Australian team 'must pay for their sins'

WORLD CUP DIARY
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The Independent Online
One of the fiercest battles of this World Cup is taking place off the field: the subcontinent is a new battleground in the cola war. Coke, with its eye on a market of nearly a billion non-drinkers, has paid $3.7m (pounds 2.45m) to be an official sponsor. It has hoardings inside the grounds, as well as an absurd drinks trolley, which is shaped like a cruise-missile-sized Coke bottle, and which the players studiously ignore. The local television spots, meanwhile, betray the parent country's American priorities: "It's a whole different ball game," they declare. Pepsi has fought back hard. Every roundabout carries a huge poster of Tendulkar or Azharuddin drinking Pepsi under the slogan: "Unofficially Yours... There's Nothing Official About it". At Ahmedabad on Wednesday, they hoisted two large balloons outside the ground, one of them bang in front of a mass of Coke billboards. They didn't last long, though, and had to be taken down. Sponsors do have some clout, after all.

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The Dutch team has been the first to feel the heat in the subcontinent's kitchen. Half the team is feeling squishy after wolfing down too much of that notorious Indian dish spaghetti bolognese. England are taking fewer chances. Alec Stewart brought along his own hamper of exotic goodies: tinned tuna, baked beans, Mars bars and chicken. "If we get to the final," he said. "I'll have eaten 42 consecutive chicken breasts."

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Australia might have avoided Sri Lanka, but their problems are far from over. Denied practice facilities at Bombay's Wankhede Stadium - ostensibly for security reasons, but also because the ground is still full of workmen trying to put the lights up - they also face a warm welcome in Pakistan should they qualify for the later stages. Abdul Qadir has come clean and admitted that Shane Warne is the best leg spinner anyone's ever seen. But the Karachi newspaper the Nation was not completely statesmanlike about it all. "These foul Aussies," it insisted, "are the villains of the cricket world. They will forever be remembered as cheats, sissies, spoilsports and bad losers. They must pay for their sins."

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Australia's refusal to visit Sri Lanka looked a little more reasonable yesterday, when the host country's schools were closed for security reasons, and in Peshawar, Mike Atherton sleeps with an armed guard at his door. Even in India no chances are being taken. The pre-match practice session for England and New Zealand in Ahmedabad was watched by about 1,000 policemen with impressive sticks, just in case. Apart from putting the fear of God into the odd ruthless autograph hunter, they didn't have much to do. So they sat on the terraces and chatted while England's batsmen bombarded them with lofted whacks from the nets. The Army helicopter that hovered over the wicket at Rawalpindi yesterday, though, was not on military duty: it was simply a huge hair-dryer, whistled up to help dry the rain-soaked pitch.

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Cricket is doing its best to convert the sober population of alcohol- free Pakistan. England walk round in shirts promoting the virtues of Tetley bitter, and the West Indies, curiously, are sponsored by an Indian beer: Kingfisher. But the non-drinkers one had to feel most sorry for were the United Arab Emirates team, which even during the heat of yesterday's defeat by South Africa were bound by the laws of Ramadan to eat and drink nothing during daylight hours. It was probably just a coincidence that, in a break with precedent, both teams left the field during the drinks interval. No one was suggesting that the devout Emirates team (two members of whom are Emirates nationals) might have sneaked a glass of water on the quiet. If they had, they might not have run out of steam in the match.

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