New Delhi/Mumbai, November 3 (IANS) UNICEF South Asia Regional Ambassador and cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar led a day for children and called for gender equality with Muttiah Muralitharan, Sri Lankan cricket icon, during the India-Sri Lanka match in Mumbai.

The One Day for Children is a milestone event under the ICC-UNICEF partnership to support children’s issues and causes during the ICC Men’s World Cup Cricket 2023 taking place in India.

In the second innings of the match, Sachin Tendulkar and Muttiah Muralitharan pressed a button which lit up the32,000 strong iconic Wankhede Stadium in UNICEF’s iconic cyan blue colour, as part of a long-standing partnership between UNICEF and the International Cricket Council (ICC).

“The World Cup is an opportune moment to bring people together and promote hope and equality for every child, and I am delighted that today’s match between Sri Lanka and India is the One Day for Children match,” said Sachin Tendulkar, cricketing icon, and UNICEF South Asia Regional Ambassador. “I urge the players, the audiences here and across the world, and ICC partners, to pledge to treat boys and girls equally, irrespective of gender and to build a world where all children, especially girls, have equal rights. I urge everyone to be a champion for children and pledge to end gender inequality together!”

Earlier, the in-stadium audiences were handed LED wrist bands at the entry points to the stands as they arrived, which turned blue with the Stadium. The LED wrist bands came with a QR code, which also linked to a pledge for children. Everyone who got the band was encouraged to scan the QR code and pledge. Players also wore one-of-a-kind armbands with logos of the World Cup, One Day 4 Child and UNICEF along with the players’ names.

“Today’s World Cup match is dedicated to advancing the rights and well-being of all children. This is a valuable opportunity to bring the power of cricket – its massive reach across the globe – to advocate for better, safer and empowering lives for millions of girls and boys,” said Cynthia McCaffrey, Representative, UNICEF India. “We greatly value the partnership with ICC and BCCI to use cricket to raise awareness and promote gender equality among millions of young fans and followers, and urge them to be champions for children, especially for girls.”

Since 2016, UNICEF and ICC have used the potential of cricketing events to improve the lives of children and young people. From2022, the focus of the partnership has been to empower girls and young women through cricket.

“I strongly believe that playing sport can positively transform children’s lives. Ensuring participation of girls in sports can challenge gender norms and change attitudes in schools, playgrounds and homes,” added Tendulkar, UNICEF’s South Asia Regional Ambassador. “Girls and boys everywhere, dream of a better future, and when girls do better, we all do better!”

South Asia is home to one-third of the world’s 600 million adolescent girls – or a staggering 170 million – yet their potential to change the world remains largely untapped. For example, 1 in every 5 girls is undernourished. More than half of adolescent girls are anaemic. Only 36 per cent of girls have completed secondary school. Evidence shows that with adequate investments in the health and nutrition of girls and women, the world could save more than 12 million lives and prevent more than 30 million unwanted pregnancies.

The ICC Men’s World Cup Cricket in India, from 5 October to 19 November, has attracted millions of fans and viewers. In addition to the One Day for Children event, UNICEF and ICC have promoted gender equality through several cricketing initiatives during the ICC World Cup 2023. For example, cricketers from each of the 10 teams played with about 50 young boys and girls during 10 cricket clinics across 8 cities in India.

In August 2023, in his role as UNICEF South Asia Regional Ambassador, Sachin Tendulkar visited Sri Lanka and met with children and parents impacted by the COVID-pandemic and the 2022 economic crisis.

Sachin Tendulkar’s statue was unveiled at the Wankhede, marking a deep tribute to his iconic cricket career and emotional connection to Mumbai and India.

Nearly a decade after he played his last international game, the little man was greeted with chants of ‘Saaaachiiin, Sachin’ by a largely empty Wankhede Stadium on Wednesday evening. The pre-recorded chants filtered through the public address system second after Sachin Tendulkar’s 22-foot statue, depicting a lofted straight drive, was unveiled adjacent to the stand named after him in a tribute by his home association that left him deeply moved.

Tendulkar’s 200th and final Test was against West Indies at the same venue in 2013, a game India wrapped up on the third day, November 16, by an innings and 126 runs. His final act on the field was a sparkling 74, his final act once the festivities were dispensed with and he made a stirring speech that left not a dry eye in the stadium was a walk to the middle of the ground to offer salutations to the pitch, a gesture of great symbolism and the ultimate proof of exactly what place the sport occupies in his life.

There was a slew of towering political and cricketing personalities in attendance at the unveiling of the statue and a function immediately afterwards, but there was no doubting who the cynosure was. Tendulkar’s connection to the sport and the country runs deep. He is revered and deified all over India, but it is Mumbai that is dearest to his heart, the Wankhede which holds the most special place in his consciousness.

Two of Tendulkar’s most iconic moments came at the ground he can rightfully call home – the realisation of a dream with victory in the World Cup final against Sri Lanka in 2011, and his last hurrah in international cricket, in front of his adoring immediate family – his mother included – and his extended family that the entire cricket-loving Indian fraternity had become. For the 24 years that he wielded his willow like a rapier and a broadsword and a scimitar, he dictated the moods of a billion people. His presence at the crease equalled reassurance, his dismissal drove daggers deep into Indian hearts. It’s unimaginable that one man could have carried so many hopes and expectations for so long – he first played for the country when he was 16 – and yet retained his sanity, his humility and his sense of equanimity.

Tendulkar’s evolution since his retirement has been little short of staggering. He has grown into an excellent speaker too, the first signs of which came during his passionate oration on the day of his Test retirement. On Wednesday, he regaled a rapt audience with previously unheard-of nuggets, including when he first visited the Wankhede as a 10-year-old to watch India play West Indies in 1983 as part of a 25-member group which had only 24 tickets because ‘tiny Tendulkar’ could easily be smuggled in.

One of his great regrets was not being able to bat alongside his hero Sunil Gavaskar, who took a 14-year-old Tendulkar to the Indian dressing room after the 1987 World Cup semifinal loss to England at the Wankhede. “The following year,” he recalled, “I was selected to play for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy. When I entered the dressing room, every seat was taken except the one at the far left. I went and left my kit there and was informed that that had been SMG’s seat. I went out to bat and scored a hundred because that seat wasn’t used to being occupied. The crease was used to being occupied, instead, so I had no option but to score a hundred.” It was classic Tendulkar, understated and with a respectful sense of humour that hasn’t always been his calling card.

Tendulkar was more than a player and a batter and a cricketer for the entirety of his career when he strode the cricketing landscape like a colossus. He touched hearts, he wowed audiences all over the world and he had some of the greatest names to have graced cricket eating out of his hands. In India, he became an emotion from day one, his progress from a curly-haired, baby-faced 16-year-old to a senior statesman whose spirit remained undimmed even as successive injuries ravaged his body a wonderful example on how to ride the punches, how to marry the occasional bad times with the numerous good ones.

As he dedicated the statue to his numerous ‘non-strikers, including those who played before me and inspired me’, it was obvious that he was saying nothing for effect. This was Tendulkar, honest and unplugged. The Tendulkar India knows and loves. The Tendulkar with the power to unite and heal, more than anyone else.