium gates to a series of nets arranged outside, whenever they strode out for a bowl or a knock down.

Security personnel keep a close eye ahead of the third ODI between India and South Africa in Rajkot.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

On the eve of India’s third ODI against South Africa, khaki and black were the dominant colours at Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Khanderi, which is situated on the outskirts of the city.

As the two teams practiced in right earnest, the police, in khaki, were patrolling alongside the boundary ropes. Private security guards, clad in black, accompanied every player, from the stadium gates to a series of nets arranged outside, whenever they strode out for a bowl or a knock down.

These, though, are normal scenes for any cricket venue in India ahead of international games. But the number of security personnel is much larger here, giving an indication of the scale of operations undertaken to ensure a protest-free ODI. Hardik Patel had earlier threatened to agitate inside the stadium, trying to draw focus to his drive to secure a reservation for his tribe.

According to Superintendent of Police, Gagandeep Gambhir, the stadium, which has a capacity of 29,000, will have 3,500 policemen and policewomen, 400 State Reserve Police personnel, 200 Rapid Action Force squad and 1050 private security bodyguards.

Cricket is a religion in Saurashtra and Gujarat, much like the rest of the country. Parthiv Patel, gutsy and graceful batsman, is a celebrity here. Axar Patel, the left-arm spinner and promising batsman, is now building his own legacy as an all-rounder. But like a black cloud blocking out the sun’s glare, it’s the third Patel, who has put up his hand, casting a shadow over the match.

The SCA had made available only 9900 (1900 online and 8000 over the counter) tickets for the public, which were quickly sold out. With identity cards mandatory for every booking, the Patels’ have complained of being left out.

Alleging that match tickets were denied to his followers by the SCA, Hardik announced a plan to put up a blockade around the hotels, which are hosting the Indian and the South African teams, stopping them from reaching the Khanderi stadium.

Manisha Chandra, the Rajkot District Collector, has issued a notification, prohibiting flags/banners, tee-shirts and caps, which carries slogans about reservation. The administration also wants to bar any sloganeering within one kilometre radius of the SCA stadium.

In the crossfire is the cricket fan, caught between an angry community – prepared to hijack a sporting contest to focus attention on a political cause – and an administration, which is ready to use every available resource to counter them.