2

2017 Bangalore Test


BEML end, Chinnaswamy

BEML end, Chinnaswamy

I am tempted to say that Bangalore 2017 is the best test match of our lives. But the heroes of Calcutta 2001 won’t let me do that.

I am glad that the test match got over, though I would’ve secretly wanted it to carry on for ever. Let me rephrase it, when was the last time, we followed every ball of every session of every day of a test match, from the edge of our seats? I don’t remember. Or simply, there hasn’t been a test match, as good as this one at the Chinnaswamy, in the last 15 years. When I came out after having watched the Day 1 action from the N stand at the BEML end, I was tired and worn out, much like the players, and was cross because 8 of our batters had gifted their wickets to Nathan Lyon. I sought answers for so many questions. “How could you let a visiting spinner dominate you? How could you bring back the horrors of Panesar and Swann? We have attacked even Warne and Muralitharan in their prime and aren’t O’keefe and Lyon lesser mortals?” I thought the test was over and the Border Gavaskar trophy would simply stay in Australia. But, everyone including the Umpire’s call had other ideas.

I followed the Day 2 action on TV, Day 3 on Hotstar, Day 4, again on TV and not going to the stadium in these 3 days, will remain one of the massive regrets in my life. I should’ve been the 12th man from the stands. India’s resurgence and discipline in the first session of Day 2 took us back to Calcutta. But the turning point of the game has to be Ishant’s spell to Steve Smith and the funny faces that followed it. It was fodder for the meme makers, fans and Virat Kohli. Oh, and before this, Ashwin produced the mirror image of his ball to Amla in the T20 semifinal, to send back David Warner and made millions, like me, join the send off party.

None of the defensive strokes bored anyone. There was action in every ball, literally. Every leave drew comments from close-in fielders. Funny faces followed every time the ball beat the willow. Kohli loved the scenes. He would have paid millions, even his IPL contract, to be in this moment. The moment even got to Pujara, of all people. Yes, even to Cheteshwar Rahul Dravid Pujara. The cameras captured him involved in the chatter. Day 2 saw only 197 runs scored off the 90 overs. But that was already the best day of the Home Test season. Chinnaswamy showed the world that it loved its test matches like Lords and MCG, as the crowd swelled even on a weekday.

When the going gets tough, classical test batsmen know how to survive. They will negate the naughty bounce by shuffling. They will negotiate the flight, loop and classical off spinner’s wicket taking trajectory. They will not poke outside the off stump. They know exactly when to drive and when, not to. They play with the opposition’s patience. They prod. They defend. They leave. They grind it out. They survive. And slowly, they notch up the runs. That’s what Dravid and VVS did in Calcutta. That’s what Dravid did in Jamaica and Leeds. And that inspired two shy young men in Rajkot and Mumbai, who saw these knocks on TV. Fifteen years later, they pull off the unthinkable. They produce the partnership of the decade, which the knowledgeable fans rate, as the best since Calcutta. No wonder that Kohli rated Pujara and Rahane as the team’s best test batsmen. But it all started with KL Rahul, the prodigious dude from Bangalore, who can switch with ease, from batting like Dravid to batting like Sehwag. 90 and 51 when the bowlers were all over the batters, should inspire him to emulate the gentleman with whom he shares his name and city.

I couldn’t miss the Day 4 action. It would’ve been criminal. So, I decided to work from home. But I could barely work. I knew where my thoughts were. And just like that, the Aussie pacers orchestrated our batting collapse. It was breathtaking fast bowling. I had the best seat in the house on Day 1 in the N stand to see Starc ‘air’ swinging the red cherry. It was quite a sight. I could see how it curved, sitting 80m away. But it didn’t find the timber then. And when it did, on Day 4, it looked beautiful, like it had found its rightful hang out place. We were down from 4-down to all back in the hut.

