Strange are the ways of media

Finally, after 37 long years, England won a world championship.

SUNIL GAVASKAR

That the Australians were more than a touch apprehensive, jittery and nervous could be seen, when one of their papers published on the day of the final a voodoo doll of Jonny Wilkinson, the English star, and urged their readers to cut his arms, legs or even prick it, if they thought that was one way of stopping the Englishmen from winning the final. But Wilkinson ultimately scored the cup-winner for England. -- Pic. PHIL COLE/GETTY IMAGES-

Finally, after 37 long years, England won a world championship. They beat Australia in the rugby World Cup. It was a victory that would have made the British delirious, for, they had beaten the Aussies on their own turf, and in front of a hugely partisan crowd.

Mind you, about 40,000 fans from England had flown in to support their team vociferously — as only English fans can — and it was not entirely an Aussie crowd that England had to contend with. Still with Australia being at the top of the heap in many of the world's team sports, the loss must have caused a big dent to their arrogance and pride.

That the Australians were more than a touch apprehensive, jittery and nervous could be seen, when one of their papers published on the day of the final a voodoo doll of Jonny Wilkinson, the English star, and urged their readers to cut his arms, legs or even prick it, if they thought that was one way of stopping the Englishmen from winning the final, and ruining the chances of the Aussies to retain the cup.

Tim Henman, after winning the Masters Series in Paris. British fans pin their hopes on Henman to win the Wimbledon title. -- Pic. REUTERS-

It didn't work as Wilkinson scored in the final minute of extra-time to give England the cup. That silly exhortation by the Australian newspaper would have turned off lots of neutral observers of the final match. It is no secret that all the erstwhile British colonies cheer for the opponent, whenever a British team participate in any sport. A defeat to British team gives them something that baffles the Brits no end.

Though many English sportspersons are admired and have fans outside their country, the rabid writings of the tabloids turn off even those supporters. The way they write about the opposition in trying to rise the morale of their own team does backfires sometimes. This is exactly what the Australian paper achieved by urging its readers to practice voodoo on Jony Wilkinson. It seemed to have worked partially, for Wilkinson did miss three but scored in the one that mattered to get England the cup.

A similar thing had happened during the cricket World Cup in South Africa earlier in the year. With South Africa losing to West Indies and New Zealand, the tussle for the final qualification for the Super-Six was between the hosts South Africa and Sri Lanka. At that stage a paper in South Africa asked its readers to pray for Sri Lanka's defeats in all the remaining matches as that was the only way South Africa could qualify. It was a big turn-off and South African cricket lost a whole lot of neutral supporters. It is fine to pray for your team to do well but to wish ill of someone else was not right. People took great joy when South Africa failed to qualify by one run, and that too playing against Sri Lanka. A victory against Lankiness would have got them into the Super-six. But the defeat cost Shaun Pollock the captaincy. In fact the coach should have been sacked as he was the one who should have known exactly what was required under the D/L method for rain interrupted matches. The players on the field would not have known exactly how many runs they needed, as they did not have the computer or the sheet, which explains the D/L method. The coach goofed it up and the captain paid for it. Though Graeme Smith has tried to change the face of South African cricket, he is still struggling and will continue to do so overseas unless his think tank is more in tune with his attitude and approach and that will mean more than just replacing the friendly Goolam Rajah as the manager of the team.

England's win in rugby will give great warmth to the nation even as winter approaches but one feels that their greatest joy will be when one of them wins the All England Tennis Championship. Though soccer is their national sport and rugby and cricket have their own following, it is tennis that captures the imagination and kindles the hopes of the country in June-July.

But there has been nothing but disappointment since the mid 1930s, when Fred Perry won the men's singles titles for three consecutive years. Sure they have won World and Olympic gold medals in athletics and individual sports, but more than the soccer World Cup and the cricket World Cup, it is the winners' medal in the All-England Tennis Championship that will really delight the British sports lovers. The All-England Tennis Association has recently hired the services of John McEnroe to spot and nurture young British talent and McEnroe has professed that he aims to set a fire in the belly of the British that is what he obviously feels is the missing factor in producing a British tennis champion.

Tim Henman's recent victory in Paris will once again give rise to the hope that "our Tim" will win the singles in 2004, in Wimbledon, but the pressure just gets too much for the gentlemanly Henman and he caves in at the slightest sign of it and ends up dashing England's hopes. Maybe with McEnroe in his corner, he may do it but truly if he spends a little time with Jimmy Connors, he will learn how to fight for every point and not give up at all.

Henman is put under pressure by the British media and that is normally the case for players from their own country media. But visitors to Australia find that the Australian media are almost like an extension of their teams and the way they go after the star-players especially the skipper of the touring team is almost predatory. Sourav Ganguly will find that happening soon enough though of course he is quite used to the pressure from the media at home.

With Australia's top bowlers not fully fit for the first couple of Tests, India has a real chance to do well in the series, for even though the Australian replacements did a commendable job in India, they are young and will feel the pressure of playing at home where expectations are naturally high. So a good beginning to the Test series might just do well for the team. This is what the previous teams have not been able to achieve. Hang in there guys! Believe in yourself and you can do it!