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On a personal note to Rahul Dravid

by Gaurav Sethi

 Welcome back, Jammy. Here’s to leading more back-to-the wall fightbacks

Dear Rahul,

In that summer of ‘96, we both were at the Delhi airport, catching a flight westwards. I did not see you, but I spotted your Karnataka mate, Venkatesh Prasad from afar. I raised my hand, he raised his, so high, as if he was prepping to release the ball. 

Then in spring, 2012, as I prepared to leave for another airport, your retirement announcement started to play out on TV. I uncharacteristically delayed my departure so I could take in the full import of your farewell to the game.  

A few hours later in the pool, the hotel pickup turned out to be a swimming instructor. He regaled me with his cricket stories; how he was on the verge of playing for Goa. Then politics did him in. And somebody’s son took his place. I took this opportunity to talk about you. He was more interested in Ganguly. You know how that pans out. 

Then in 2015, you delivered the MAK Pataudi lecture. You spoke, unusually, of altered bowling actions because kids were made to bowl the full 22 yards. On one of my jaunts past Madan Lal’s cricket nets in Siri Fort, this compelled me to intervene. 

A few years later, you quit from your position as the Delhi Daredevils’ mentor; something about conflict of interest, they said. I found it odd, you appeared to be the only one with a conflict of interest doing anything about it.  

***

But what are these personal anecdotes? Some, where you weren’t even there. They’re personal, because, I knew soon enough, that this was personal. When in your debut series, you fell short of your Test hundreds repeatedly, and Sourav scored his, I knew. This would be ache and triumph in equal measure. That when your Test batting average started to slide below Tendulkar’s, threatening to go below 50, I wanted this to end.

Then came salvation, in 2011, when the team was buried, you scaled with Test batting porn – not one, not a double, but a triple. Three hundreds.

It came to that. That you even made your T20 International debut after that. What was that? It seems so far away, I had to check the stats, three sixes really. You did not play another T20I. 

After that England series, a home series, against the West Indies: another Test ton, two more fifties. 

Sitting in the Kotla pavilion, with Nikhil Kalaan alongside, I watched Fidel Edwards go right through you; he went right through me too. Hell. It’s come to this. Another clean bowled. That’s how it would read, right? The cracks in The Wall. Such an occupational hazard: You’re called The Wall, the headlines come readymade. They gnaw at you, like insects, like vultures, and somewhere, if you’re prone to introspection, which I suspect you are, is this it? 

But it wasn’t, was it? Could you have called it off then? In England, before that, on a high? It’s so way back, more than a decade back, why now? But, I will repeat, this is personal. This is all the pain I chose to take on, for it came with so much joy. So that when you walked away, it was worth every moment. Every f***ing moment.

I’m out of luck, I’m out of form

Don’t know how I’ll weather the storm


The legs will move, the blood will flow

Take it easy, nice and slow

Do it little by little, blow by blow


I watch the ball, can’t watch my back

The knives are out, want me on the rack

Looking for luck, needle in a haystack


Forget the world, stare at a bird’s eye

You’re not a myth, you’re not an evil Sith

You’re still playing, you’re still brick-laying


I’m out of luck, I’m out of form

Don’t know how I’ll weather the storm


Open your mind, open your stance

Look at the field, give it one more glance

Forget about luck, forget about chance


I hear voices and I hear noises

I hear raves and I hear rants

I hear don’ts and I can’ts


Blank the crowd, blank the bowler

Let ‘em boo, let ‘em holler

Treat ‘em like another blank caller


I’m out of luck, I’m out of form

Don’t know how I’ll weather the storm


Out of form, song written for Rahul Dravid in November, 2008.  

***

Those Gregg Chappell years, when the two of you were clubbed together, when he was busy calling a spade a spade, putting both Ganguly and Tendulkar under the microscope; I even saw some reason to all the upheaval. 

That early 2007 World Cup elimination was way more painful because you were captain. Rising above all that ODI gloom though, is that straight six off Alan Donald. And an innings against England, where you scorched the square boundaries, like some maverick trying to make a first impression. 

I often wondered about perception, still do. And this puts it squarely in a comparison with Ganguly. If you look at the numbers closely, there’s hardly anything in them: Averages of 39.16 vs 41.02. Strike rate of 71.23 vs 73.70. It’s another thing, if you’re comparing either of you with Tendulkar’s ODI record, but Dravid vs Ganguly in ODIs, really? 