188 to win. Plenty at stake. Kohli’s pride. Ashwin’s pride. Chinnaswamy’s pride. India’s pride. And yeah, the frigging Border Gavaskar trophy. Recent stats showed it was unconquerable. But Warner could conquer it in a session and a half. Smith could play on for ever and make runs. Renshaw could carry on despite, having to answer the nature’s call. Defending the score wasn’t going to be easy. And then it all began to happen. Renshaw fell. Warner looked to end Ashwin’s career. He tried to sweep, slog-sweep, paddle-sweep and even the reverse sweep, but couldn’t connect. And when he did, it sailed over long on. Ashwin, for the first time in the test, felt the pressure. Kohli would’ve been tempted to take him out of the attack. But he somehow, gave him another over. Warner’s eyes lit up. He could’ve sent the ball to Brigade Road or even the metro. But he loses his balance, almost falls over and importantly, fails to connect. Trapped. Leg Before Wicket. Umpire’s call seemed like a thing of beauty to billions. Two down. The bounce was uneven. Even Ishant Sharma was unplayable to Steve Smith. Everyone wanted the ball be given to Umesh Waqar Younis Yadav. Kohli acknowledged. Umesh came charging in, from his short run up. The ball skidded. It kissed the worm in the pitch, after pitching. It bounced that high. All this happened at pace, at 90 miles an hour. The shooters continued. One of them traps Shaun Marsh well outside the off stump. Trapped. Leg before wicket. Cacophony followed. A miscommunication during the DRS discussion saw him walking back. Umesh’s next shooter, rolls of the pitch and fetches him the wicket of his career. Steve Smith’s third brain fade moment in the match happens. He was not good at abbreviations, from school days. Dressing Room Review System is going to haunt him for the rest of his life. Pujara rushes in. Kohli is animated. He gives a mouthful to Smith. Umpire shows Smith the way. Kohli has a lot of things to say. Chinnaswamy is on its feet. The boos begin. Four down. It’s India’s game to lose now. I compose a couple of tweets to express my displeasure at Smith’s behaviour. Another wicket falls. And in a matter of another 15 minutes, Ashwin runs through the Aussie line up. Another game. Another fifer. Kohli starts sprinting. He gestures his celebratory pose towards Kumble and the entire Chinnaswamy. The series is squared. Michael Vaughan is elated. So, are the poms. Border Gavaskar trophy is alive. Ah, Bangalore 2017 is the best test match of our lives, along with Calcutta 2001. I am going to preserve the match ticket. It is Gold.

1

The ‘Over’ of a lifetime: As it happened


Nehra Ji....... Pic Courtesy: Twitter

                                                               Nehra Ji

Jasprit Bumrah has just sent down his sixth yorker of the over. Chinnaswamy applauds. Couple of players rush to pat the bowler on his back. The bowler breathes a sigh of relief. He had a terrible time on the field early on. But those are past memories now.

All eyes turn to the big screen.

“11 Runs to Win from 6 Balls”.

All eyes, now turn to the center of the pitch. There is a mini round table conference there. Everyone knows who is going to bowl the last over. Hardik Pandya, the swagger from the Wild West (Baroda), the funky hairstyle owner, the brash young man, the obvious six hitter, the generous six donator, the displayer of youthful energy on the field and at times, a Sreesanth impersonator, is entrusted with that duty. This could change his life, both ways. He could be a hero who would be celebrated. He could also be a villain, who would be the butt of all jokes on social media. His newly constructed glass house, could be pelted by stones. The next 5 minutes is going to decide everything. He is seen smiling though, pretending as if he is cool. He cracks a joke with the umpire. And slowly, strolls his way to the bowling mark.

He starts his run up. There is tension written all over him. After all, this is Chinnaswamy. A bowler’s nightmare. The home of high scoring T20 thrillers. The six hitting paradise. The small boundaries. Plus, the opposition is not Australia, its Bangladesh. You can’t lose to Bangladesh and all. It’s a prestige issue. We helped them get Independence. And their fans and advertisements have been tastelessly taking a dig at us. They knocked off our captain’s head with the help of Photoshop. We simply cannot lose this game.

First ball. Hardik tries a yorker outside off. The ball deserved a boundary. It should’ve been drilled to the short cover boundary. Even a Pakistani batsman would’ve done it. But it is Bangladesh. They can’t do it. The ball is easily stopped by the boundary patroller Sir Jadeja. Single.

