The following are excerpts
Q What are your thoughts a week after a fantastic series?
A (Grins) Actually, not much different from what I felt in Margao itself. I’m happy we won the Test series and almost won the ODIs but, what stands out, is the commitment the team showed... Not giving up, working the way out of tight corners... The effort was never lacking.
Q The right attitude...
A Absolutely... It also made for excellent team spirit.
Q Surely, the six weeks must have taught you a bit?
A I’m sure everybody learnt just how Test cricket should be played. Fortunes fluctuated daily, sometimes one session alone made a huge difference... It was an incredible experience, not allowing nerves to get the better of you... The last two Tests (Calcutta and Chennai) were both decided in the final session, which is how a big series should have ended.
Q Specifically, what did you learn as captain?
A Not that I’m the sort to give up, but I was reminded about fighting till the proverbial last ball. I was reminded, too, that it was my responsibility to keep everybody’s morale up —- the easiest way of doing so was to not allow my own shoulders to droop... There were occasions when Australia were just two-three down for 300 or thereabouts, yet we clawed our way back. Those situations, specially, taught me much.
Q You managed just 106 in Tests and, till Margao, hardly got runs in the ODIs as well. What would you keep telling yourself?
A That, in the past, I’ve been a performer —- under pressure, at that —- and the day in question could eventually be my day... I tried to draw confidence from past performances... Of course, it wasn’t easy, but I couldn’t allow my own failure to affect my body-language and, as a fall-out, affect the team...
A look at the scorecards from 1996 (his comeback year) till now will reveal there have been occasions when I contributed significantly, but the team still didn’t win. That’s hardly satisfying and though I myself didn’t score, the fact that India won, this time, helped greatly reduce a purely personal disappointment.
Q Do you, today, regret making yourself unavailable for the Duleep games, ahead of the Australia series?
A No. After all, I’d played non-stop for God knows how many months (including at Lancashire) and, then, having carried niggles, it was essential I take a break (in January).
Q Frankly, what were your thoughts once the Mumbai Test ended within three days?
A Far from devastated, and I made my feelings public... Our own below-potential performance apart, we largely lost due to Gilchrist’s 122. However, good though that innings was, it did reveal chinks. Lucky for Gilchrist some of the hits fetched boundaries but, if you see the replays, those shots could have gone anywhere...
Q What was your reaction when coach Wright suggested Laxman be promoted to No.3 in the second innings in Calcutta?
A It was fine with me, but I said let me speak to Rahul about it. It was fine with Rahul, too... In any case, as we had followed-on and Laxman had top-scored with 59, it made sense to promote him.
Q But before Laxman, it’s Harbhajan who made the biggest headlines in Calcutta —- seven for 123 in the first innings, including a hattrick. Ironically, earlier in the season, you were party to his being overlooked and Sarandeep being preferred...
A But I always wanted Harbhajan... Sarandeep, too, is a quality bowler and I had to go by the selectors’ views (during the Zimbabwe series) as, obviously, they see much more of domestic cricket...
Q What made you have that immense faith in Harbhajan?
A His ability to extract the exceptional bounce he does —- I doubt if any off-spinner anywhere gets the same bounce. Then, he has that lethal drifter... Honestly, I always thought Harbhajan is special. He varied his pace, didn’t bowl at one trajectory... And, overall, bowled a great line.
Q As Harbhajan’s past wasn’t free of controversies (suspect action, the Academy fiasco) were you, as captain, initially apprehensive about handling him?
A Oh, no... I wasn’t bothered about his past and, in Mumbai itself, made it clear I saw him as a matchwinner. (Grins again) The boy is just 20, yaar... I mean, he can’t be behaving like a 30-year-old... Harbhajan is a character, really, as are the others... Even Ramesh, who is criticised for his footwork and supposedly living in a world of his own. But, believe me, he will finish with more runs than many with the conventional feet movement.
Q Captains have to be particularly sensitive in handling spinners...
A (Interrupting) All players require sensitive handling and, generally, I back each one of them. I’m specially happy the selectors are on the same wavelength... As for Harbhajan, he knew my faith in him was genuine. This, I suppose, made him more comfortable.
Q You’re known to take the spinners to the cleaners. How would you tackle Harbhajan’s turn and bounce?
A (Laughs) Don’t think I should answer this... Could give the opposition ideas!
Q To go back to the two Test wins, which one will remain more special?
A Calcutta... Always... Bouncing back after following-on... I didn’t even dream of that possibility. I doubt if I’ll ever be part of a more incredible Test...
