SA, India to renew rivalry
Subba Row wants walkie-talkies discarded
Only pride at stake for �big clash� today
�Commonsense approach needed�
Women cricketers feel �safe� in Jorhat
Tough fare in today�s card

Sharjah, March 21 
It�s a sign of the times.

Just over a month ago, the immigration officer in Calcutta barely stopped short of asking why the Media wasted time covering Indian cricket. After the disaster Down Under that, perhaps, was to be expected.

Early this morning though, in Mumbai, the contrast was stark. Indeed, the current mood was reflected in the enthusiasm of a customs officer who had a million queries about the Coca-Coca Cup 2000, beginning tomorrow.

His one regret, of course, was he wasn�t on the morning shift yesterday � that would have allowed him unlimited access to the Sourav Gangulys and Sachin Tendulkars, as they cleared customs before boarding an Emirates flight for neighbouring Dubai.

Yes, Hrithik Roshan continues to be the top national obsession but, within a fortnight, Indian cricket has regained much ground. Already the superb win in Kochi, over South Africa, is being saluted as among the most decisive ever.

Still, the turnaround by India has to be sustained. Even Sourav realises that.

While a fresh tournament begins tomorrow, there is continuity in that two of the three combatants � India and South Africa � have only just finished a series. The continuity bit doesn�t stretch to the sponsors (Pepsi in India), but the competition should be just as mean.

Predictably, India will be happy with a Kochi repeat. Even Jamshedpur or Vadodara. As for South Africa, inspiraton will continue to be drawn from the pulsating Nagpur victory.

�We may have just lost a close series, but aren�t short on motivation... The next few days (India, South Africa and Pakistan play each other twice) give us an opportunity to square things up,� remarked captain Hansie Cronje.

For a change, however, India start favourites � a rare status when Pakistan, too, is around (in Sharjah). Though Sourav has been playing it �safe�, the general belief in these parts is that India, today, look the �hottest� side.

�That does appear to be so, but one-day cricket can...� opined Asif Iqbal, an architect of Sharjah�s amazing growth as an �off-shore� venue.

Obviously, the team wearing the favourites� label has more headaches but, in the recent series certainly, the Indians handled pressure much better than most expected them to. Then, back in awesome form is one Sachin Tendulkar.

Really, when we talk of fans here and Sachin and Sachin himself and the wickets in this Emirate, it�s difficult judging who loves the other more. Besides maintaining his own silken touch, if Sourav was to be granted a wish, he would unhesitatingly zero in on Sachin.

The Sourav-Sachin combine (plus Rahul Dravid) has Cronje worried. �To make our job easy, we�ve got to get two of the first three cheaply,� he acknowledged. On form, that is one big ask.

With Mohammed Azharuddin, Ajit Agarkar and Sunil Joshi�s rest set to end, India will be back at full strength. South Africa, too, will see the return of Shaun Pollock, Jacques Kallis and Nicky Boje.

Incidentally, injured quick Henry Williams has left for home � replacement Charl Willoughby is expected tomorrow � while Mornantau Hayward still isn�t hundred per cent fit. �Progressing well,� is how manager Goolam Raja put it.

Of considerable interest, meanwhile, is whether South Africa will field Makhaya Ntini, who won on appeal after being convicted of rape. For one who stood condemned, Ntini has made an exceptional comeback. Of course, with much help from his Board.

Significantly the South Africans, who won all five matches on their last trip (1996), will be making their day-night debut here. Somewhat understandably, then, they aren�t too sure of how the wicket will behave � specially in session No.2 when the dew-factor should come into play.

The Indians aren�t dead sure either.    

Sharjah, March 21 
Raman Subba Row, Match Referee for the Coca-Cola Cup 2000 which begins tomorrow, will suggest that umpires do away with walkie-talkies. Obviously, Subba Row has taken a rather dim view of the Kochi fiasco, earlier this month.