“10 Runs to Win from 5 Balls”

Another round table conference begins. This time it is chaired by His Highness Nehra Ji. Dhoni casually chips in. The three of them turn around 360 degrees and look at the field. Nehra Ji tells him what to do, where to bowl and at what length. The loyal disciple Pandya nods in agreement. Everyone walk back and take their positions. Pandya runs in. With his typical ‘medium pacer from the street cricket’ action, he sends a length ball. The sort of balls you need as a batsman, to boost your confidence. Venkatesh Prasad used to hit sixes of those dollies in the practice nets. But it is Mushfiqur Rahim. He fires it wide off extra-cover and manages to get a boundary. Only a boundary. But, it is 4 runs nevertheless. The tension slightly diffuses. You know the match is slipping away. This is after all Chinnaswamy. A bowler’s nightmare………….High scoring………..Six hitting…………small boundaries…….

“6 Runs to Win from 4 Balls”

Nehra ji is not amused. Even he would have tonked that for six. He starts a conversation with Dhoni and summons Pandya to the middle. The lecture begins. Some traffic patrolling follows. Fielders swap positions. Yuvraj is seen relaxing, fully aware that he will not be the punching bag this time. Chinnaswamy’s noise levels reduce by half. Kohli is sporting a gloomy look. Surely man, he can’t lose at Chinnaswamy. This is his home. Meanwhile, Nehra Ji has finished communicating his ideas to Pandya. Let us see what he does. He sends a short gentle medium paced delivery. Normal batsmen would’ve conveniently hooked that and deposited in to the crowds. But it is Mushfiqur Rahim. He has Misbah’s genes. He goes for THAT shot. Galaxy surprisingly, the ball manages to kiss some part of the willow and gravity defyingly, beats Dhoni’s hands. 4 more. Rahim lets out a celebratory cry. Boss, that should be after you win a world cup. Not now. Anyway, Bangladeshi dugout explodes. Chinnaswamy is stunned. The stadium has been muted. Kohli is about to cry.

“2 Runs to Win from 3 Balls”

Nehra Ji has given up. Still, Dhoni drags him to give Pandya some final advises. Rohit Sharma joins, probably to remind everyone that he too captains an IPL side. Everyone feels relaxed. There is no way that we can win the match. I manage to take a loo-break and come back. I am not going back to the bean bag. I decide to stand. Pandya bowls a gentle half tracker. I have seen Gayle dispatch every such delivery to Cubbon Park. But this is Mushfiqur Rahim. He is half the size of Gayle and has one-tenth of the power that Gayle possesses. He goes for the pull and sends the ball straight to the fielder in the deep. Chinnaswamy slowly makes noise. But they aren’t convinced fully. Its just two required and any sane mind would knock that off. Two singles would do.

“2 Runs to Win from 2 Balls”

Nehra Ji is expressionless. He hardly believes that we could win. Without much interest, he shows Pandya where to pitch it in. Pandya nods. And after all the advises, he forgets to even pitch the ball. Juicy full toss. Slow ball. Short boundaries. Mahmudullah’s eyes lit up. There is a chance he could do a Dhoni and set off on a victory run. He wanted to be a hero and gives in to the situation. He smashes the full toss. If it was Dhoni, the ball would have hit the roof of Chinnaswamy. He has patented this art of finishing games with a six. But this is Mahmudullah. He would not even clear the Chinnaswamy boundary. The ball neatly nestles in Sir Jadeja’s hands. Sir Jadeja dives. The players rush to him from everywhere. Nehra Ji gives out a cheeky smile. Pandya has gone bananas. The noise levels increase. We can now smell victory. But all three results are possible. The super over possibility is looming large.

