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Sorry to have kept you waiting, Hardik

by Naked Cricket


Welcome back, Hardik.

Even if you weren’t 1/10th of the cricketer, even if you could just catch and field and were a bits and pieces all-rounder, it would be good to see you back.

But you are more than that. You flew in, and then you flew - what a catch that was. There is something about you, who knows, maybe even you don’t know yet what it is, but there are those that do.

Which is why, after Kohli, Rohit, MS, Bumrah, your name was inked in indelible marker to make that formidable India XI for the World Cup. 

Yet your name went missing. Just as every voice that could have made a difference went missing.

It took Rahul Dravid to speak up for you, in an equal measure of sanity and understanding.

And with that, somehow, things appear to have been sorted for now at least.

Perhaps a lesson for all cricketers: do not expect much from the administration. It’s beyond them. It reflects in the way the BCCI has been run, and far worse, how it fails to be run - with the added discomfort of a prop called the Committee of Administrators (CoA).

Were things better in Srini’s time? 

So, you’re back, Hardik. How does it feel? Like you got out of jail?

No, you don’t have to answer that. You don’t have to answer anything. 

You are not answerable. 

That’s what they wanted, and that’s what they should get.

Hardik Pandya has gone missing. In finding Hardik Pandya, again, India has lost him.

How hard we try and alter people. To make them suit our definition of what they should be like.

Great, Hardik Pandya is palatable now. You will see him as we have seen him for a while, pokerfaced, answering questions, so deadpan, when it’s only Manjrekar in the post-match.

Somehow, Manjrekar has drilled Pandya far more than Karan Johar ever did - in each interview, he has probed, skilfully, trying to eek something out, something about the other Hardik Pandya.

But that was cricket. Hardik Pandya was on his guard. His eyes still, almost lifeless, his demeanour almost solemn, as if Manjrekar was singing a dirge. 

That dirge which Karn Johar sang, camouflaged with a sexual surge.

Johar was his friend, buddy, this was Bollywood, not cricket; Hardik Pandya wasn’t a cricketer, he was so much more, Black Elvis had just entered the building.

Part 2

A while back, Hardik Pandya posted a video on twitter of his homecoming from an overseas’ tour - he surprised his father in the middle of the night, waking him up. A stunned father hugs his son, frantically. 

It’s a dramatic video. Hardik Pandya was dramatic. His father seemed dramatic too.

There are bits and pieces that people have seen of the Karan Johar interview. There seems to be plenty of hearsay too. I did watch the video, a few days after it went on air.

If anything, it was largely tactless of the two cricketers. Even naïve. Such a rarity on air, these days. Everyone is tutored enough to be the next Sushmita Sen.

These two, they would’ve made it beyond the swimsuit round. But not much further.

Part 3

On January 28, 2019, on his return, Hardik Pandya bowled his full quota of ten overs. In 42 innings so far, this was the 11th occasion that he had bowled all 10 overs. Two caught keeper dismissals, Pandya was pitching it up.

That not even player of the match, Mohammed Shami bowled his full quota, was a sign from the captain – we are behind you, Pandya.  


Part 4

It’s way too early to look at Pandya’s numbers and make sense of him as a cricketer. But in him, is India’s genuine search for a cricketing all-rounder. That’s how serious Indian cricket is of Hardik Pandya.

That Kapil Dev’s name continues to be thrown in tandem with his name, is not an accident.

In 11 Tests so far, Hardik Pandya already has a Test century and a five-for. He scored a Test 50 on debut, a Test century in his third Test. His 112 off 96 balls earned him Man of the match.

His match-turning spell of 5/28 at Nottingham was sealed with a run a ball 50. But those are just numbers. And with Pandya, they will, for a while, continue to be only a small part of the story.

Just as, India invested long term in Rohit Sharma, and is now served tons for fun, there is a deep squinting far-away look at the horizon for this 25 year old’s India future.

After Hardik Pandya sat on that Coffee Show, much of that promise was being ripped into – it may have been politically incorrect, even foolish, but none of that was, arguably, to do with cricket.

That he was on the show as a cricketer was not by accident either. He was not there as the painter who reds the town. But Johar’s batteries were all charged for ‘Gimme Red’.

What else do you expect on a Johar show? It’s not by accident either that a Bollywood icon claims to be a virgin on his show.

Anything goes. It’s just that these two cricketers, didn’t know better. It’s not as if either Pandya or KL Rahul will become saints after this incident; but don’t be surprised if they
sound like car nerds in their next interview-shoot. Maybe they will do an entire interview where car will be a metaphor for something else. With Queen’s ‘I’m in love with my car’ playing alongside.

