Will 'Champions' win back the fans?

In a flashback to 2000, Indian cricket is once again grappling with the fixing menace.


Mumbai, May 23 -- When the first ICC Champions Trophy was played 13 seasons ago, the Men in Blue were grappling with the fixing menace. On the eve of the last edition, set to begin within a week in England, Indian cricket is again mired in the same controversy.

It was in 2000 that the infamous match-fixing scandal broke out, which led to the end of the careers of some prominent names, including Mohammad Azharuddin. Since last week, the sport is in the news for the spot-fixing scandal linked to the Indian Twenty20 League. Ironically, the Delhi Police unearthed the scandal on both occasions.

The timing of the tournament proved to be a saving grace then. Led by newly-appointed captain Sourav Ganguly, the team went on to play brilliant cricket in Kenya to reach the final and win back the faith of the fans.

This time MS Dhoni's men will have to come up with a similar show to resurrect the fortunes of the sport. The key position of managing the team in the inaugural one-day tournament had fallen upon former India opener Anshuman Gaekwad. And, he cannot help but relate to the similarities. Recalling the time when he was approached to take over, Gaekwad admitted he was hesitant initially.

The feat Sachin never got praise for

"Being removed the previous year from the same position had hurt me. I was reluctant and resisted. But the circumstances were extraordinary and I accepted the job for the sake of Indian cricket," said Gaekwad.

"There was so much pressure. I had to be very careful of the movement of the players, what they are doing, saying.There was no support staff, like now. I spoke to the Board secretary JY Lele, that no player be allowed to talk to the media. I would be the only one. That's how we avoided controversies and kept everyone together."

The catalyst for the turnaround was the team's performance against Australia in the quarterfinal. It was like David slaying Goliath for Australia were the reigning world champions. "Once in Nairobi, everything fell in place. We had two new faces in the team - Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan - and they were an instant hit. Their brilliance acted as a catalyst in lifting the performance of the team. "Zaheer was consistently bowling at around 145kmp and Yuvraj became an overnight star after his match-winning innings of 84 (80 balls) against Australia."

It was followed by another stunning win over South Africa in the semifinals and the mood back home had changed with cricket rising in the popularity charts. "We returned to a warm welcome and it looked like everything had been washed away," said Gaekwad.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.

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