[Andrew Stoddart in the 19th century and Mike Brearley in the 20th, are the only other captains to have tasted success after following-on.]
Q But, still, the boos which greeted your first innings failure (23) won’t quickly be forgotten?
A One way of looking at it is that even Sunil Gavaskar got booed (1983-84)... On a different occasion, even Sachin got booed... A passionate crowd will always have a higher expectation level. One has to accept this. Also accept that scrutiny from the public will be intense.
Q What were your thoughts on landing in Chennai, a few hours after scripting history at the Eden?
A Knew we would win.
Q Were you as confident after losing the toss?
A (Laughs again) Well, going by my toss-record, I was prepared to lose it... So, that didn’t dent my confidence. What did, to an extent, was that Australia ended Day-I on 326 for three. It’s then I thought we may only be able to force a draw.
Q Yet, the next morning, the Australians were bowled out for under 400 (391 to be precise)...
A That, more than anything else, was the defining moment of that series-deciding Test. Had Australia got to around 500, then...
Q But we almost threw it all away, that final afternoon at the Chepauk?
A Almost... But that’s when the character of the team showed up, too... Dighe, Harbhajan... I did the praying, they did the delivering. But, yes, at 135 for seven (chasing 155), the thought that we could lose did surface. It scared me.
Q Eventually, then, what was it: Destiny, the hand played by God or...
A (Smiles) God’s hand, destiny and lots more — chiefly, the superb cricket played by India. Laxman, Dravid and Sachin’s batting, Harbhajan’s bowling... The effort by Team India (the manager and physio besides the coach)... The beauty is that everyone took it upon themselves to contribute.
Q One gets this feeling that Day-IV of the Calcutta Test, when Laxman and Dravid batted through for 335 runs, has probably changed the face of Indian cricket...
A I share that sentiment, one hundred per cent.
Q Though most expected Australia to hit back real hard in the ODIs, they didn’t really. Would you agree?
A But, then, the Australians were up against a very good one-day team. But for the last ten overs of our innings (only 48 were scored) in Margao, the one-day series would also have been ours.
Q It seemed you wanted Harbhajan ‘preserved’ for Tests only?
A Not true. It’s just that he can’t always be the naturally aggressive bowler (in ODIs)... He will, clearly, have to be guided by the situation and I think he adjusted well.
Q Our overrate was poor. Isn’t that a source of big worry?
A There are a good many little, little things which need to be set right... For example, when the batsman is beaten, there’s this tendency on the part of the quicks, specially, to keep looking at him. They should, instead, be quickly returning to the top of their run-up. Then, we don’t quickly re-occupy our positions... We’ve already done some talking.
Q What did you tell the team at the end of the series?
A I spoke informally... That it felt great being part of such a committed side. Also, that now, we should look to winning overseas. The boys already were tough in the mind; now, they’ve got even tougher. That’s a huge plus.
Q You recently talked about the aggressive approach having been planned. Will you be specific?
A The Australians had come hard at us at the Wankhede and, before the next Test (Calcutta), we decided we would ‘play’ the way they did...
A I won’t say anything more... It’s understood... The game, today, is extremely competitive, but we have the umpires to...
Q To move away from the cricket proper, how do you react to possibly being the most hated man in Australia today?
A Going by Media reports there? Well, I couldn’t be bothered... Somebody even wrote I’m “international cricket’s version of a spoilt child.” The gentleman needs to be reminded I’m 28... I was focussed on winning, my priority wasn’t to make friends. The controversy over the (Indore) toss, for example, was needless. It was the result of their frustration and irritation.
Q Steve Waugh probably expected you to treat him as an elder statesman...
A You’ll have to ask him about his expectations. He certainly didn’t expect to lose the Test series.
Q What were your impressions of Steve before the series?
A That his record as a batsman, particularly in the last four-five years, stands out... That he has done exceptionally well as captain... Also, that he is a good competitor and, like all good captains, wants to win.
Q And, after the series?
A The same, really... I still respect Steve as a fine competitor. Basically, I think he’s a nice man... Is involved with charities and so on...
Q Did Steve’s praising of your captaincy (on returning home) surprise you?
A (Smiles again) But, that’s why I’ve said he’s a nice man!
Q The last question: At different times in the recent past, your name cropped up over an issue which had nothing to do with cricket. Did that put you under more pressure?
A I hope nothing more will be written and talked about matters non-cricket.