Part 5

Here are two hugely successful guys in their mid-20s, with 10-12 years best of making the most of their gifts and talents.

Let’s back them. Let’s be their strength. If you love the game, know what it is that makes you love it – it is players like Hardik and Rahul that make those repeated curtain calls to the clamouring of crowds, after those mighty sixes – they are to the manor born, they are to the IPL born.

Whichever team they go to, and by the looks of it, Pandya won’t go far from the Mumbai Indians, will be enrichened by their funky town cricket.

They are, by virtue of their skills, flair, approach to the game, a toast to the game.

Not just the IPL, but who knows, to all formats. Which is why, in spite of Rahul’s repeated and often baffling failures, one Test series after the other, there is that glimmer of hope that he will come good. He too is a long term investment.

Part 6

But if this is how BCCI treats their long term investments, why grudge the bulls and the bears? In the aftermath of the Johar episode, the BCCI had pulled out of the Pandya-Rahul investment. It is a matter of both shame and regret. Which is where the Supreme Court and the CoA come in. The Pandya-Rahul affair is a pointer to a stinkier mess. It didn’t work well before the changes. But it’s far worse now. By tying the BCCI arms and legs, it’s Indian cricket that’s being kicked in the gut.

Part 7

Hardik Pandya was born on October, 11. Under the same sign as Sehwag and Gambhir. With a strange balance, comes an even stranger outspoken word and world way.

Try to curtail him at your own peril. And if you do, don’t be surprised that you may do more harm than help. Nurture him. He could win you more than the odd cup. More than the world?

Part 8

This should have been written much earlier. But it did seem almost premature to write it before Hardik Pandya’s return to the Indian side. Personally, I did feel bad for him, almost anxious for his career. In a way, the thought that we may not see Pandya play again for India, made me value him more than I ever had before.

Let’s lighten up now. Here’s to Pandya going red in the head for the fourth ODI.

First published here

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Let’s write about Cheteshwar Pujara for five days

by Naked Cricket


Let’s write about Cheteshwar Pujara today. Let’s write about him tomorrow. Let’s not forget to write about him on the day after that. Let’s write about him on Thursday and on Friday too.

For, on Saturday, 12th January, you will be unable to write about Cheteshwar Pujara. After five days, India will play Australia in a one-day game. These five days are all you’ve got to toast the man behind India’s first ever series victory in Australia.

What will you write about?

Whatever it is, make it no less than 1258 words. That’s how many balls Pujara faced in the series. By the time he faced his 1258th ball of the series, on the second day of the Sydney Test, he was on 193, India 418, overs bowled 130, the Aussie bowling on its knees.

Had Pujara already won India the series? Was there anything left to play for, for India, for Australia? If rain had a mind, it didn’t think so.

Or had Pujara already won it in Adelaide? When Australia discovered they could eek out the openers early, but pricing out this guy at three was like climbing one of those Giant Sequoia trees.

What was the first shot that Pujara played in the series when he walked in at the fall of KL Rahul’s wicket in the third over. 3/1, beginning of the tour - What was it? Was it even a shot? Was it a pokerfaced bat he offered? Did he leave the ball?

It was a dot ball. One of the many balls he would offer a deadpan bat to.

Pujara’s innings lasted 376 minutes, India’s 388 minutes. Pujara alone faced 41 overs, India 88 overs.

A ball before India’s innings closed, Pujara was run out trying to retain the strike. Before this though, he hurled India from 210/8 to 250/8 and himself from 89 to 123 in less than five overs – what, he even entertained the cynics with sixes off Starc and Hazelwood.

India beat Australia by 31 runs at Adelaide.

In the second innings, the openers did Pujara a disservice by making him wait 18.2 overs.
Yet, he was unfazed.

His first delivery was defended. It was a dot ball. One of many.

Pujara 70, fell in the 87th over. His innings lasted 204 minutes, India’s 465 minutes. Pujara alone faced 34 overs, India 106.5 overs.

As in the Adelaide first innings, at Perth too, Pujara walked out in the third over. India 6/1.

His first delivery was defended. It was a dot ball. One of many.

Pujara fell in the 39th over. His innings lasted 151 minutes, India’s 452 minutes. Pujara faced 17 overs, India 105.5 overs

In the second innings, Pujara walked out to bat in the first over. He walked back in the fourth over.

His first delivery was left alone. It was a dot ball. One of only nine dots.

As the gap between India and Pujara widened, so did that between Australia and India. India lost by 146 runs.

