Protests simmer in India ahead of Zimbabwe clash

Angry Indian cricket fans were finding it difficult on Tuesday to forgive their team for its poor showing at the World Cup tournament as under-fire Saurav Ganguly’s squad prepared for its next clash with Zimbabwe.

Newspapers splashed photographs of fans torching images of their former darlings in protests on Monday over the team’s nine-wicket loss on Saturday to world champions Australia and its lacklustre win against minnows Holland last week.

And officials said that police in cricket-mad Calcutta had provided security to relatives of Ganguly, vice captain Rahul Dravid and bowlers Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath after dejected fans threw oil and black paint at batsman Mohammad Kaif’s house in the northern city of Allahabad on Sunday.

Much of the invective, however, was directed at the players’ personal business dealings, an issue of on-going concern among Indians.

Cartoonists lampooned the players as being more concerned with winning lucrative off-field corporate endorsements than on-field matches and thousands of e-mails and mobile phone SMS messages called for a boycott of products promoted by the “Men in Blue”.

Some sponsors, sensing the public mood, said they were considering withdrawing television commercials featuring the cricketers, who have superstar status in this country of a billion-plus.

“The Indian team is not wearing the nation’s cap, they are wearing Pepsi, LG, Coke and Hero Honda caps,” said Santosh Mangaonkar, an advertising professional and an ardent cricket fan from the western commercial hub of Bombay.

“They are playing only for money and nothing else.”

The discontent echoed even in the national parliament on Monday when President Abdul Kalam’s well wishes for the team were met with derisive laughter from MPs.

On Saturday India slumped to defeat against Australia, with their much vaunted batting line-up collapsing spectacularly.

In their first match against Netherlands, India’s batsmen had also failed to shine and were dismissed for 204 runs by the Dutch before the end of their allotted 50 overs.

In Harare on Tuesday the beleaguered team was desperately trying to juggle its batting line-up ahead of Wednesday’s crunch game against Zimbabwe.

Master batsman Sachin Tendulkar could drop down to number four while Ganguly, who has scored just 75 runs in his last nine innings, could also abandon his opening slot to bat at number five. It appears certain that hard-hitting Virender Sehwag will open the innings, probably with Dinesh Mongia, and Dravid is expected to take the number three slot.

India need a win to stay in contention for a place in the Super Six and resurrect their World Cup campaign. Zimbabwe are now well-placed to join Australia in the Super Six from Group A, leaving India, Pakistan and England to battle for the third spot.

Meanwhile, reports said police Calcutta had busted a cricket betting racket, arresting two bookies and seizing documents revealing bets worth 7,5-million rupees ($156 000).
- Sapa-AFP

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