Durban: The Indian cricket team said on Sunday it was "confidently" looking ahead to the World Cup as a "fresh" tournament after a difficult year in 2002. The Indians are keen to leave aside their disastrous tour to New Zealand, their off field sponsorship rumpus with the ICC and World Cup match-fixing allegations from the sub-continent. Speaking at a news briefing in Durban on Sunday, where the players are in training ahead of their World Cup campaign, the Indians also expressed their condolences to the families of the crew members who died in the space shuttle Columbia, among them an Indian-born astronaut.
"We didn't play well in New Zealand but the World Cup is a fresh tournament and I have every confidence in my boys. "This is a new ball game and as long as we put runs on the board we are in with a big shout," stated Indian skipper Saurav Ganguly. He added that besides winning the Cricket World Cup 20 years ago, India had twice reached the semi-finals of the tournament (in 1987 and 1996). "There is no reason why we wouldn't do well this time," Ganguly said.
The team's explosive top-order batsman, Virender Sehwag, blamed the Kiwi wickets for the team's poor performance during the team's pre-World Cup tour to New Zealand. "The tracks there were damp and not good for batting. We expect great batting wickets for the duration of the World Cup and are therefore confident of playing to our potential," remarked Sehwag. Sehwag described batting maestro, Sachin Tendulkar as the "wall of our team".
"It wouldn't surprise me if he emerges as the player of the tournament." Tendulkar played down speculation that an ankle injury had kept him away from a training run on Durban's beachfront on Saturday. "I was engaged in a different training routine at the time. I want to stress that I am fully fit for the World Cup," quipped Tendulkar. He also dismissed claims from the sub-continent by former Pakistani international, Sarfraz Nawaz, that this year's World Cup matches were already fixed by a cricketing "mafia".
"We've heard of such talk but I don't even want to comment on it. "We are here as a team to give our best for every ball bowled during the tournament and will not allow our focus to be distracted by such comments." Tendulkar echoed Ganguly's statement the team had no reservations about playing in Zimbabwe unlike England and Australia, who have both voiced opposition to playing there. "The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is the final authority on such decisions. We will abide by the ruling of our Board and will be going to Zimbabwe," he said.
Ganguly added the team's sponsorship and commercial displeasure had also been "sorted out" with the ICC. The Indian players also watered down the hype about their much-awaited clash against Pakistan in their final group match ahead of the Super Sixes stage of the tournament. The nuclear powers last played each other in May 2001 during the Asia Cup in Bangladesh. "Obviously, we always want to win when we play against Pakistan but to me, this is just another match," Ganguly said . The Indian spin sensation, Harbhajan Singh, urged all players and teams at this year's tournaments to put aside the off field controversies and focus on the game.
"Nobody should concentrate on our perceived rivalries with Pakistan or the politics of Zimbabwe and Kenya for that matter. Just enjoy the game that we all love and make this tournament a resounding success," he urged. The youngest player at this year's tournament, 17-year old school-boy Parthiv Patel, said he was "really excited" to be part of India's World Cup squad. "I've been the wicket-keeping understudy to Rahul Dravid for the past six months," he enthused.
On a more sombre note, a team spokesman issued a statement on the American space shuttle tragedy that occurred on Saturday. "The Indian team is deeply saddened by the demise of the crew members of the space shuttle Columbia, especially Kalpana Chawla. We convey our condolences to her family." Chawla was of Indian origin and hailed from the village of Karnal in Haryana.