| Glad to be away from Sachin: Shoaib Akhtar watches a dancer in Bulawayo, where Pakistan will play Zimbabwe. (AP/PTI)
Pretoria, March 2: Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani was first off the blocks in congratulating Sourav Ganguly’s Team India for the stupendous World Cup win over Pakistan. A close second, though, was a surprise caller: General N.C. Vij, the army chief.
The calls came last night itself, shortly after the team returned from Centurion. While Advani spoke to manager Jyoti Bajpai and followed it up with calls to Sourav and Man of the Match Sachin Tendulkar, General Vij requested Bajpai to convey his congratulations to “all members” of the victorious XI.
Given the occasion, all calls had a common content — “Great show and well done” — but an officer who preceded General Vij’s coming on the line did have something different to say: “Sir, now, you all must also be sent to Kargil.” In other words, should General Pervez Musharraf resort to dirty tricks, a Waqar Younis-like black eye awaited him.
Hundreds of calls from well-wishers back in India delayed the team’s plans to celebrate in Johannesburg, which is 45 minutes away.
Eventually, Sourav and Co. did head for Jo’Burg, but the late departure meant they couldn’t dine at the preferred venue (a club) and settled for Mexican food not far from the Wanderers. “Actually, nobody complained,” quipped Sourav.
The team got back rather late and, predictably, nobody turned up for breakfast by the cut-off time (10 am).
When the heroes did step out of their rooms, the thrill was still evident. For instance, speaking exclusively, Jawagal Srinath felt having been a member of all four winning XIs against Pakistan (in the World Cup) “would remain the highpoint” of his career.
Sachin, whose 98 will be bracketed with the very best in ODIs, is the only other to have featured in the Sydney (1992), Bangalore (1996), Manchester (1999) and Centurion line-ups. That he will surely have another go, in 2007, is what probably prompted a less emotional response. However, Sachin did say: “It’s a terrific feeling.”
Talking to The Telegraph, though, Sachin didn’t rate either yesterday’s victory or his own effort. “I quite agree with the captain that every win is important. As for my own innings, it’s among the most fulfilling. Is it better than the two hundreds versus Australia in Sharjah (1998)' Look, each innings has its importance...”
Having already totalled a staggering 469 runs, Sachin is sure to improve the World Cup record he himself set in 1996 — 523. “I haven’t set a target... Haven’t set out to achieve an X number of runs in every game... I’m just out to enjoy myself,” he insisted, adding he was “much better” despite the left thigh muscles being sore.
“A bit of rest should do,” he pointed out. Come to think of it, the bowlers too need a rest — from being at the receiving end of Sachin’s bat.
Sourav iterated that Yuvraj Singh’s unbeaten 50 had confirmed that his “faith” in the young ones wasn’t misplaced.