Sure, he has 10 more ODI hundreds, but he played largely as an opener. The Test comparisons are a non-starter, you’re streets ahead. It is accepted belief that Ganguly was and is a born leader, and his greatest accomplishment as a player was captaining India followed by taking his shirt off at Lord’s. He did far fewer ads then too. The most compelling, when he returned with a smirk and a “Dada ko bhule toh nahin?”

But yes, there is a dynamic between you and your peers from that era. This is not to redefine it, but for me to put it out there, to question certain preconceived notions. And while we’re on this, declaring with Tendulkar on 194, that was acceptable too. You probably would’ve declared with yourself on 194. Here’s hoping you influence another such decision as coach. Nothing like an unpopular declaration with someone on the verge of a milestone. More so in milestone obsessed India. You thinking that 100th 100 too? 

***

This s not clear cut, or chronological. This is led by a swirl of memories. That used to nibble at me, now they don’t seem so distant – for, you’re back. You’re no longer an India A or India U-19 coach, you are Team India coach. I did not expect you to take this job, yet I do not question why you did. It’s probably the most sought after coaching assignment in cricket, the most well-paying too. Is it worthy of you? And what Indian cricket comes with? This is limelight, this is political, often messy, seldom not Machiavellian. You’re only too aware how it panned out for your mate, Anil Kumble. Of course, that was a time when the captain was all-powerful. So much has changed in the last few months. So much more could in the next few weeks. You probably had this figured out, you understand Indian cricket, as one understands a dysfunctional family and accepts it for what it is. That really is something. You also have accepted that your life is cricket, not from the sidelines, but in the thick of it. Through thick and thin. 

***

Barely a few overs into your coaching gig, when New Zealand got a move on, you made a move on your nails. I was watching. Then some brilliance on the field, and you patted R Shridhar, your fielding coach, on the back. There was much mirth around. When a player reached a milestone, you stood up, applauded. There was so much decorum to the clapping, it could’ve been a book launch at the Lit fest. 

But then there are the Tendulkar mimicries, and we all know, there’s this other side. Like that ‘Indranagar ka gunda’ ad. Like that yin and yang you had with Virender Sehwag. 

Thanks for the 46, 564 deliveries you faced as a player in international cricket. Here’s to many more as coach. I’m confident, sitting on the sidelines, you’ll be happily taking a few on the body, on your chin, in the post-match. Thanks for not once using the word, ‘intent’ in Kolkata after the series win. Here’s to new beginnings in India cricket. Where the only deception is on the cricket field. 

Sincerely,

Gaurav Sethi 

Keeper captain close in slip


You did it all

Coz you were the wall


One down open middle order flip


You did it all

Coz you were the wall


Dropped declare resign blip


You did it all

Coz you were the wall


Rahul Jammy Dravid Skip


You did it all

Coz you were the wall


Shooter target trigger click


You did it all

Coz you were the wall


One day no way go away hick


You did it all

Coz you were the wall


T20 not empty scored plenty tick


You did it all

Coz you were the wall


Coach’s boy, very coy, one big kick


You did it all

Coz you were the wall


Whipping boy, favourite toy, very, very sick


You did it all

Coz you were the wall


Soft spoken, invisible, just another brick


You did it all

Coz you were the wall


Written for Dravid in 2008. The latest verse is waiting to be written.


First published here

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A note to Rohit Sharma.

by Gaurav Sethi

To Rohit Gurunath Sharma, who knows “easy come, easy go, little high, little low” better than most

Dear Rohit,

Watching you bat in the last few Test series has been a source of immense joy.  Your leaves, ball after ball, of the new ball, have brought so much comfort. It’s as if right there, when you left the ball, and sprouted those Jagger lips, it was Rock ‘n’ Roll Test cricket – and I liked it.

Bat and pad so close, even a pesky wasp wouldn’t have eked its way through.

You had teleported into another dimension. Your Test cricket wait was over; at the crease, you were prepared to wait, no matter how long it took.

That waiting game, something you had warmed up to in the first few overs of white ball cricket too. Some kind of osmosis this.

Yet you must know, in the last decade, if ever there was batting royalty that India indulged in, it was you. Those decisions that enabled one more chance to you, meant one less chance to someone else.

Your long cricket journey has been possible only because so many others have been cut short.

For years, I saw this as a betrayal of quite a few batting careers. Eventually your white ball game flourished; how could it not, you had a blank cheque of nigh 100 ODIs. As you became an ODI batting monster, the prophecy was confirmed. The Rohit-narrative continued to feed on this prophecy. Then one day, the narrative grew such an appetite, you laid your claim to a five course Test cricket meal. It was ordained. You were not leaving the table. You were leaving the red cherry. You belonged, you knew it, those who doubted, knew it. And those who knew it all along, felt obliged to say: We knew it.