He said today that there is no time to look back, and that the aim now is to keep the momentum going. “We have to maintian the good work and ensure that we don’t produce less than what we did against UAE.”
Speaking to The Telegraph over telephone, Bhutia said it was not as if there was no pressure on them before the first match. “There is always pressure in international games. But we have to remember that we have to play well for ourselves.
“My message for the team has been to stay positive and not get carried away by what has already happened. There is a long way to go and every match is crucial. We have to remember these matches are not just important for the country but equally crucial for the players as well,” he said.
UAE thrash Brunei 12-0
UAE made up for a disappointing 1-0 defeat against India last week by crushing Brunei 12-0 today in a World Cup Asian zone group 8 qualifier at Bandar Seri Begawan, reports Reuters.
Yasser Salem Saleh Ali scored five goals, opening his account after less than a minute.Mohammad Omar made it 2-0 in the 12th minute and Mohammad Ibrahim Hussain added a third 15 minutes later.
Sabait Kahter Fayel hit the fourth on the 38th minute and Omar scored his second just before the break.
Abdul Salam Jumaa Antar and an own goal by Brunei’s Ali Momin made it 7-0 five minutes after the restart.
Saleh Ali then hit another four between the 58th and 81st minutes and Fahed Masoud Ali Masoud completed the rout in injury time.
Paramita Ghosh, who beat Swati Sengupta (3), is in the second spot along with Mohta. They have four points each.
In the junior boys’ section, Saptarshi Roy (5) beat Sayantan Dutta to stay on top.
Kumarjit Chakraborty and Pranjal Ghosh are in the second spot with 4.5 points each.
High Court in Division 1
High Court Club made their maiden entry to the first division of the CAB league with a 261-run win over Howrah Union today.
The club founded in 1911 thus topped the second division and graduated into the upper tier where they replace Excelciors.
In the second division final, High Court piled up 477 for nine with Aloke Pandey hitting an unbeaten 110. Arun Sharma contributed 99.
Former Ranji player Farastulla then took six for 49 to help High Court bowl out Howrah Union for 216. Alok Bhattacharya claimed three for 92.
BRIEF SCORES: High Court 477/9 (Aloke Pandey 110 n.o., Arun Sharma 99). Howrah Union 216 (Farastulla 6/49, Alok Bhattacharya 3/92). High Court won by 261 runs.
Muslim Inst. concede tie
The BHA first division group B match between Muslim Institute and Jagrihi did not take place with the former not turning up. Muslim Institute had earlier conceded matches against West Bengal Police and Punjab SC.
It was learnt they are not fielding a team because they are assured of retaining their place in the group since Mohun Bagan and Real Sports Friends are certain to be relegated.
These two teams have not taken part in any match so far.
Tomorrow’s final between Air India and Indian Railways will see 11 players of the 15-member Indian team which lost to hosts New Zealand in the World Cup semi-final late last year.
Far from the media arclights which hound members of the national men’s team, captain Anju Jain said things for women cricketers in India are getting better, albeit slowly. “The problem for us is the lack of exposure, at the national as well as international level,” said the 26-year-old.
Not much can be said against that as their sole international engagement before the 2000 World Cup was a tour of England in 1999. And they are yet to play a foreign side after the trip Down Under. New Zealand, however, are expected to tour India later this year, informed the captain.
“The number of domestic tournaments are on a slow rise but our players need to play more to keep pace with the modern game which is fast transforming,” noted the skipper. “For instance, a score of 160-170 was considered good enough when we started playing but things have changed drastically with the introduction of fielding restrictions (in the first 15 overs) and we have to play more to get used to it,” said the Delhi-based wicketkeeper-opener.
The skipper praised the players for reaching the World Cup semi-finals for the second time in succession, saying that they adjusted to the conditions quickly.
“It was cold and the wickets had more bounce than what we are used to but we managed well after having had just two practice games,” she said.
“We could have done better but the absence of Mithali Raj, who was injured, cost us dear in the semi-final,” Anju added.
Anju has taken in stride the lack of recognition for all the good deeds on the field and said it does not bother the players as they are too fond of the game.
“There is little incentive or motivation for us when we take up cricket. There is no job opportunity apart from in Air India and the Railways but that does not discourage us,” she said, adding that the joy of playing helps them overcome such handicaps.
Just for that, she says, playing on successive days, under a testing sun and staying in conditions certain to displease their male counterparts, do not pose a problem.
“We have to make most of the few opportunities we get. Considering that, such discomforts do not bother us,” she explains.