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March 5, 1999


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'Go out and win the Cup', exorts Amitabh

Faisal Shariff

Will Azhar bring back the World Cup to India?

"Inshallah" replied the skipper and veteran of three World Cups going on four, Mohammad Azharuddin.

Speaking on the occasion of the unveiling of the World Cup, in his hometown Hyderabad, Azhar admitted that the Indian fans had to face huge disappointments in 1987 and 1996 "when we did well, but somehow managed to lose."

Meanwhile, tradition was pushed to the back seat, and sponsor power and marketing savvy took centrestage as the World Cup trophy was unveiled amidst sound, light and laser effects. This is the first time the trophy is being unveiled in a venue other than that of the host country.

Pepsi, the biggest of the sponsors -- which explains the fact that the soft drink giant is being allowed to go walkabout with the Cup, for promotional purposes -- did themselves proud with the launch function. Lined up were Azhar, Ajay Jadeja and Ajit Agarkar, all on the Pepsi endorsements list. Providing the stardust was Amitabh Bachchan, who in an impassioned speech told Azhar, "We will be holding our breath, biting our nails and rooting for you. Go out and win the Trophy."

The trophy -- 60 cm and 11 kgs of shimmer, crafted in sterling silver and gold, designed and manufactured in London by Garrard, the Crown Jewellers, features a golden globe held aloft by three silver columns. The globe itself is presented in the form of a stylized cricket ball, while the columns, styled as stumps and bails, represent the three essential pillars of the game—batting, bowling and fielding.

The six previous champions have been acknowledged on inscription plates at its base.

Estimated at £27,000, the Cup has been specially flown in from London for display. Vibha Rishi , executive vice-president of Pepsi, said that this would be a rolling trophy, going from winner to winner, with each successive champion having the right to have its name inscribed on it.

A replica, identical in every detail other than these multiple plates, will be presented to the 1999 World Champion and all future winners.

Pepsi, in collaboration with MTV, will take the Cup around on a series of World Cup On Tour concerts. Kicking off on March 6 in Hyderabad, the tour will proceed to Vishakapatnam on March 9, Madras on March 12, Colombo on March 16, Bangalore on March 20 and Lucknow on March 27. The spectacular cavalcade will culminate in Delhi on April 3.

During its progress, the Cup will be feted by the cream of Indian singers and movie celebrities at each stop -- the stops being intended to gather, and harness, the wishes of the Indian cricket fans who want to see it return to India.

Saying that the disappointments of the past had to be erased by winning the trophy this time around, Azharuddin in a rare burst of eloquence said, "There were times when the team played badly, but we are human." Amitabh Bachchan shot back, saying, "I wish I could pass on some of my make-believe killer instinct, then they'll win everything."

Azharuddin was in his elements, and said that if Bachchan was a fan of his, then he was just as big a fan of Amitabh's.

Recounting an incident from his childhood, he spoke about getting the 'beating of my life' from his mother when he was sent to buy some vegetables and, instead, got held up listening to the dialogues of the movie Sholay. He also added that his 'strict upbringing' meant not being allowed to watch films. His grandfather had told him that "Films are not your line", Azhar said, adding, "How true that is, at the end of the day."

Replying to queries, Azhar admitted that the weather conditions in England would be the only hindrance in the side's preparation for the World Cup. He said that 20 days would be enough to acclimatize, however.

Azhar said that he would like to see Agarkar fit in a hurry, adding that the young quick bowler would be a very vital member of the side. Acknowledging that India found itself in a tough group, he said that he was confident that India would get through to the semi-finals and the finals by upstaging the other teams.

Refusing to draw comparisons with the current team and the squad that won the Cup in 1983, he said, "I hate to draw comparisons. That team was different, we are totally different."

When someone asked Ajay Jadeja if he would be willing to bowl, Jadeja replied, tongue firmly in cheek, that if he were asked to bowl despite the presence of Robin Singh, Sachin Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly, it would mean the team was doing badly. More seriously, he confirmed that he was injury-free, and would bowl if the team required him to.

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