One better than the greatest
George ducks work amid Cong sniper fire
10 Janpath, Mamata in touch
Calcutta Weather

Chennai, March 22: 

Last man in a sweat till the roar

With India two short and with two wickets in hand, coach John Wright twice went over to a profusely sweating No.11, Nilesh Kulkarni, reminding him “one run would force a tie” and, in any case, he “must not lose sight” of the ball.

Both times Kulkarni, playing his first Test in years, forced a smile and wiped palms. At the second reminder, Kulkarni began stretching when a roar, which would have carried to Sydney, ended the most tension-packed moments of his 27 years.

That’s when Harbhajan Singh, Man of the Series and joint Man of the Match (with Matthew Hayden), carved out the two runs to give India an amazing win.

Few would have imagined the bowler who bagged a record 32 wickets would also be called upon to do his bit with the bat. Not that Harbhajan minded. “Batting nahin aane se khush hota, lekin jab baari aaye, to main confident tha...”

Harbhajan’s couple, which ended palpitations and prompted plucky non-striker Samir Dighe to reverentially kneel at the Chepauk, also brought life to captain Sourav Ganguly. For much of the past hour, he had been chewing nails and staring blankly.

“I didn’t know where I was looking; didn’t know who to look at. Yes, at 135 for seven, I did have that feeling we had blown away this opportunity,” Sourav later told The Telegraph, adding: “The past week (beginning with the stunning come-from-behind victory at the Eden) has indeed been the best of my life.”

Four years ago India made a mess of chasing 121 in Barbados and Sourav was among those left shattered. As captain now, he sat through a near repeat. Frankly, however, only India could have beaten themselves.

Today’s two-wicket win gave India more than just the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and healed scars of that 0-3 wipeout in Australia last season. There have only been six earlier instances of teams losing the first game of a three-Test series and still emerging victorious.

William Gilbert Grace was captain on the first occasion, back in 1888. So, while his own form has been poor (106 in six innings), Sourav did a Mike Brearley last week and has now joined the captains’ club which also features cricket’s guiding light.

“Must I dedicate this win to somebody? Well, in that case, to the team. They gave that hundred per cent all the time,” Sourav said. He confessed that having lost the first Test in three days and down for the count early in the second, he “wouldn’t even have dreamt” of leading the victory lap here.

Steve Waugh, who made his last Test appearance in India, concealed much of his disappointment. “The opposition played above expectations, but I’m not terribly disappointed. We had three great Tests and I won’t put any of our guys down. I always maintained this (tour) would be our toughest test...”

For the out-to-conquer Australian captain, it quite became Last Frontier door ast.

Incidentally, after Sourav collected the Trophy, it rested in V.V.S. Laxman’s hands for the rest of the presentation ceremony. Unintended it was, but looked as natural as any of his 503 runs. Indeed, the series’ top turning point was Laxman’s 281 in the second innings at the Eden.


New Delhi, March 22: 
One day after the CBI slapped a disproportionate assets case against him, Vincent George did not report for work today.

Congress spokesman Jaipal Reddy struggled to defend Sonia Gandhi’s private secretary even as a whisper campaign for his removal on moral grounds began in the party.

But Sonia seemed to be in no mood to oblige a handful of leaders gunning for George. Her argument is based on three factors:

Why has the government failed to act against those who figure in the Tehelka tapes? Charges against George are mere allegations while there is “evidence” against the Tehelka accused.

There is no precedent of a public servant being booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act 12 years after demitting office.

The timing of the FIR makes it clear that it is politically motivated.

Sources said Sonia was in the process of “sidelining” her all-powerful private secretary before the CBI filed the case. In 10 Janpath, George was about to be shifted out of the ante room adjacent to Sonia’s drawing room. It now remains to be seen how the Congress chief will proceed.

