Former cricket players (left to right) Jonty Rhodes, Virender Sehwag, Tillakaratne Dilshan, Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Brett Lee pose during an event to promote the Road Safety World Series T20 cricket league, in Mumbai on October 17, 2019. Photo: AFP / Indranil Mukherjee

Cricket is the second most viewed sport worldwide and it is a great platform to highlight a social cause. The just-concluded Road Safety World Series was a Twenty20 (T20) cricket competition that showcased retired players – Sachin Tendulkar, Sanath Jayasuriya, Brian Lara and others.

The series was organized by the Road Safety Cell of Maharashtra, India, to raise awareness about accidents, road safety rules and other related issues. It was hosted by the cricket stadium in Naya Raipur, Chhattisgarh.

Cricket being the most widely viewed sport all around India lends to more visibility of the road-safety movement. Players from six regions – West Indies, India, Bangladesh, England, Sri Lanka and South Africa – united for the cause of spreading awareness about road safety.

Yash Sardesai (left), chief executive of the Sri Lanka Legends, said: “Road safety is a global issue and we need a global platform to spread awareness about it. Cricket is an efficient platform to spread awareness about road safety because it reaches a high population worldwide.

“Moreover, connecting a social cause to cricket ensures that players with a high following are spreading awareness about the cause. This makes social campaigns more efficient.”

The Sri Lanka Legends, a team headed by captain Tillakaratne Dilshan, qualified for the final of the series. During the series, Asia Times spoke to Dilshan and Sardesai about cricket and its role in spreading a social cause. 

Conversation with Yash Sardesai

Vidhi Bubna: Tell us about your journey as CEO of the Sri Lanka Legends.

Yash Sardesai: My journey with the league started last year in February. Due to Covid, the league had to stop and it resumed in 2021. I have had a great experience, even more because I am watching so many retired legends play – Sachin Tendulkar, Sanath Jayasuriya, Brian Lara and others. It feels great to be connected to all of them in a way via the series. I am learning more from everyone. 

VB: Who is your favorite player in the team and why?

YS: My favorite player in the team is Sanath Jayasuriya because I have grown up watching him play since I was a kid. 

VB: What role do you think cricket plays in making people aware about issues like road safety?

YS: I think cricket is an important platform to raise more awareness about road safety. It is the most watched sport across India. When the cricket players speak about road-safety rules like wearing a helmet, putting on the seatbelt, not using phones while driving, not drinking and driving and other similar rules, a large audience listens to them. Hence people start following rules more seriously because many players who are their role models are advising them to follow rules. This is the aim of the series. 

VB: What is the reason behind you choosing to head the team for a cause?

YS: I am passionate about the game and the series has given me the opportunity to learn a lot. As I said before, Sanath Jayasuriya, Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara have been cricketers I watched on television while growing up. Seeing them play cricket up close has been a wonderful experience. 

Conversation with Tillakaratne Dilshan

Vidhi Bubna: How does it feel to get back to the field after retirement?

Tillakaratne Dilshan: Playing in this league feels like playing international cricket. My co-players and opponents are similar to the days when I would play. I feel very nostalgic to play with Sachin and [Virender] Sehwag as I did in games years ago. Moreover, it is always exciting to play in India because the stadiums have a lot of energy and the crowds are very exciting. 

Tillakaratne Dilshan

VB: How does it feel to be playing during Covid?

TD: Due to strict Covid protocols to be followed, the players [were] not allowed to step out of their hotels except for the game or practice sessions. This actually turned beneficial to have team bonding sessions and form a team stronger than ever.

Of course when it started off, it was a little challenging to get used to it but time teaches the best possible outputs. Not only practices but going to the gym, pool and dining have surely inculcated a sense of belonging within these players.

The pandemic apart from enclosure has not brought any hassles to the team and we can surely say it seems favorable for us. We are enjoying our time in Raipur. 

VB: What is your relationship with your CEO, Yash Sardesai?

TD: Yash Sardesai is more like a part of our family. We do a lot of bonding activities like cooking, celebrating victories, etc. We have everything we need here.

Yash Sardesai considers his responsibility to be towards managing and organizing but he leaves the practicing and playing decisions to the players. This flexibility actually helps all the players [feel] at ease and not bound by any pressure. A key that led to their success is surely the great bond the team shares with the CEO – it is a family bond.

VB: Why do you want to play for the cause of road safety?

TD: I know that when I am talking about road safety, it is likely to reach my fans…. The Road Safety World Series has given us a platform to campaign for a cause.

I believe that every life is important and it should be taken seriously. People should not drink and drive or use phones when they are driving. Many countries have strong driving rules but many Asian countries don’t have strong rules for road safety. 

Vidhi Bubna

Vidhi Bubna is a freelance writer based in Mumbai who covers politics, defense, economy and international relations.