Just as over the years, extended faith in you gave you that added comfort, you returned the favour, on top of the order. And vitally, to the youngsters in the squad. Those that gravitated towards you, in the knowledge that you will not judge: through extended bio bubbles, you appeared to be the go-to guy. It even led to a protocol breach when you all sat indoors at a restaurant.

In Australia, when you appeared after quarantine, Ravi Shastri in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts greeted you with a “How was quarantine, my friend? You’re looking younger”. There was much mirth around; it felt like Onam, the return of the King, even the quiet ones appeared thrilled; you repeatedly patted Pujara’s tummy. As Pujara battled a lean patch, your animated conversations with him in the middle were not lost on camera.

You have extended that same bonhomie to Pant; be it on the field, or when you were posing at the stadium hotel in England. There appeared to be an unmistakable bond; and who more than you would know the burden of expectation on a youngster. 

14 years after your T20I debut, you are India captain. 14 years. Return of the king, again? Slated at seven, you did not bat in that World T20 match against England. That Yuvraj six 6s game. That’s how long back it was.  You signed in against South Africa with a 50* at five, and a 30* vs Pakistan in the finals.

During that 2007 T20 World Cup, your peers were Gambhir, Karthik, Yuvraj, Sehwag, Harbhajan, Irfan. Way back in 2012, Gambhir backed you by saying you were “batting the best among all of us in the nets”. The belief in you often seemed comical. Yet, those that were close to you, had played cricket with you, did not waver. Today, many of them sit back and enjoy the fruits of their labour in commentary. You are one long term investment, Rohit.

The returns have been exponential in white-ball cricket. Beyond the runs, in the uncertain times we live in, you are a constant reminder that it’s just a game. The ability to laugh after goofing up a simple catch, few Indian cricketers can afford that, but you did recently. You were probably laughing at the silliness of it all. Whatever it was, you laughed. Sometimes, it’s important to laugh on a cricket field, at yourself even more so.

After the opening defeat against Pakistan, where you fell for a golden duck to Shaheen Shah Afridi’s killer yorker, you were demoted to three against New Zealand. Doubt you will do something that knee-jerk as captain, as you have continued to open for Mumbai Indians come rain or shine.

Less than ten days after India’s last World Cup match, you will lead the team against New Zealand in Jaipur. Equally challenging will be handling the animated comparisons with your predecessor. In the past, you have stayed clear of engaging the conspiracy theorists. You probably will stick to that mantra. Shooting straight in post- match chats in addition to that perplexed goofy look with that trademark twisted mouth, and an outrageously funny deadpan comment.

***

Somewhere in the stands will be your biggest fan, on edge. She probably knows you only too well: how impetuous, how high risk, high reward your game can be. She could be your wife, or a girl who called herself Mrs Rohit Sharma on twitter. I met her at the Wankhede during your second Test.  I was hanging with a friend who coined the term Nohit Sharma. That day, you scored your second Test hundred.

***

Few things more compelling than a cricketer, making you change your mind about him. The surprise is akin to Mathew Wade pulling off that 19th over heist against Shaheen Shah Afridi.

Rohit, in inspite of your many surprises, must confess, I didn’t see your Test rebirth. Will miss you in the upcoming Test series; hopefully it’s to recharge for the South Africa series.

***

Congratulations on being much, much more than those annoying buzz words. Lazy elegance, potential, talent, Hitman fall short in capturing the essence of your complexities as a cricketer and person. You’re one cool guy, and that is some accomplishment. As has been giving your ‘natural game’ the boot in Test cricket.

To paraphrase Queen, “Any way the wind blows doesn't really matter to you.”

Stay cool.


Sincerely,

Gaurav Sethi


First published here

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A new angle to India being knocked out.

by Gaurav Sethi


 

On Diwali, sparks flew - did shortsightedness regarding India's match-timings contribute to the team's early exit - with dew making so many matches a no contest, was there a case for slotting one of India's big games as a day game? Watch here

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So much thought to lose a game, wow!

by Gaurav Sethi


 

Talking about India's defeat to New Zealand in the T20 World Cup, how so much thought was put into it.

Can also watch here 


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A note to Virat.

by Gaurav Sethi

 To the current all-format Team India skipper: It’s a good thing you’re not formatted

Dear Virat,

Years back, when you rollicked on the verge of batting immortality, I would beseech the boys who had lapsed, to watch cricket again. I would tell them there is no better time, watch for Kohli, watch for what he’s doing with the bat.

