| Zaheer Khan, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly at a practice session in Harare. (Reuters) nSee Sport
Harare, Feb. 18: In an unprecedented damage-control exercise, mascot Sachin Tendulkar today “reassured” fans back home that the Indian team would “fight till the last ball” in every remaining World Cup game and that the present disappointment shouldn’t turn to despondency.
While India beat Holland in their opening engagement last Wednesday, they were routed by defending champions Australia at SuperSport Park in Centurion. Come tomorrow and they will play Zimbabwe at the charming Harare Sports Club.
Sachin, who made a verbal statement towards the end of his workout at the Harare SC, declined to take questions and insisted he had only “come forward” to speak on behalf of the team.
“We are aware of the disappointment at home and we ourselves are very disappointed at our performance. However, everybody should note we will fight till the last ball in every match,” was the theme of Sachin’s short message.
Ideally, this statement ought to have come from captain Sourav Ganguly, but the team management thought it best to let the No. 1 icon do the talking. While agreeing, Sachin placed a precondition: That he wouldn’t get involved in a Q&A session with the media. That was accepted.
Sourav, a party to the decision on Sachin, told The Telegraph: “He is bigger than all of us and everyone felt he should send out a message on behalf of the entire team. That’s all.”
Later, during a media conference, he expressed “disappointment” and “sadness” at the turn of events back home. “It’s sad to learn that stones have been thrown at some of the players’ houses and that Rahul Dravid’s car (a Honda) got damaged... I know we have disappointed fans, but these are early days in the tournament and we can still make the Super Six.
“In fact, no team has ever won the World Cup without an up-and-down run... I see no reason why we should have our heads down. Yes, we lost big against Australia, but we lost to a great side.”
(Incidentally, Dravid himself hasn’t got a complete update on the incident. “My parents did speak to me about it, but didn’t give all the details,” he said late this evening.)
When someone asked whether the team was short on motivation (despite sessions with psychologist Sandy Gordon), Sourav quickly countered: “Playing in the biggest tournament alone should make one more motivated. If somebody still isn’t, then, I accept there’s a problem.”
Having made that point, he strongly dismissed a suggestion that criticism had begun to weigh him down.
“I’ve been captain for three years and realise that there will be criticism when the going isn’t good…. At this level, criticism has to be accepted.”
Privately, Sourav is understood to have made known his unhappiness over the “negative line” consistently taken by some former India cricketers who have lucrative assignments with TV and the print media. In any case, it’s no denying that he has always been made a target by some.
Today, though, Sourav signed off with: “We have, in the past, given fans much to smile about. Hopefully, we will again make them happy.” This start has to be made tomorrow.