Already a contender for Dronacharya Award

                              Already a contender for Dronacharya Award

“2 Runs to Win from 1 Ball”

2007 Johannesburg memories come flashing by. Within a couple of minutes, Joginder Sharma starts trending worldwide. Pandya is a Joginder Sharma kind of bowler. All the five balls have been worse than what Joginder bowled. Each one of them deserved to go for a boundary. What is with Dhoni and trying his luck with mediocre bowlers. Final round of talks begin. Nehra Ji is animated. He wants to win a Dronacharya award badly. He starts the tutorial. Dhoni remains ice cool. Nehra Ji is telling him all the possible deliveries. He tells him you can try a bouncer, or a slow bouncer, or a straight Yorker, or a wide Yorker from around the wicket, or an off cutter, or a back-of-the-hand slow ball. After discussing the possibilities, Nehra Ji has the final word. Bang the ball in, he gestures. Pandya okays. Dhoni nods. Chinnaswamy is on its feet. Kohli is about to explode. MC-BC is just about to come out. Ravi Shastri is being missed in the commentary box. Pakistani fans bite their nails in anticipation. Pandya runs in, for one final time in this never-ending over. As advised by Nehra Ji, he bangs the ball in. The batsman goes for an imaginary upper square cut. He misses the ball. Cacophony. Dhoni collects it. He starts sprinting. So does the non striker. Its a direct 100 m race between the two. In a flash, Dhoni knocks the bail down. Non striker reaches. It is difficult to judge on naked eye. The umpire asks for the third umpire to step in. Dhoni is not sure. The non striker is expressionless. The TV replays start. The front foot is all okay. And now, for the frame that would be the decider.

Wow, This Frame!! Frame it.

                                                  Wow, This Frame!! Frame it.

YES. THE NON STRIKER IS SHORT OF HIS CREASE. CHINNASWAMY ERUPTS. CRACKERS GO OFF IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. YO BANGLADESH, YOU NOW KNOW WHO THE BOSS IS.

OH, DHONI. YOU USAIN BOLT. YOU LIGHTNING. YOU CHEETAH. YOU RACING CAR. YOU THING OF BEAUTY. HOW DID YOU DO THAT? FUCK.

OH, MY DEAR NEHRA JI. YOU LION. YOU TIGER. YOU LEOPARD. YOU CHEETAH. YOU THING OF BEAUTY. HOW CAN YOU BE SO LEGENDARY????? YOUR NAME SHOULD BE RECOMMENDED FOR THE DRONACHARYA AWARD.

 

 

 

2

You were special, Virender Sehwag!


He last played for India in Hyderabad in 2013 and since then, you’re used to seeing an Indian team set out in the field, without him. You knew his chances of a comeback were slim. You knew his best days were in the past. You knew he was 37. You doubted if he could again produce those masterpieces. But there was some part in you, which wanted to see him with the willow again for India. You can understand that as Indians have always been emotional. But with Virender Sehwag, the reactions that poured in from fans and writers in England, Australia and even Pakistan, were remarkably similar. Jeez, he was loved all over the cricketing world. Wasn’t he!

He was special. In fact, very special. He defied all the cricketing laws, even made a mockery of the conventional approach to batsmanship and yet, the purists adored him. They clapped in elation, every time he slashed it through the gully. They were in the edge of their seats when he hit those naughty, tempting sixes through the third man on the opening day of a Test match. They stood in awe every time he played those insane knocks. They were his fans, among many others, cut across the borders and generations. 

Rahul Dravid, the bible for batting in test matches, was his fan. So was Sachin Tendulkar, Sehwag’s idol. So was the reckless T20 generation slogger, Glenn Maxwell. So were VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Adam Gilchrist, Kevin Pieterson, Mahela Jayawardene, David Warner and the list goes on. Everyone prayed for a Sehwag special when they sat in front of the TV. He was a swashbuckler. An entertainer. A swagger. A pied piper. A Rajinikanth block bluster. 

I have often wondered how he managed to garner these many fans. His numbers spoke for themselves, like with any great player. But it was all about the manner in which he scored his runs. He had a song on his lips as he pounded the cricket balls. He whistled. He smiled while destroying the bowling attacks and records were broken as an after-thought. After Alastair Cook’s laborious knock of 263 off 528 balls recently, I imagined what all could Sehwag have done in that time- completed two triple centuries while humming 528 lines of Kishore Kumar’s songs and pulling up 263 conversations with the umpires. That defined him. Those chatters with the umpires from the non-striker’s end, no matter if he struggled with the swing or was hitting the sweet spots. Nothing bogged him down. Not even Shane Warne’s zooters when he scored a top class 155 in Chennai. Not even the bouncers that hit his helmet in MCG when he powered his way to 195. Not even the raw pace of Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee. Not even the then scary Mendis Mystery. That he was a genius, made him overcome all these. But that isn’t the complete picture. His carefree approach made us pause and think if we could all be like Sehwag, and make our lives insanely simpler.

