Although he was not yet coach of the team, Sandeep Patil accompanied Mohammed Azharuddin through their 1996 World Cup journey as a "helping hand" (his own words) to cricket manager Ajit Wadekar. Patil would take over the team later.
Yesterday, he told MiD DAY that he was in no position to comment on Vinod Kambli's claims that he found something fishing about India's play in the semi-final against Sri Lanka in Kolkata since he was not part of any strategy group. "I was not even attending team meetings," he stressed. However, Patil was forthcoming about India's semi-final loss when this writer interviewed him on March 20, 1996. Excerpts from that interview:
What do you think went wrong in the semis against Lanka?
The decision to field first. It was not only Azhar's decision but that of a collection of 20 people, the selectors included. I believe the curator went on record to say that he had warned Ajit and Azhar that the pitch would turn. Now, I was there when he spoke to us. He clearly said that we could play for two days continuously on this wicket and nothing would happen to it. I fail to understand why he saying something else now.
"Till Azhar went out to toss, we were not sure whether we were going to bat or field. And Arjuna Ranatunga would have opted to field too � believe me because the wicket was as hard as a rock. We had to believe the curator because it was a newly laid track. Yet, I am not blaming anyone or pointing fingers. I am only saying that we were beaten fair and square.
But what about the players who threw away their wickets?
I do not think anyone threw away their wickets.
Did the team worry a bit too much about the Lankan openers, Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharana?
We had to think about them a lot because not only India, but every team suffered because of them. And not only them, the entire Sri Lankan batting order.
The public went berserk at Eden Gardens. Do you think their attitude has changed over the years?
No. Play was disrupted in 1967 and the same thing happened the other night at Eden Gardens. I can understand they getting upset, but they should also take time to understand that it is just a game and no one likes to lose. It is so sad really. When Azhar went out to bat he was a hero and when he came back dismissed, he was their enemy.
What was the scenario in the dressing room?
Tearful. The tears the Indian players were shedding were real.
Do you feel we lack the killer instinct... that ability to come back into the game when the chips are down?
This is all hype. You would not have asked me this question soon after the victory against Pakistan.