Team India leaves nation in despair

Published: Tuesday, September 21, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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New Delhi:Indian cricket fans sought divine help as the nation's favourite sport lurched from one crisis to another on and off the field ahead of next week's tour by world champions Australia.

The national team was in shambles, star batsman Sachin Tendulkar battled to get fit and officials raced against time to find a television network to telecast live one of the most keenly-awaited Test series in recent years.

Meanwhile, the cash-rich Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) was in a state of limbo ahead of next Wednesday's elections with two political heavyweights reportedly eyeing the chair being vacated by president Jagmohan Dalmiya.

"Money can't save Indian cricket, only God can," said Shantanu Bose, a cricket fan in eastern Calcutta, the home of both the national captain Sourav Ganguly and Dalmiya.

Last season's highs when India held the mighty Australians to a 1-1 draw down under and then won a maiden Test series in Pakistan were consigned to the dustbin after Ganguly's men suffered embarrassing defeats in four consecutive Limited Overs tournaments.

The Champions Trophy defeat against Pakistan on Sunday was the third successive loss to their archrivals since July and followed India's failure to win the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka, a tri-series in the Netherlands and a one-off series against England.

"Even my mum could bowl the Indians out," wrote former England opener Geoffery Boycott on Tuesday as the seasoned line-up of Rahul Dravid, Venkatsai Laxman, Virender Sehwag and Ganguly struggled to put bat to ball.

"We have to do a lot of soul-searching before the Australians come," said Ganguly. "If I knew what is going wrong I would not be asking."

Tendulkar, the most prolific contemporary batsman with 33 Test and 37 One-day centuries, remains a doubtful starter for the first Test in Bangalore from October 6 after missing the last three tournaments with a tennis elbow injury.

India, who won the last two home series against Australia in 1998 and 2001 by identical 2-1 margins, need Tendulkar to prevent the tourists from securing their first Test series on Indian soil since 1969.

The BCCI, inexplicably, denied Ganguly and company an opportunity to run into form by scheduling the three-day Aussie tour opener, at Bombay from September 30, against Ranji Trophy champions Mumbai instead of a select team drawn from all over the country.

Tendulkar, who is uncertain of playing the match, and seamer Ajit Agarkar are the only likely Test contenders in the Mumbai side.

The BCCI earned some respite on Tuesday when ESPN-Star Sports withdrew its case in the Bombay High Court over the awarding of television rights for international cricket for the next four years to rival Zee network for a whopping 308 million dollars.

The BCCI itself ended the imbroglio by telling the court it had cancelled the original tender which prompted ESPN-Star Sports to withdraw its petition that Zee was not qualified to bid since it did not have two years experience of telecasting cricket as desired by the BCCI.

A BCCI source said it may separately sell the rights for the Australian series and later call for fresh bids.

"Our immediate priority is the Australian series," the source said. "We may decide to produce the pictures ourselves or give it to someone to do it for us."

Cricket officials, meanwhile, were focussed on the reported contest between federal minister Sharad Pawar and opposition leader Arun Jaitley to succeed Dalmiya as president.

Dalmiya, whose three-year term as BCCI president ends next week, has been appointed patron-in-chief of the body for the next three years.

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