Eventually, the numbers too happened. 8000+ runs in both the formats at a jaw-dropping strike rate of 82 in tests and 104 in ODIs. Those big daddy triples came the way. Staggering doubles made its way, including the Indore Incendiary (219). Records tumbled. Bloemfontein happened. Nottingham and Melbourne followed. Lahore was conquered. So too was Galle. So too were Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. And in between he tore apart Pakistan, made billions of Indians watch the 2003 World cup final despite losing Sachin early, took a fifer at Delhi, trolled Michael Clarke, registered a king pair, inspired David Warner to become a Test opener and made press conferences worth listening to.

So, which is my favorite Sehwag innings? There are three of them in no particular order. The 195 at MCG and 201 at Galle were impressions that there was a method to his madness. It wasn’t just about taking the leather of the ball. He took his time, survived the snorters early on and then dominated the Aussies in Melbourne. At Galle, it was a similar approach where he planned his innings beautifully before conquering all sorts of spin at the minefield of a wicket. The third is probably, the most audacious knock ever played- his 83 off 68 in Chennai while chasing 387 on the 4th innings. He expanded our imaginations. The world gasped in awe. So were England.  It was freakish. It was unheard of before, in 150 years of Test cricket. India eventually chased the target down in two days but the match was won in an hour and a half of sheer madness. 

I choke, as I write this post. It’s not easy to see one of your favorites bidding adieu. Words are difficult to come by. There are emotions all over. There is sadness everywhere. It’s a lump in the throat moment. His cricketing journey has been a personal favorite along with Rahul Dravid’s and AB De Villiers’. I don’t think any other cricketer brought me so much joy. I don’t think any other cricketer forced me to the edge of my seats every frigging time. I don’t think any other cricketer played cricket, the Sehwag way. He is special. He is a legend. He is God. Thank you for enriching our lives, Virender Sehwag!!

#ThankYouSehwag

                                         #ThankYouSehwag

0

Zak, the warrior


In a batsmen obsessed nation like ours, it is not often that you see a bowler sharing the limelight. Time and again, we’ve seen our spinners foxing the opponents in minefields by magically rolling their wrists and fingers. Our wickets literally take the fast bowlers away from the equation. It is for this precise reason that Zaheer Khan will hold a special place in the annals of Indian cricket. His heroes, the legendary Kapil Dev and the incredible Javagal Srinath were special and India celebrated them. And Zaheer with his performances, emulated them.

I remember his early days in 2000 clearly. It was a new phase in Indian cricket when the youngsters were being heard and encouraged. One of them started shooting those toe crushers in Nairobi. Every one of those had a message “Zak has arrived” written on it. They were special and Indian cricket fan woke up. The young man from Shrirampur who never bowled in a turf till 17 was suddenly one of the most feared fast bowlers in the world. In between, he massacred Henry Olonga with the willow in an over. He was part of the pace attack that took India to the WC final in 2003 and Zak’s best came in the super six against a formidable Kiwi lineup. Then came the fifer at Gabba, partnership with Sreesanth in that famous win at Johannesburg and a string of useful spells all over the world.

As is the story with every Indian pacer, injuries derailed his progress. Fitness kept him out of crucial encounters. There were questions on his form. His pace dipped and he was no way near his best. That’s when he did something smart. He signed up for Worcestershire in the English county cricket to hone his skills further and when he came back, he became a ‘smarter’ fast bowler. There was more variety in his armory. He mastered the knuckle bowl, learnt the trade of controlling his swing and started hitting the sweet spots in the pitch. Zak, the promising youngster was ready to spearhead the Indian bowling attack.

