As Heinrich Klassen took the England bowlers to the cleaners at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday late afternoon, a group of young fans were chanting, “ Go Proteas!” from one corner of the Sunil Gavaskar Pavilion.
With the South African batters in red-hot form, the youngsters – all of them in their early 20s – hoped that the Men in Green would breach the 400-run mark, and throughout the innings, they made it a point to click as many pictures as possible.
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“This is our first visit to India and we want to make every moment memorable,” Shane Weisz said with a smile. Growing up in Cape Town, Shane has heard several stories of Indian cricket from his grandfather Ali Bacher – the legendary cricket administrator from South Africa.
Bacher was the architect of South Africa’s return to the ICC fold in 1991.
“Since childhood, I have heard so much about India and the country’s fondness for cricket from my grandfather, so this time around, we wanted to visit India and enjoy the World Cup from the stadium,” Weisz said, as two of his friends – Jonathan Tooke and Matthew Roos – nodded their heads in agreement.
After managing to book tickets for the South Africa versus England game online, the trio reached Mumbai on Saturday morning, checked into a hostel in Andheri West and then rushed to the Wankhede Stadium for the game.
“It’s an incredible experience to watch the game from the stands. We are really happy that South Africa batted so well,” Weisz, who holds a Masters in Machine Learning and Machine Intelligence from University of Cambridge, said.
He was just four years old when South Africa hosted the ODI World Cup in 2003, and even though he has been to several bilateral games at the Newlands, this was his first visit to an ODI World Cup venue.
“All three of us have waited for this moment and we hope we get to see some more cricket here,” he said.
The trio plans to visit The Taj Mahal in Agra before heading to Kolkata to watch the India versus South Africa game.
“We are starting off our careers, so we are on a shoe-string budget and hence, we are staying in a hostel,” said Weisz, adding with a smile, “We are loving it!”
It has been a decade since Sachin Tendulkar drew curtains on his illustrious international career, but the fans remembered the Indian cricket legend on Saturday as South Africa faced England.
Every time the South African batters went hammer and tongs against the English bowlers, a nearly-packed stadium chanted, ‘Sachin, Sachin…’
Not just that. In the stands, quite a few fans were spotted donning Tendulkar’s jerseys, while others donned those of MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli.
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On November 1, the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) will inaugurate a life-size statue of the former India captain and members of the current Indian team are expected to grace the event.
In February, MCA president Amol Kale had announced that the association was planning to erect a life-size statue of Tendulkar as a tribute to the legend, who turned 50 in April.
Ashraful in the house
Not many noticed Mohammad Ashraful at the Wankhede Stadium press box. But the former Bangladesh captain, who is currently in India as a commentator for a Bengali sports outlet, enjoyed each and every moment of the South Africa versus England fixture. “It feels so good to be back in Mumbai,” he told Sportstar with a smile.
Way back in 2009, Ashraful was in Mumbai for a week-long training session with Mumbai Indians before flying out to South Africa for the Indian Premier League.
“The ground still has that old charm, and I am expecting some high-scoring games here during the World Cup,” he said.
South Africa proved him right by setting a 400-run target for England. While Ashraful thoroughly enjoyed Klaasen’s blitzkrieg, sitting in one corner of the press box, he made it a point to catch up with former India internationals Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh during the innings break.
A member of the 2007 ODI World Cup team that stunned India, Ashraful was banned for five years for involvement in corruption, but he returned to mainstream cricket in 2018, and still plays First-Class cricket in Bangladesh and England. “Once I am done playing, I want to do some coaching,” he said.