They had lapsed so bad, even you couldn’t pull them back to cricket. Instead, they would romance a time they had played the game. They didn’t know what they were missing, they were missing out on you: your batting trance.

 ***

Then the other day, Asha aunty asked me to write about you. I excused myself then but maybe not entirely, so here we are.

Perhaps your knock against Pakistan compelled me to write about you again. Days later, I’m still thinking about it. The control, the saneness of it, the self-knowledge, yes, most importantly, the self-knowledge.

For the longest time, your batting had been about self-knowledge. About knowing your own abilities.  This was far more evident in the white ball game, where you read the course of the innings as a masterful composer – you summoned the ebbs and flows of the innings with your bat; eventually thrown into a tizzy with that final spurt. 

You were the batting equivalent of my Black & White TV memory when Zubin Mehta summoned his powers to Delhi in the mid 80s. If Mehta was “Baron of the baton”, you were baron of the bat.

But you know this, or at least I hope you do. Over the last few years, it’s been convenient for many to unknow this.

That is unimportant. Or is it? Has this marred your self-knowledge? Has this compelled you to reinvent yourself?

Probably not. Not from what was evident against Pakistan. My realistic expectation of you is to strike at 120, steer the innings to a shore where the mad hatters and hitters can rave with their bats in the death overs.

In the IPL, as too against Pakistan, you were well within that ballpark of 120. Coincidentally, it’s been similar in the last two IPLs. Not that it matters. You could be AWOL during the IPL, it wouldn’t matter much to me. 

Or play fewer matches; when you spoke of player burnout not too long ago, you did mention that India regulars should be given a breather from the IPL calendar – but it doesn’t work that way. Even if the IPL is bang in the middle of a World Cup, chances are, key Indian players will have to play both.

For some reason, my mind always goes back to the aftermath of the 2011 World Cup win – followed by the IPL within no time, followed by the drubbing in England.

 ***

I cannot make sense of this entire mentor business. Or your twin retirement announcements.

The hype around the mentor business borders on propaganda, akin to those years when every Indian cricketer was thanking Tendulkar for anything good that happened to him. There is a mentor-cam. It’s a soap opera out there.

As with any soap opera, there’s this urge to suck this story dry. So the story goes on and on.

On the sidelines is a coach on his last assignment. There is little interest there.

And then there are your parallel stories, as captain and player. Gracious to a fault after a defeat, thoughtfully eloquent in your interviews.

This is all pretty much autopilot, both you and your handlers have excelled here.

There is you on the field, easily triggered, yet dispassionate in defeat.

There is both restraint and knowledge of the game’s vagaries.

What I wonder though is, how are you coping with the appointment of the mentor? Beyond the platitudes, the laughs on camera, what does it do to a team management already in place – in particular to the captain.

This is team India, not some IPL franchise where a dugout has to be endowed with former greats.

By the looks of it, you seem to be doing quite well. Who knows, maybe you saw an angle to this mentor business that’s eluded me. And if that’s the case, these last few weeks could be pivotal in your career as a captain.

The timing of your twin retirement announcements, the appointment of the mentor, everything moving to steady your batting grip.

That’s probably all that ever mattered. All those years where you just had to bat. Where you notched up those 70 centuries.  

There was also a time, not too distant, when you were at your batting peak; you often spoke in post-match interviews of not knowing how long you had in the game. 

It was a curious comment. One that made me wonder about you. And yet not altogether surprising, as who would know a sportsperson’s body and mind better than the player himself.

And that’s something you’ve been all along – the player. And Waddaplaya!

There is a point when the soundbites take over, and even through your driest patch, each innings tends to have that one bite, where the voice in the box becomes a child again.

Something which you yourself are quite familiar with – for often, that’s what you are on the field. No wonder you collude so well with Rishabh Pant standing alongside. It’s no mean feat, alongside you, even Pant appears to be the serious one.

And that, for whatever it is, is you, Virat. The prankster, the silly commenter on the field, the compulsive reviewer, the foot soldier hurling one from the boundary. Those uncalled for arguments with the umpire. The entitlement, yeah, that too. It’s far more telling than your post-match corporate avatar.

The comparisons with the mentor will only grow through this tournament – it’s that one narrative that needs no thought. If India wins this World Cup, chances are, the mentor’s guiding light will shine brighter. That’s the lazy narrative, it’s already written.

However, if this is yet another ICC trophy that eludes you, you know how that will pan out.