Second part of his international career began when he blew England away in Nottingham in 2007. Left handers became his bunnies. He started to look lethal in the sub continent when he reversed the old ball. And all those were reflecting in the bowling figures. He complemented the spinners wonderfully when we swept opponents at home and was an inseparable entity in the test team that reached the pinnacle in 2010. And then came the 2011 world cup. Zak was at his best. In a tournament dominated by Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh, Zak was in a league of his own. He opened the bowling, bowled in middle overs and was India’s go to man at the death. I have fond memories of his knuckle balls to dismiss Paul Collingwood in early stages and Mike Hussey in the QF. What a peach that was! And what a world cup he had. Sadly, fitness and form kept him in and out since then and he was no where near where he was in his prime.

Thank you Zaheer for enriching this beautiful game. You can be extremely proud of what you’ve done. We’ll miss you Zak. The hairstyles. The high jump. Yorker. Knuckle ball. Wickets. And this.

Thank you Zak

                               Thank you Zak

 

9

You won our hearts, South Africa


I couldn’t take it. I was gutted. I broke down. I was heartbroken. I cursed the ‘luck’ factor. It was as if when they wrote the cricketing laws, someone secretly included that South Africa would never progress after the Semis. Then I saw the legend Abraham Benjamin De Villiers cry. I also spotted the tall lanky Morne Morkel weep, only to be consoled by Wayne Parnell. Camera turned around and I saw Faf Du Plesis look shattered. Dale Steyn was down. These are some tough people who played unbelievable cricket, batted for hours in testing conditions to save Test matches across the globe, take fifers with ease in the flat decks of Sri Lanka and India, chased down 434 in an ODI and also played tough cricket. They were no pushovers. And suddenly, I saw all these cricketers weep inconsolably. It was difficult to see.

This world is cruel

This world is cruel

I wasn’t even thinking of where did South Africa go wrong in losing this match. That was for some other day. Today, it should be all about sharing South Africa’s pain. Yes, we all admired New Zealand, their exciting bunch of cricketers and the brand of cricket they played. But our hearts said ‘South Africa. South Africa’. There was just too much sentiment with the Proteas. Except for the 40000 odd people in Eden Park and a million in New Zealand, every one in the world were cheering for the Saffers. May be it had to do with the unfair ‘C’ tag. or may be it was for AB De Villiers.

We all loved South Africa, didn’t we. The minuscule Quinton. Warrior Amla. Fabulous Faf. Steyn Gun. Killer Miller. Abraham Lincoln’s beard-inspired Imran Tahir, Tall Morne and of course the man himself, AB De Villiers. We even adored their predecessors. We knew what Duckworth and Lewis did to them in 1992. We remember that look on Lance Klusener’s face in 1999. We’ve read and heard about how unfairly, journalists used the word ‘Choke’ every time they bowed out in the knockout stages of a World Cup. And that’s why somewhere you secretly wished South Africa emerged victorious.

But sadly it didn’t happen. Is it South Africa’s loss or the World Cup’s loss that the former has never held the trophy. Nevertheless, spare your thought for the great AB DeVilliers. Jeez. Isn’t he the greatest cricketer in the world right now. Is there anyone who doesn’t have a ‘weak’ zone, scores with ease and class 360 degrees, improvises masterly, hits sixes disdainfully , plays inhuman shots, scores tons breathtakingly, fields acrobatically, leads inspiringly and does probably every thing possible on a cricketing field. Does he even realize his greatness? Dale Steyn was spot on when he said that ABD has no idea how good he is. If this is a fair world, I just wish and hope that ABD lifts the world cup one day.

Cricket is, after all, a gentleman's game

Cricket is, after all, a gentleman’s game

I’ve grown up respecting the beautiful game and its servants, no matter which part of the world it was played and who played it. That’s the beauty of a sport, isn’t it. It transcends boundaries. We all stood up and saluted Wahab Riaz for THAT spell. Today we all sat back and shared South Africa’s pain. We sat back and thanked both the teams for giving us a cracker of a match. We sat back and adored the way the match was played. No swear words. No verbal altercations. No sledging. It was the purest form of cricket where it was a contest between bat and ball. I think both the teams can be extremely proud of it.

And dear South Africa, you can go back with your heads held high. Your country would be extremely proud of the way you represented them.

“You have a beautiful country, wonderful people and amazing footballers-this match may not destroy your pride! Mesut Ozil after Germany beat Brazil in the world cup Semi final in 2014.