Speaking to The Telegraph this afternoon, Subba Row said: �With the crowd-involvement of such a high order in these parts, the umpires out in the middle can�t hear what the third umpire says. And, so, the walkie-talkies are useless. What I�ll suggest (at the pre-tournament meeting tomorrow morning) is that the third umpire respond with lights.

�Green, for instance, can be flashed when the batsman eit her makes his ground or a boundary has been saved. Red, of course, will be used otherwise. And, if there�s uncertainty over whether it�s a four or six, the red light can keep blinking if it�s the big hit.�

Should everyone agree tomorrow, and the experiment is successful, Subba Row feels the ICC could permanently do away with walkie-talkies.    

Calcutta, March 21 
Not many matches so statistically inconsequential can generate so much interest. The National Football League, as far as Mohun Bagan is concerned, is over. They are champions already, and East Bengal have just about got hold of a breathing bubble way down in standings.

However, Mohun Bagan have sort of kept on hold their victory celebrations, because they feel if they beat East Bengal at the Salt Lake Stadium tomorrow, all this will be so much sweeter.

There�s a lot of talk jostling around �pride�, a lot of vain emotions, few linked to soccer per se, and a match that has, almost unnecessarily, been upgraded from a schedule-filler to an �event�.

East Bengal coach Subhas Bhowmick disagrees. �This match has nothing to do with the League. This is a different match in itself.� Probably like the equally obtuse Oxford-Cambridge boat race. A �match�, that itself is an �event�, releasing a secret stash of adrenaline and power!

�Mohun Bagan have played very well in the league and are deserving winners,� said Bhowmick. �But they are a beatable team. FC Kochin have shown that, and Churchill almost did. East Bengal know how to get the better of Mohun Bagan.�

He said he has a �plan�, and of course he is not going to talk about it. So has Bagan coach Subrata Bhattacharya, and he is not talking either. �I have used the 4-3-3 system well in the league, maybe I�ll twist it around a bit tomorrow,� he said.

The three front-line foreigners � Igor Skhvirin, Jose Ramirez Barreto and Stephen Abarowei � will play, and though goalkeeper Sandip Nandy will be missed, out with an injury, the rest of the team can provide an adequate dampening effect, feels the coach.

�My players are all fit, and it is the East Bengal team all over again,� said Bhowmick. He does not see a �Pele or a Maradona� in the Bagan forwards and is more willing to treat them as mere mortals. �I don�t think it is just because of the foreigners that our team won the league,� Bhattacharya said, �our local players have put in no less of an effort.�

That goes well with the club�s management who feel that without the victory tomorrow all this hype over a National League double will be �meaningless�.

Practice, at both grounds, was laced with a few logistical variables and a bagful of sentimental constants this morning. Funny, as it may seem, all that leaves little scope for mistakes tomorrow.    

Sharjah, March 21 
He doesn�t go overboard after a terrific day. Equally, he doesn�t sulk after a (rare) bad outing. This, of course, is just one trait that should allow Sourav Ganguly enjoy the India captaincy even more.

Unlike some predecessors whose body language confirmed fears that the �hot seat� was most uncomfortable, Sourav appears to be having a ball. This afternoon, for instance, he was thoroughly relaxed � watching the latest chartbusters on Sony � when The Telegraph caught up with him for an interview.

Following are excerpts

On his eve-of-the-tournament thoughts

Instead of saying we are on an absolute high, I would prefer to say we are confident.

Of course, it probably won�t be realistic to expect 300-plus scores � day-night cricket in these parts is a different proposition � but the matches should still be exciting.

On whether the Nagpur defeat (on Sunday) could actually break India�s momentum

Not at all. In fact, instead of losing (by ten runs) we ought really to have won that game... A big defeat could, perhaps, have affected our momentum.

