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Captain makes cake wait

Johannesburg, March 21: With his biggest day hours away, Sourav Ganguly is becoming more superstitious. “Thank you for this cake, but I’m not cutting any till the final,” the India captain insisted, when a well-wisher turned up with a creamy concoction at the Holiday Inn Elangeni in Durban late last night.

The gentleman was taken aback and took a few minutes to appreciate just how superstitious Sourav is. The cake, of course, was to celebrate two achievements: India’s entry into a World Cup final after 20 years and the captain’s superb unbeaten 111 against Kenya.

“I’m not overdoing the superstition bit but then I don’t wish to do anything different before Sunday.... Moreover, this isn’t the time to celebrate — that will be once we’ve beaten Australia,” Sourav told The Telegraph, as he accepted a jumbo bouquet and a bottle of bubbly from yet another well-wisher (this time, a lady).

Relieved. Tired. Happy... It was difficult gauging whether it was more of one or less of the other. The captain’s confidence, though, couldn’t be missed. It’s one game now and cricket’s biggest prize will be his and Team India’s if Sunday’s show matches the potential.

Earlier, interacting with the media at Kingsmead, Sourav upped the ante by boldly declaring: “We know Australia is the best Test team. However, whether it has the same standing in ODIs will be known after the final.” Most captains would have avoided irking Ricky Ponting, but Sourav is of different mettle.

To rub it in, he added: “Right through this tournament, the Australian top-order has cracked early, quickly exposing the middle-order. We will be looking to exploit that.”

Looking back on the semifinal, Sourav said: “We’ve won eight matches in a row, which is preparation enough for Sunday.... Moreover, except the Super Six game versus Kenya, the victories have been one-sided. But, yes, we will have to collectively fire and ensure the pressure of a World Cup final doesn’t get to us. Self-belief has carried us to where we have reached.... We’ve got to continue believing in ourselves.”

Reflecting on his record-equalling third century (22nd overall) in a single edition of the World Cup, he acknowledged the batsman in him had changed. “I’ve learnt and improved.... With the bowlers giving little width outside off, I’ve had to look at opportunities elsewhere. Today, then, I’m a better player off the pads....”

Incidentally, Sourav didn’t forget to praise vice-captain (and wicketkeeper) Rahul Dravid’s contribution to India’s 2003 campaign.

“Rahul has been a pillar of strength and has played a huge part....” He didn’t have to but, like a captain who feels for his players, added “too much” ought not to be read into the 16 byes yesterday. “Rahul hurt his left hand and that must have made it uncomfortable....” Dravid, by the way, is “fine”.

Asked if there was a message for fans in India, Sourav paused a wee bit and replied: “We will try our best.” For the passionate billion and more at home, that’s enough reassurance.

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