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.