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'Two weeks notice' for Wright

By Faisal Shariff
March 06, 2003 20:59 IST
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Two days of relaxation have done a world of good for the Indian players.

The Indian teamAfter the victory against Pakistan last Saturday, the Boys in Blue were given two days off. They did not have to open their cricket kits or 'coffins'. They didn't have to sniff the familiar moist smell of gloves. They didn't have to tighten the spikes on their boots.

Everybody could do whatever they pleased; it can be truthfully reported that every member of the team soaked in the pleasure of doing nothing.

While coach John Wright wiped the cobwebs off his guitar and rendered James Taylor late into Sunday afternoon in his Pretoria hotel room, young turks Mohammad Kaif and Yuvraj Singh slept through most of the day having partied through the wee hours of Sunday morning.

No one wished to remember the agony of a fortnight ago when a car windscreen and a few windows faced the ire of an angry nation after the team crumbled against Australia.

"Those were terrible nights," revealed Sachin Tendulkar, as news came in of fan fury.

Rahul Dravid lost his smile in much the same fashion Mohammad Kaif had misplaced his form. But the ensuing victories, capped by the defeat of Pakistan at Centurion, have brought the smiles back. And as they enjoyed their two days off from play, it showed.

The Holiday Inn in Pretoria - the team hotel -- on Sunday and Monday was buzzing with activity. Fans, mostly from England and the United States, crowded around the elevators hoping to grab a picture, an autograph, or just a handshake with the players.

Every player obliged smilingly. That's what success does.

The swimming pool area was the hub for the Indian television channels to grab the sound bytes for their prime time news bulletins. The same channels that had announced the death of Indian cricket when they lost to Australia were heralding the champions.

Most of the Indian players, though, are now avoiding the channels that rubbed it in when the team was low.

"Why should I talk to these channels? When we lost to Australia, they made personal comments about us, that we were more interested in money, more interested in doing ads," said a player, refusing to be named.

He then went on to tear the commentator, Navjot Singh Sidhu, apart.

"Everyone," he said, "knows about Sidhu checking the colour of the wicket before choosing and picking his games. Once, while leading Punjab in a domestic match, he won the toss and decided to field, but told his players on returning to the dressing room that he had lost the toss and had been asked to field."

Reason: Sidhu had been woefully out of form and a selection meeting was due soon for an international tour. Staying back with discretion, instead of putting himself to the test and exposing himself to the selectors, Sidhu fielded most of the sunny day at third man under the shade of a tree at the boundary, the player added.

"Now that we are winning, the same commentators have done a volte-face and are praising our performances," the player said.

As we talk, skipper Sourav Ganguly walks down and drags the cricketer along to accompany him to an Internet café.

Anil KumbleMeanwhile, Anil Kumble has organised a team outing to a holiday resort that is easier to spell than pronounce the next day.

In the morning, Kumble, Parthiv Patel, Sanjay Bangar, Dinesh Mongia, and the managers' coterie find themselves in the team bus for the vacation.

But 'Veeru Dada' decides to skip the outing.

"I don't want to travel for a hour-and-a-half in the bus. I am sick of travelling," said Virender Sehwag, standing in the hotel lobby, waiting to travel to Johannesburg -- which is a 40-minute drive -- with some local friends.

The conversation drifts towards the match against Pakistan. Sehwag says that Akhtar was quick but easy to hit. "At times the ball merely had to touch the bat and it would fly for a four."

After he and Sachin had piled up 50 runs off five overs, the Pakistani fielders went quiet and didn't utter a word, he says.

John WrightAt that moment, John Wright rushes down the elevator and pulls me along to catch a movie across the street.

"It has been a while since I saw a movie," he says. We stand in a queue as Wright tells me that the last movie he saw was 'Tomorrow Never Dies'.

It might sound ironic but the movie we saw that afternoon was 'Two Weeks' Notice'.

Over the next two weeks, India's chances at the tournament will be clear and so will John Wright's future as coach of the Indian team.

The players call John "a very sentimental guy", a guy who feels worse than the players themselves when they lose.

"I feel bad for the man on the street who does not have enough to support himself and yet stands outside television shops in the heat and watches India play. He shakes your hand and thanks you for winning a game. That man out there is the guy who touches my heart the most," Wright once said to me.

In the team room, Ganguly challenges Sehwag to a game of table-tennis even as Yuvraj warns Ganguly that he will lose.

"Bahut khush hota hai dada ko harane mein?" Ganguly says.

"You play TT just the way you bat," he jokes, when Sehwag smashes the ball past his racquet.

After beating Sehwag, Ganguly challenges Yuvraj and duly loses the game.

Dravid returns from a jog and confesses that not having done anything for one-and-a-half days makes him feel guilty.

That is the difference with the attitude in this team. Earlier, when a team landed in a foreign city, the first thing they would hunt for is an Indian restaurant. Today, they hunt for a gymnasium.

As the two days of relexation near an end, the Indian team prepares itself for the bigger battles that lie ahead. Winning is all that matters to this team now, bollocks to fighting and giving it your all.

Like Pete Sampras said, his coach once told him, "Don't care what you do through the game. Just make sure you win the last point."

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Faisal Shariff