Dark predictions about the Indian team’s performance were confirmed by their abject surrender to Australia at the Centurion. The defeat sparked extreme reactions — players were rubbished in strong terms, their houses attacked, and at least one Member of Parliament held Mr Dalmiya squarely responsible for the national humiliation!
Going into the crunch match Australia were the clear favourites, and Rahul Dravid put the contest in perspective. “Forget about winning and losing,” he said, “it is important to have a good match and perform well.”
Arriving at the ground at 8.15 am, the players have half an hour to get ready, grab something to eat, organise their kits, read a newspaper — all this, to ease pressure going into the match. At the same time, physio Andrew Leipus sets up the massage table, arranges medicines and mixed fluid to replenish health drinks.
Team trainer Adrian LeRoux is equally busy — Srinath needs a long stretch for his hamstring, Nehra must have his dodgy ankle strapped, Zaheer Khan waits for a shoulder rub, and Dravid, as the keeper, wants extra padding for his damaged finger joints.
The pitch — hard, dry, firm — is subjected to intense scrutiny. The players (Sourav, Sachin, Dravid) have a council of war to assess its likely behaviour. Ponting, meanwhile, takes one look at the track and joins his team for fielding practice — his mind is obviously made up.
It is interesting that both teams follow a similar pre-match routine — same drills with the trainer and same fielding exercises. Still, the Aussies look different, their demeanour sets them apart, there is an air of arrogance and akad about them.
Sachin goes through his set routine, then returns to the dressing room, slumps into a chair and stares at the ground. What is he doing? Visualising? Psyching himself up? No, he responds, just calming my nerves.
There is tremendous support for India at Pretoria — the tricolour is visible everywhere and the fans, with painted faces, chant slogans, hold up banners and invoke the blessings of Ganapati Bappa.
Looking on indulgently is Manohar Joshi, speaker of the Parliament and a former president of Mumbai Cricket Association, swinging through Africa on an official visit.
Another prominent guest is Vijay Mallya, who transported a large number of celebs in his private jet for the match. While the margin and manner of defeat shocked everyone, Ravi Shastri stepped forward to defend the boys: “Show me one person who can put his hand on his chest and say he expected India to win," he questioned.
Amrit Mathur takes us back to India’s journey through the 2003 World Cup. He was the Indian media manager, ’03