Aim for excellence, not just perfection: Azhar
Srinath aware of his poor form
Mehmood, Saqlain to join squad
Bagan champions

Sharjah, March 24 
Thereís no trace of bitterness. Moreover, Mohammed Azharuddin is choosy about words. Yet, the point is being forcefully made. Itís a neat execution from one of cricketís top stylists.

Indeed, the former India captain scored quite a few Ďhitsí during an interview with The Telegraph this morning, hours after guiding India to an emphatic win over Pakistan.

Following are excerpts

On whether he expected his comeback to be so stunning ó a hundred in his return-Test (102 in Bangalore against South Africa) and a MoM award-winning 54 in last nightís game versus Pakistan.

I was confident not just because I always back myself, but because I was getting runs in domestic tournaments... Ranji Trophy, Deodhar, the Challenger. Indeed, I was stroking the ball well, not struggling. Right through, I knew I had to score to press my case.

On what has kept him going

(After a pause) Iím not the sort to give up. Not the type to succumb to pressure, either, whatever the source... Actually, Iím at my best when under pressure.

I could have called it a day and stayed at home, only Iím not that sort. Instead, I worked very hard. In the gym... Nets, too, obviously.

Iíve played for so many years but, even today, my preparation for any match hasnít changed... No one does badly intentionally... If Iím to advise anybody, I would say aim for excellence, not just perfection. The dividing line could be thin, but itís very significant.

On just how tough were the many months of Ďexileí

But itís bound to be hard when things donít go your way... More than anything else, in such situations, itís important to be positive. Patient, too.

On whether he again feared a period of Ďexileí after being hit by Mornantau Hayward on the eve of the Mumbai Test

Well, it was a bad injury (to the right thumb)... Even then, though, I kept thinking about the positive side ó that a quick recovery would see me back (for the Bangalore Test). Iíve always maintained whatever is destined to happen, will.

On making many eat their words after that classy hundred in Bangalore

(Grins) Itís others who said I proved a point... I personally didnít say anything on those lines as one more controversy would have been created. We already have enough controversies, donít we?

On going for a hook (off Shaun Pollock) just after the hundred and getting caught

I would have played the same shot even if I was on 99. Please remember I was timing the ball well and, when Iím batting that way, I donít curb my natural game.

On sportingly allowing himself to be rested in Nagpur

(Interrupting) But Iíve always been a team man... All this talk that Iím not one is just crazy... I donít know who started it; donít know why it was started...

(Emotionally) I can cite so many instances when Iíve sacrificed my wicket for the team. Today, I could well have had 14 ODI hundreds instead of just seven... Itís unfair to allege Iíve placed my interest over that of the team and country.

On whether, as a 37-year-old, he is comfortable sharing the dressing-room with 19-20 year-olds

Iíve always been comfortable. I even greet people who donít greet me... I donít have an ego, have never had one. Iíve always respected others because if I donít, others wonít respect me. I learnt that early in life.

On Sourav Gangulyís firm belief that performance alone should count

Of course, thatís fair. However, itís different being out of form and not getting runs/wickets despite batting/bowling well.

On playing under Sourav

No problems at all. If someone thinks I have one, heís just being petty.

On Indian cricketís turnaround

Weíve played well, weíve been positive... Fielding an experienced line-up has made the biggest difference.

On his thoughts when he took guard last night (41 for two)

That application was the need of the evening...

On whether he, too, gets that Ďspecialí feeling on beating Pakistan

It shouldnít be so but, because of the fansí response, one does... Last year, when we beat Pakistan in the World Cup (Old Trafford), people went to the extent of saying we had won the tournament. Of course, that wasnít so...

On his assessment of Sachin as captain and person

(Again, after a pause) As both of us are still playing, it wouldnít be proper of me to say anything.

On the much-talked about communication gap between him and Sachin

(Interrupting again) There wasnít anything from my side. Iíve never had a problem with anybody... If somebody thinks otherwise, he should sit across the table and sort it out. Thatís better than encouraging rumours... Honestly, if somehow Iíve been in the wrong, Iíll be only too happy to sincerely say sorry.

On the future, having already earned 99 Test and 329 ODI caps

(Smiles) Iíve got a couple of years left... Yes, being just one Test away from hundred is a very nice feeling. The sacrifices others made for me, the sacrifices I myself made, have all been worth it.

Finally, whether given a chance, he would change anything

Nothing... Nothing at all. Iíve been honest with myself. Iíve also been honest with others.    

Sharjah, March 24 
In an era when players have been known to conceal injuries, largely out of insecurity, Jawagal Srinath today made a remark that says much about the Indian spearhead.

ďI was omitted yesterday because I wasnít fit but frankly, even if Iíd been dropped and Venks (Venkatesh Prasad) preferred, I wouldnít have minded. After all, I do realise I havenít been bowling well,Ē Srinath told The Telegraph this afternoon.

While Srinath actually didnít make the XI owing to the left hip muscle-groin injury, captain Sourav Ganguly candidly acknowledged there would have been a question mark even if he had been fit.

ďPerhaps, the injury made it easier for me...Ē is how Sourav put it, candidly, as is his style.

Srinath has been struggling for some time and was rested for the first three one-dayers in the recent home series versus South Africa. He did play the last two, in Vadodara and Nagpur, but returned poor figures of one for 60 (nine overs) and none for 65 (six overs).

Then, in the Coca-Cola Cup 2000 opener, against South Africa Wednesday, Srinath conceded 25 in four overs (two spells) before going off.

ďIím much better... Itís a spasm which travels upwards from the groin, not allowing me to run... Thereís another day off and, hopefully, I should be fit for Sunday,Ē Srinath, who recently wished he had ďthe body of 22 and the mind of a 30-year-old,Ē added.

But even if Srinath is fit, his inclusion for the return game versus Pakistan isnít at all guaranteed: Replacement Prasad did a wonderful job yesterday, and everybody has lots of faith in the deceptive Ajit Agarkar.    

Sharjah, March 24 
Top-bracket allrounder Azhar Mehmood and star offie Saqlain Mushtaq, declared fit to tour the West Indies from early next month, have been asked to join the Pakistan team here itself.

According to The Telegraphís sources, both could arrive as early as tomorrow and may formally make the squad as replacements for the injured Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar.

Should that happen, they will be eligible for selection on Sunday, for the Ďreturní Indo-Pak match.

Akram has an old groin problem ó it keeps playing up every now and then, while Shoaib has both a groin and back problem. It is understood Shoaib has been on cortizone injections for some weeks now.    

Calcutta, March 24 
Mohun Baganís road to their 25th CAB knock-out title proved rather smooth. They capitalised on an unbeaten 60 by Sanjeev Goel to script a comfortable 47-run win over Kalighat at Eden Gardens today.

Opting for first strike, Mohun Bagan accumulated 213 for eight in 45 overs. In his 76-ball knock, Goel struck five boundaries and two sixes. Lakshmi Ratan Shukla chipped in with 35 in 44 balls, hitting two fours.

Kalighat managed only 166 for nine in reply. Arindam Roy top-scored with 46 and Charanjit Singh made 37, but those contributions werenít enough to topple the Mohun Bagan score.

Abdul Monayem and Manish Arora were the most successful bowlers, claiming two wickets each.

BRIEF SCORES: Mohun Bagan 213/8 (S. Goel 60 not out, L.R. Shukla 35; M. Lodhgar 2/24). Kalighat 166/9 (A. Roy 46, Charanjit Singh 37, A. Monayem 2/20, M. Arora 2/28). Mohun Bagan won by 47 runs.    


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