On just how significant a factor will India�s 3-2 (home) win over South Africa be here

What will count for more is that we have been playing well, specifically, chasing very well. Competitive cricket, from our side, was the need of the series just ended. I don�t think we let anybody down... But, yes, I do agree we need to bowl and field better. Also, adopt a more commonsense approach when we are cornered.

On a �more commonsense approach�

One shouldn�t panic. In Nagpur, for instance, we needed 11 off 11 with two wickets in hand... Just two hits would have sufficed, but the panic-button was pressed... One dot ball isn�t the end of the world and, if you put away one bad ball, you can even afford to breathe easy in the next two.

On whether being fiercely competitive even in the two matches India lost (Faridabad and Nagpur) remains the top gain from the last series

(Enthusiastically) Absolutely... One of the first things I told the team is we shouldn�t be faced with a situation where our backs are to the wall. Well, the team responded superbly, didn�t it? Pressure has to be countered with pressure.

On speaking his mind (in Vadodara, for example, when he said Sachin Tendulkar himself should have won the game) and being bold (resting Mohammed Azharuddin in Nagpur)

Eventually, we did win both the match and series in Vadodara, but we�ve got to look beyond one game or tournament... If there has been a mistake, it�s a mistake whether it�s in Nagpur or Vadodara... I believe we must be honest analysing our performance... As for Azhar, I wouldn�t say it was a bold move � I just requested him to step aside in favour of a rookie (S. Sriram). He promptly agreed.

On the Pakistan-factor in Sharjah (India have won only five of the 22 matches)

In the past, we�ve probably been short on confidence. That�s not so now. Then, the current team is perhaps better than the ones of the recent past. (Adds laughing) I won�t say more, but do wait and see...

On whether he has become more superstitious

(Smiles) It�s only in Vadodara that I kept holding the Maa-Chandi locket... Actually, the cameras shouldn�t be on me so often... Becoming more superstitious will mean I�m changing, as a person. However, I know I won�t... Captaincy won�t change me.

On his captaincy getting rave reviews

I do feel happy about it, but I�ll judge myself on performances away from home. Winning anywhere is nice, yes, but the flavour is that much more sweet when it�s overseas.

Finally, his message to fans

Whether we win or lose, please be the same. Obviously, we intend winning the maximum we can, but defeats are inevitable.    

Jorhat, March 21 
With few outsiders particularly interested in visiting Assam because of political turmoil and insurgency, the attitude of the 24th national women�s cricket championship participants here has come as a welcome change. Fear is the last thing on their minds. Not only are they happy being here, they talk much about a return to the venue.

Diana Eduljee, former India captain and coach-player of Railways said: �Why should one be apprehensive? Before coming to Jorhat we were in Guwahati for about a week to get acclimatised. We faced no problem.

This is the maiden visit to the region by Eduljee. International Poornima Rao, Air-India skipper, said: �This is my second visit here. I had played in Guwahati once.

There is hope for the region yet, if this enthusiasm lasts.    

Calcutta, March 21 
The truncated winter racing season re-starts from tomorrow with bumper fields. The four-week suspension of the sport, owing to labour trouble in RCTC, has left the professional lots with no other alternative but to pack events in search of missed stakes. Fields are going to be equally uneasy in the remaining six meetings. However, horses have been regularly at work and the form-may hold good.

In tomorrow�s feature, the H. H. Maharaja Jagaddipendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur of Cooch Behar Memioral Cup, Adventure is expected to land the prize. Although running for the first time this season, the barrier-trial given on February 13 may help the Vijay Singh-trainee win the trophy in the hands of Cristopher Alford.

Race card & selections

1. Dalkeith Handicap 1,100m (Cl V � Rt. 00-28) 1.40 pm: Piece Of Cake 60 Bird 2; Tequila Shot 60 Shanker 6; Double Dancer 54 M. Reuben 3; Knight Charmer 53.5 Razzak 7; Tribal Warlord 50.5 Gowli 8; Dizzy Diver 50.5 A. P. Singh 4; Noble Canonire 48 Merchant 5; Zingari 47 Rabani 1.

