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Battle over, it’s time for sandwich & juice

u If you’re in Jo’burg, and it’s afternoon, there’s only one place to be — Sandton Square, the one-stop shop, sip and bite destination for passers-through. And on Monday, the afternoon after, for cricket-crazy Indians, just hanging out at Food Court in the giant mall is good enough.

It’s close to 1 pm when three strapping young men queue up for some sandwich and juice. A ripple runs through the Indians — it’s Yuvraj Singh, Mohammed Kaif and Ashish Nehra.

The trio goes on to grab a relaxed mid-day munch, with friends. The fans wait and watch, from a distance. The minute the meal is over, they queue up for autographs and photographs. No prizes for guessing who the ‘most wanted’ is — Yuvraj, in Armani sweat shirt, faded denims and slip-on shoes.

“Yuvi, one more, pleaaase,” go the girls, before the boys go batty, shaking his hand and lining up to be clicked with the rising star. Kaif is next on the fans’ photo-op list, with Nehra all but left to himself.

Before you can start feeling sorry for the left-armer, you spy a ‘beefy’ man in bright red shirt, khaki shorts and shades striding past. Yes, it’s a man they all call Ian Botham, out shopping with wife Kathy by his side. No one stops the great English all-rounder. Forgotten at 47'

As if to stress how today, tomorrow scores over yesterday, there’s Syed Kirmani waiting to enter a money-exchange centre bordering Food Court, while Harbhajan Singh and Parthiv Patel enter the eating zone. Girls trip over each other to pose with Parthiv — who looks close to 14, in a green round-neck and blue denims. Bhajji, too, is surrounded for a signature. No one notices Kiri.

Yuvraj, Kaif and Nehra are doing the rounds of the glittering Square — Harbhajan and Parthiv too have finished the fast food by the time the skipper makes an entry with a Calcutta comrade. Sourav Ganguly spends the next half-hour over a leisurely lunch, which must have gone down far better than whatever he had at The Wanderers, precisely 24 hours ago.

But those behind some of the counters at Food Court still cannot stop talking about the time Sachin Tendulkar was here, before the Centurion Super Six game against New Zealand. “He was so cool....He was so polite,” says an awestruck Indian girl who remembers whipping up some juice for the Player of World Cup 2003. “We are all hoping he comes back,” she gushes.

v “The slow motion replay doesn’t show how fast the ball was travelling,” Richie Benaud once famously said on air. Quite along the same lines, on Monday, no amount of column centimetres that the Jo’burg papers devote, or the hours of World Cup wrap-ups the local channels beam, can quite recapture the real thing — the awesome Aussie power hitting at The Wanderers on Sunday. It was one of those see-it-to-believe-it things on the sporting big stage. Replays just ain’t good enough.

The Star (“Established October 17, 1887” reads a strapline below the masthead) on Monday does a dual departure. First, it pushes the war below the fold on the first page and puts Ponting’s victory lap on top. But then, the main story is more South Africa than Australia: “Hats off to host SA as rampant Aussies take Cup”. Ali Bacher, not Ricky Ponting, is the focus of the front-piece. Secondly, The Star splashes cricket on five pages out of 12 in a special sports pullout. The rest, of course, are devoted to soccer, rugby and Formula One, the three disciplines that normally manage to push cricket off the popular pitch and page quite easily. “Captain Marvel” is what ‘punter’ Ponting is dubbed, but a Dream Team put together by the paper is, well, let’s leave it at ‘open to question’: (in batting order) Adam Gilchrist, Herschelle Gibbs, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendulkar, Andrew Symonds, Michael Bevan, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Brett Lee, Zaheer Khan, Andrew Bichel, Muttiah Muralitharan. The rest of the stuff is just a shade better than India’s wasteful bowling at The Wanderers.

Sowetan, the popular tabloid, may have dropped the ‘o’ in its name and replaced it with the ICC Cricket World Cup logo, but coverage is cramped into just five small stories — one on the final, one on Tendulkar as Player of the Tournament, one on Kenya’s pending Test status, one on Sanath Jayasuriya wanting to step down and another on the ICC-sponsorship spat — on the second-last and fourth-last pages of the 36-page paper.

On TV, there’s Howzat, a morning talk show touted as a “huge hit” through the Cup. Monday is curtain-drop time, with a 44-day flashback. Again, there is no real attempt to recreate the demolition act by the Aussies. In fact, some panelists spend more time blaming Sachin Tendulkar (“the second best batsman in the history of world cricket”, according to Ali Bacher) for not making a match of the final. “Since he is the best batsman in the world, he should have looked at batting right through the innings and pacing the chase,” opines one. On another morning show, Bacher shows up to thank everyone associated with the World Cup (with a special word for the most visible and vocal Indian fans), congratulate Australia and observe how organising the event on such a scale would change the way sport was though of in South Africa and create a special Cricket World Cup “brand” that can be carried forward.

w The Wanderers, on Monday, is eerily quiet and uncannily clean. Last evening, when darkness fell early, a storm swept through the stadium, 30,000 people started making their way out and the Aussies kept up a steady champions’ chant, it was a puddly cauldron of chaos. Roughly 14 hours later, there is hardly any indication of the big fight in the Bullring or its aftermath. But if you sit in the deserted stands, facing a blank scoreboard, on the morning of March 24, the sounds come back through the silence — “Indiaaa, Indiaaa....Indiaaa, Indiaaa...." — followed a split second later by the sight of over 25,000 Indians waving their flags, and cheering their team till kingdom (not) come. And the enduring image of an Indian family recently settled in South Africa huddled together as a chill ran through The Wanderers late on Sunday, humming, “We shall overcome, We shall overcome some day....” A few hours before that, they had been singing: “Saare jahan se achha...”.

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