In Melbourne, India’s new opening pair gave Pujara 18.5 overs to work on his dancing moves. A record of some sort.

His first delivery was ducked under. It was a dot ball. One of many.

Pujara, 106, fell in the 126th over. He alone faced 53 overs, India 169 overs.

KL Rahul returned for Sydney and Pujara stepped out early again, in the second over.

By the time Pujara had faced his 1204th delivery of the series, he had gone past Rahul Dravid, for the most deliveries faced by an Indian batsman in Australia.

By the time he faced his 1258th ball in Sydney (the most by anyone in a four Test series in Australia), he was on 193, India 418, the Aussie bowling on its knees.

Pujara 193, fell in the 126th over. He alone faced 62 overs, India 167.2 overs.

It was over. Bar the shouting, posing, dancing, interviews.


Cheteshwar Pujara batted for 1702 minutes ie 28 hours, 22 minutes in this series! That is like batting all by himself for an entire five-day Test match

***

Cheteshwar Pujara was Player of the match and series. He was also a statistician’s delight. In more ways than one, he had outnumbered Australia.

He did it by being true to himself and his batsmanship. For a batsman whose Test average has hovered either side of 50 for most of his career, to be brought under such constant scrutiny, says little about both the captain and coach that decide on the final playing eleven.

This is as much Pujara’s victory against Australia as it is Pujara’s victory against those that doubted him.

In the days that led to India’s series triumph, Virat Kohli said this of Pujara -

“He has been a lot more flexible in altering his game very quickly. From the last time he played in Australia, he has made a few changes to his setup, and that’s working for him. He is embracing the fact that if something has been told to him and he has to work on those things, he has worked on it,” 

Begs the question, why is ‘something’ never told to Rohit, Rahul and Rahane? If so, why do they not work on those things?

While this will be Virat Kohli’s victory, and to some extent even Ravi Shastri’s; it is a good time as any, to see how the captain remodelled his game, making it almost akin to that of Pujara’s.

But nobody said - How Kohli ‘has been a lot more flexible in altering his game very quickly’.

A strike rate comparison between the captain and his No. 3 -

In Adelaide: Pujara 50 and 34.8, Kohli 18.75 and 32.69 – India won  (Pujara 100)
In Perth: Pujara 23.3 and 36.36, Kohli 47.85 and 42.5 – Australia won  (Kohli 100)
In Melbourne: Pujara 33.22, Kohli 40.19 – India won – India won (Pujara 100)
In Sydney: Pujara 51.74, Kohli 38.98 – Draw (Pujara 100)

In 7 innings, Pujara scored 502 runs at 74.42, Kohli 282 at 40.28.

Kohli 177 runs (417 balls)
Pujara 222 runs (564 balls) After 4 Tests, if Pujara scores > Kohli, India will win the series.

In between was Rishabh Pant, 350 runs at 58.33. The second highest batting average was Mayank Agarwal’s – 65 for his 195 runs.

While Pant is 9 Tests old, Agarwal has played just 2. One is barely 21, the other 27.

Much like Pujara, neither Pant nor Agarwal are ODI or T20I stars yet. They are all making an impact through Test cricket. It’s unlikely either player will be fast-tracked into the squad for the World Cup either.

Unlike Pujara however, both will turn up for their IPL teams before the World Cup.

As for Pujara, it’s something of a blessing for India, that he went unsold in the last IPL auctions. On return to India, he will be playing in the Ranji Trophy. In the summer, he’ll be off to play County cricket in England again.

This time however, no man in his right mind will drop him for a Test match based on county form.

***

While much is being made of Pujara’s two left feet, and the mock Pujara dance to celebrate the series win, it hardly does justice to the batsman’s dancing abilities.

The phrase, ‘dancing down the track to spinners’ was made for Che Pujara.

Not since VVS Laxman, has an Indian batsman played Australian spin with such skilful moves.

But that is cricket. Not post-match moves.

When he isn’t coming down the wicket to spin, he’s standing there, tall, self-assured, the protector of a different realm – one that could fall anytime.

But not on his watch. Is he the Last Test Batsman?

Only a few knew it. And even amongst those few, there were those who wanted to unknow it.

***

Pujara will get you home. It’s just that he will take the long way. And when you realise, for a series that started on December 6, and ended the following year on January 7; there’s only one way home – the long way, Pujara’s way.

If you’re up to it, you can sing along, and dance to it.

Just don’t expect Pujara to join in. He’s the reason you’re dancing. The reason you’re singing.

Be thankful. Scarcely ever before has a straight bat achieved so much for Indian cricket.

Try and not be too crooked with it.

First published here

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