They say that politics and sport should always be kept separate.
Yet, in India, it is hard to keep cricket separate from anything. According to research conducted by the ICC in 2018, India – who are second favourites to win the 2020 World T20 in the latest cricket betting – accounts for over 90 per cent of cricket’s 1bn supporters.
Participation figures are equally as impressive. In 2012, it was calculated that 62 per cent of Indians play cricket at least four times per year.
Cricket is easily India’s most popular hobby. And, channelled properly, it can be a force for good.
“Any cricket match that involves India or Indian cricket attracts a huge audience,” says Jaideep Marar, a cricket journalist who has reported for the Economic Times, Times of India and Sport360.
“With the digital platform also coming into play, and the social media platforms, there is a huge audience that is eager to devour any kind of international cricket.
“What better way to convey a serious issue than through this medium?”
That is why, in March, cricket will be used to try and help tackle one of India’s biggest societal issues: road safety.
Ravi Gaikwad, who has a background in cricket but now focuses on politics, is the pioneer at the forefront of the Road Safety World Series.
Gaikwad played junior cricket for Maharashtra, a region in India where Mumbai is the capital, and, as a result, has several contacts in the game.
As the current chief of the Mumbai government’s Road Transport Office, he has called in every favour he can to create an international tournament featuring legends from all over the world to raise awareness of one of India’s biggest killers.
In India, somebody dies in a road accident every four minutes. Of every 100 global fatalities, 30 are Indian, yet the issue has never been satisfactorily addressed.
“We are badly advised,” Marar says. “The government itself is taking lots of steps to cut down on accidents, and they claim that, in the last year or so, we have managed to reduce the number.
“But it is not just the number of deaths. It is the number of accidents that injure people for life, the families and all of that.”
This tournament has been in the works for a while.
In 2018, Gaikwad helped to put on the ‘Horn Not OK Please’ match, when the cream of Indian cricket played a T20 match in the name of road safety.
“He has had the idea for two years since that charity match,” says Marar.
“But now his objective is to keep it as a long-term event. He wants this to be a multi-year affair.
“The cause is not necessarily something that everybody has tried to associate themselves with. There have been small events associated with road safety across the country, but involving the cricketers has not been an element.”
Yuvraj Singh, Brian Lara and Brett Lee are among a long list of legends involved in the competition, which features invitational XIs from India, South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies and Australia. Sunil Gavaskar is the commissioner of the series, which will see every team play each other before the top two face off in the final.
But the excitement surrounding one man’s participation trumps that of all others’.
“This has been seen as the comeback series of Mr Tendulkar,” says Marar. “He has played one-off matches across the world, but to play in a proper tournament like this is something that cricket fans in India will be looking forward to.
“I’m told that he has already been practising very hard for this event.
“It’s the kind of cricketer that he has been. We all know that he never lets go of a challenge and is very determined to come at whatever is thrown at him.”
Tendulkar’s involvement should guarantee that, in cricketing terms, the tournament will be a success – “there should be full houses for sure, crowds should not be a problem,” says Marar.
And, by extension, the enormous fanbase and considerable reach that he brings with him ought to ensure that the event can bring about meaningful change.
“Sachin is a brand ambassador of the series and he has been enthusiastic about it,” he says.
“The players automatically become ambassadors for road safety and they will convey a lot of these things.
“I was told a lot of activations are going to be done during the tournament, whereby this message is conveyed across the country.
“They are also tying up with Doordarshan – the national channel of India – to ensure that it preaches to all corners of the country. That is the objective.”
That job is not just restricted to players and broadcasters.
Marar acknowledges that reporting on this tournament, in which the actual cricket is playing a secondary role, will be a little different to usual.
“Obviously the cricket will be for the fans,” he says, “but from a journalist’s point of view, it will be a test of knowing more about the players.
“How have they been doing? What have they been doing? Because those are the sorts of things that will interest the audience.
“Then, of course, there is the road safety cause and that’s something that we will ask the cricketers about. How is it in their countries? What have been their experiences?
“They will be quite forthcoming about that, I hope.”
In doing so, the legends, who are already so revered for their sporting prowess, can make their most telling contribution to Indian society yet.