Azharuddin under pressure

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The Independent Online
Pressure was mounting on the Indian captain, Mohammad Azharuddin, yesterday in the wake of his team's World Cup semi-final defeat by Sri Lanka.

Azharuddin can scarcely be blamed for the crowd trouble which forced the match at Eden Gardens, Calcutta, to be abandoned, but he has been roundly criticised for putting Sri Lanka in after winning the toss.

The groundsman, Maheswar Sahu, insisted he had warned Azharuddin that the newly-laid wicket was likely to crumble in the second session, and many were surprised India chose to bat last.

To make matters worse Azharuddin was dismissed for a duck as India slumped dramatically from 98 for 1 to 120 for 8. When security staff were unable to restrain angry bottle-throwing fans in sections of the 100,000 crowd, Sri Lanka were awarded the match.

Police are guarding Azharuddin's home in Hyderabad and angry fans have burned effigies of the Indian captain in several areas of the country. One fan committed suicide in the eastern hill town of Jalpaiguri. The 35-year-old man hanged himself after watching India's defeat on television.

A Sri Lankan newspaper, the government-run Observer, has called for World Cup matches to be played at neutral venues in an effort to avoid a repeat of the crowd trouble at Eden Gardens, so that the game could be played in the right spirit "without allowing it to be reduced to a tribal game watched by savages brandishing battle axes and uttering war whoops".

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