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Lalu demands sacking of Team India, Chappell

cricket Updated: Mar 24, 2007 22:15 IST

IANS
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Stung by the humiliating exit from the World Cup after a sound thrashing by Sri Lanka, cricket-crazy India was engulfed in gloom on Saturday, with angry fans led by Railway Minister Lalu Prasad demanding the sacking of both the national team and its Australian coach Greg Chappell.

"It's shameful to see such underperformance. They all should be sacked and fresh faces must get a chance to play for the country. The top order batsmen have really been playing poor cricket," Lalu Prasad thundered in New Delhi, alleging that the cricketers appeared to be "governed by money".

"Product endorsements and money are governing our players. Even villagers like me can play better than our team," the minister said after giving a lecture on Indian Railways to students of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Unable to take India's crushing defeat, cricket fan K Raju, 29, a resident of Champapet area in New Delhi, died of heart attack minutes later. Family members said he watched the entire match on television and was depressed over the result.

He had married six months ago and had no history of cardiac problems. His wife Kavita said: "He was very passionate about cricket."

The fury against the players was largely vocal but unanimous all across the country where cricket is a virtual religion. But in some places, people took to the streets hurling abuses and burning effigies of players who were worshipped as national heroes until only a week ago.

From Mumbai, the home of many of India's top cricket stars, to New Delhi, from the Kashmir valley to Kerala, and all the way from Gujarat to Assam, the reaction was: skipper Rahul Dravid and his much-fancied players had let India down, and very badly at that.

For the first time in India's cricketing history, police guards were posted outside the Mumbai house of Sachin Tendulkar fearing angry fans might turn even against one who has been compared to Don Bradman.

"We should disband this team," said KV Bhaskaran, an employee of a private company in New Delhi who sat through the night watching India go down meekly. "I feel ashamed. The whole lot should be kicked out. We need a fresh team."

"Indian players have intruded into our homes through advertisements. They must go back to the ground and work hand," said Ranchi resident Sumit Sen, reflecting a widely shared view that the cricketers seemed to be more keen to become quick millionaires by featuring on TV and print media advertisements.

The fact that the Indian team did not look even fighting fit while taking on Sri Lanka at Port of Spain on Friday and that two of its stars - Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni - got out for ducks upset almost everyone.

Dhoni's hometown Ranchi was tense. The police quickly deployed guards at his house, fearing a repetition of the attack that followed the earlier and equally shameful defeat of India to Bangladesh.

Although there was no violence, hundreds of disappointed and bitter cricket lovers marched through Ranchi's streets shouting "Dhoni Murdabad!" "Team India Murdabad!" One hastily scribbled poster carried by the marchers read: "Cricket has been murdered!"

Similar protests took place in several towns. Posters of players were defaced in Kolkata. In Bhopal, a huge crowd took out a "funeral procession" of Team India. Newspapers featuring players' photographs were torched.

After winning the toss, Dravid put Sri Lanka to bat. The islanders notched up 255. But the Indian batting simply collapsed, barring a few exceptions, bundled out for 185 in 43.3 overs.

"All that this team is good at is appearing in television commercials and making money. We don't want them, we want a team that delivers," said Renni Thomas, a financial consultant in Mumbai. Unwilling to take chances, the authorities beefed up security outside the residences of Sachin Tendulkar and Ajit Agarkar."The team is a national disaster. They do not deserve to continue," Thomas said.

Said a senior executive with an advertising agency, also in Mumbai: "Over Rs 30 billion was riding on the Indian team, and they have done nothing but disappoint fans and corporate houses. With India's exit, corporate India is going to take a severe beating."

Hemant Kale, a third year college student, vented his anger: "It was a simple batting track and Rahul and his boys could not even last the entire 50 overs. It was not only a disaster, but a big shame for the country."

The cricketing fraternity of Kolkata was downcast. The only player they were willing to forgive was local talent Sourav Ganguly, whose removal first from the team and then captaincy has never been forgiven by the city.

"It is a sad day for us, a sad day for Indian cricket," said West Bengal's upcoming cricketer Ranadeb Bose.

Dravid came under severe criticism. "He was never, ever meant to be a captain, and this was proved against Sri Lanka though he himself scored 60. His captaincy is weak," fumed Ramanuj, a teenager. "Chappell was the biggest mistake of Indian cricket and Dravid's weak captaincy completed the rest."

The mood in northern India was much more bitter.

School cricket team coach Devinder Singh was scathing in Chandigarh. "I think the present team is fit only to play Bermuda, Netherlands and Scotland. Let's us have a series with these teams, on Indian pitches," he said sarcastically.

Said Raima Sharma in New Delhi. "Our players just don't have the killing spirit. Look at the body language of the Sri Lankan players. They simply refuse to give up."

Added Ramani, a young cricketer in Guwahati: "Some of the senior players should be shown the door along with Chappell."

"It was pathetic," said Indian cricket board vice president Shashank Manohar in Nagpur. He said players must not be selected any more on the basis of past glory. He said more and more promising youngsters should be selected and given international exposure for two years before including them in the national side.

Bhubaneswar-based lawyer Ramesh Sahani said: "It is time the players are changed. We need new faces."

(Contributions to this story came from F Ahmed, Jaideep Sarin, Sharat Pradhan, Nityanand Shukla, Sujoy Dhar, Syed Zarir Hussain, Probir Pramanik, Anil Sharma, Azera Rehman, Sanu George, Shyam Pandharipande, Jatindra Dash, Mohammed Shafeeq, Prashant K Nanda)