There is strong view in the party that the attack on George should not be taken lightly as it indicates the shape of things to come. “The BJP-NDA are desperate to create a crisis of confidence and paint us as equally corrupt. The Tehelka tape mud is not washing,” a party functionary said, hinting that Sonia might become the next target.

“It is a no-holds-barred war and the government will employ every trick in the trade,” he said.

Jaipal Reddy described George as an “employee of the party” while disagreeing with the CBI’s version of the charges. In a dig at Doordarshan’s failure to telecast the Tehelka tapes, he said: “The CBI is as autonomous as Prasar Bharati.”

Party leaders Mani Shankar Aiyar and Ambika Soni also defended George. Ambika said the Congress would stand by him while it was for the law to take its course.

Mani asked Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to clarify his remarks made on June 11, 1996 in the Lok Sabha, as the leader of the Opposition, that the government had “many ways of influencing” the CBI. “Has he revised his views about the CBI?” the Congress leader asked.

Facing a hostile media, Reddy said: “George is an employee of the party and not of the government....The FIR filed against him is aimed to divert attention from the Tehelka expose.”

Making it clear that he was not questioning the merit of the case, Reddy said: “The timing of the filing of FIR speaks volumes about the designs, motives and intentions behind the move.”

Describing the FIR against George as political vendetta, he added: “NDA leaders are not only the merchants of venality but also vendetta”.


Calcutta, March 22: 
Mamata Banerjee and Sonia Gandhi have spoken to each other on seat adjustments for the coming Assembly elections.

Congress and Trinamul Congress leaders today indicated that talks were progressing well and the picture would be clearer by tomorrow.

“It’s (progress of talks) okay. By tomorrow I should be able to tell you something,” said Kamal Nath, AICC general secretary in charge of Bengal.

Sources said Sonia has been in touch with the Trinamul chief ever since she formally withdrew from the National Democratic Alliance after the Tehelka expose.

The Congress president has spoken with her on the phone a couple of times in the past 48 hours. Kamal Nath confirmed that the party leadership was in “constant touch” with Mamata.

Kamal Nath is expected to arrive in the city tomorrow or on Saturday to meet Mamata. State Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee today left for Delhi after he was summoned by the high command. He is expected back tomorrow evening.

The high command has directed the state leadership not to do anything that might “stall the progress of talks with Trinamul Congress”. Mamata has made it clear that she intends to clinch the seat-sharing deal with the party at the AICC level.

Mamata is believed to have sent to the high command a list of 180 seats which the Trinamul intends to contest, leaving 65 to 70 seats for the Congress. The 39 seats initially conceded to the BJP do not figure on the list.

Mamata will not mind sharing these 39 seats with the Congress once the BJP officially breaks away from the “Save Bengal front” and fields nominees in most of the constituencies.

The BJP today decided that it would contest at least 200 seats if the Trinamul does not make “a firm commitment to support the NDA”.

“Mamata Banerjee must clearly state whether she will support the NDA government. We will resume talks for seat adjustment with her only if she pledges her support to the NDA,” Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, BJP’s all-India general secretary said this afternoon.

But the Trinamul iterated its decision to dissociate itself from the NDA. “Nothing has happened for which we have to change our stand,” said Mukul Roy, Trinamul general secretary. The party has also rejected the state BJP’s demand for “16 safe seats”.

Trinamul has reservations about a handful of sitting Congress legislators seeking re-election for their “anti-Mamata stand”. The party also intends to field candidates in the Assembly constituencies where it had taken a lead in the last Lok Sabha polls.

The Congress high command is likely to allow Mamata to clinch the seat-sharing deal on her own terms, provided she does not have a formal alliance with the BJP. The condition is not unacceptable to the Trinamul chief, who would not mind an “unofficial adjustment” with the BJP to ensure straight contests against Left Front nominees in some constituencies.

Mamata today gave finishing touches to her party’s election manifesto. The Trinamul will highlight “the corrupt deals of CPM leaders and ministers during the past 24 years of the Left Front rule,” sources said.




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