1. NOBLE CANONIRE (7) 2. Zingari (8) 3. PIECE OF CAKE (1)

2. Pure Gold Handicap 1,100m (Hdcp. maiden 3-y-o, Rt. 00-50) 2.20 pm: Ashbury 60 C. Alford 12; Scarlet Raider 58 Merchant 5; Strictly Royal 57 Haroon 1; Fibonacci 57 Afzal K. 3; Aeolian 56 A. P. Singh 11; Eau Savage 56 Shanker 9; Orbital Star 55.5 Salim K. 8; Private Lives 55.5 Rabani 6; On The Bit 55.5 Connorton 4; Oriental Pride 55 (withdrawn); Golden Heart 54.5 Engineer 13; Whitney 54.5 M. Reuben 14; Anntari 54.5 Islam 7; Relative Shade 54 Gowli 2; Quizzical 53.5 Surender S. 10.

1. EAU SAVAGE (6) 2. ON THE BIT (9) 3. ASHBURY (1).

3. Mysore Race Club Trophy 1,100m (Cl III; Rt 44-72) 2.55 pm: A Million Memories 60.5 Islam 7; Sky Hawk 57 Sher S. 9; Mameena 56 Shanker 2; Kargil Sioldier 55 Kujur 6; Giltedge 54.5 Rutherford 1; Storm Trooper 51.5 Tamang 4; Sheerness 51 A. P. Singh 5; Rule With Honour 50 M. Reuben 8; Dancing Fire 50 Rabani 3; Autioneer 50 C. Alford 10.

1. auctioneer (10) 2. A MILLION MEMORIES (1) 3. MAMEENA (3)

4. Millennium Trophy 1,400m (Cl II � Rt.66-94) 3.30 pm: Kansai 60 Islam 10; Pertigalete 58.5 P. Alford 13; Blitzer 57.5 A. P. Singh 5; Desert Force 57 Gowli 1; Cyber Freak 55.5 M. Reuben 9; Aquaria 55 C. Alford 7; Jeweller 55 Surender S. 4; Classic Leader 54.5 Gurang 2; Gentle Priest 54 Rabani 11; Defiance 53.5 K. Kumar 3; Sky Command 53.5 Manohar12; Swash Buckler 53 Brij S. 14; Citadel 52 Shanker 8; Remember The Day 51 Merchant 6.

1. AQUARIA (6) 2. DESERT FORCE (4) 3. SKY COMMAND (11) 5. H. H. Maharaja J. Narayan B. B. of Cooch Behar Memorial Cup 1,200m (Cl I � Rt. 88 & upwards) 4.05 pm: No Surrender 60 Manohar 9; Arlington 54.5 M. Reuben 3; Giorgio 54 Akhtar 10; Falconhead 54 Shanker 8; Mystic Hill 54 A. P. Singh 5; Acquest 54 Islam 4; Successor 53.5 Yacoob 6; Advanture 53.5 C. Alford 1; Head Hunter 52.5 Merchant 2; Quickdraw McGraw 51 Gowli 7; Bold Invader 50 Rabani 11.


6. Red Flannel Handicap 1,200m (Cl IV, � Rt. 22-50) 4.40 pm: Go With The Wind 61 Rutherford 4; Heaven�s Blessing 59.5 Engineer 12; Silver Raising 59.5 A. P. Singh 10; Royal Ruler 58 Gurang 6; Crown Prince 58 Manohar 5; As You Please 56.5 P. Alford 7; Assyrian 55 C. Alford 8; Aliqa 54 Akhtar 11; Constantine 54 Kujur 1; Diplomatic Gesture 53.5 Gowli 2; Work Order 53 Islam 3; Time Of Times 51.5 Merchant 9.


Day�s Best: Aquaria. Double: Auctioneer & Time & Times.    


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