***

There are other noises which emanate from beyond the cricket field. Trust you have blocked them out.

These 22 yards are your f******g backyard.  Your language is your language. Whether it is in Hindi or Punjabi, Hinglish or English. Whether it is served at that West Dilli ka Dhaba or your Peruvian restaurant.

In a few days, you will turn 33. India will take on Scotland that day. You’ll probably make some Scotch jokes with the boys.

Before that though, there’s Afghanistan and New Zealand.

Happy cricket, and Happy Birthday. Prove the naysayers wrong. Whichever way you want to spell that.

Sincerely,

Gaurav Sethi


First published here

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Pakistan's winning strategy against India.

by Gaurav Sethi

 On 24th October, 2021, some team in green, playing under the guise of Pakistan, defeated India for the first time in a World Cup match.

The trick was, this team unlearnt everything they knew about World Cup encounters with India. Or at least it seemed so.

Somewhere, someone, not for the first time said, we will treat this as just another match.

Then someone from the team said, but you always say that, or someone always says that. It doesn’t work like that.

Once we are on the field, it always feels like a World Cup match. 

Then that voice said: We are in Dubai on a Sunday.

So, it’s not the same as Sharjah on a Friday, pat came the reply.

It isn’t, but you know how close Dubai is from Sharjah, how close Sunday is to Friday?

Pretty close, no?

Pretty close, yes. It’s less than 30 kms away, it takes less than 30 minutes to get there.

That close, Matt?

Yeah, mate, that close.  And Friday was less than two days back. What I’m basically trying to say is that, you guys have to transport yourself to Sharjah on a Friday. Got it?

Mathew Hayden, batting coach, man of many passions, was doing his best IPL commentary routine of platitudes with the Pakistani team. If it meant saying strange stuff, so be it. Logic wasn’t about to work with this bunch. He needed to apply some of his meditative principles. 

But Pakistan captain Babar Azam was far from convinced.

Pardon my Urdu, Matt, but I’m not convinced.

Hayden was all cracked up – Mate, there’s nothing to pardon, not right now, it’s just that if we lose to India again, they will continue to make those horrendous Mauka Mauka ads. And we as a nation of proud Pathans cannot allow that to happen. 

So without a further ado, Hayden packed the team in the team bus, and off they went to Sharjah. 

Once there at the Sharjah Stadium, the team couldn’t believe it. Quite a few of them were already believing it was Sharjah on a Friday. For the others, Hayden instructed them to change the day on their phone. There was an initial reluctance, “The match is today, today it’s 24th October and you want us to make it to 22nd – what kind of fools do you take us for?”.

Hayden with his trademark smirk, set off in his patronizing tone, “Exactly that, mate, exactly that…sometime you have to become a fool…to be in love…to be in love with victory…y’kno what I’m saying here, mate. It’s like putting the meat in the fire, and it’s never quite the same – it’s cooked, it’s edible…we need to cook ourselves…Sharjah on a Friday is our grill, and once we’re grilled, we grill those Indians…it doesn’t matter what day of the week it is, we do it, 8 days a week…”

At this Shoaib Malik guffawed, “Matt, easy with the Beatles’ analogies, they don’t know who they are…”

Hayden was pleased that Malik knew. With dates and time machine work accomplished, the Pakistan team stomped back into their team bus. They looked like a changed bunch. With a new found belief, that they could do what never had been done. 

But there was a problem. The bus had a flat tyre. A few players thought it was the handiwork of the Indians who didn’t want them to turn up for the all-important-tie, “It will be like all our World Cup teams who did not turn up for the match against India…we too will not turn up, only we will not actually turn up, we will not turn up”

This is when bowling coach Vernon Philander offered his assistance, “Let me swing by…” and with that he was gone. His words were pitched up, moving to the right extent. And within no time, Philander had them all dismissed from Sharjah, back to Dubai, with a new bus, hugging the curves of the road, just as Vernon’s venomous new ball deliveries had, once upon a time. 

The players sang a Punjabi English remix of ‘He’s a jolly good fellow’, something that Hayden had taught them as he impressed them with his BBQ skills.  

Back at the Dubai stadium, the players were a rejuvenated bunch. 

Hayden had one last class for them though, “I want you to start visualizing what you will do after you win this all-important tie against India, this may be getting ahead of ourselves, but sometimes visualisation is the only way to do it, start thinking NOW”

Babar Azam, “I want to shake hands with Kohli after the win. I want to pat him on his…”

Too much information, Babar…but good, you are already there, and shaking hands with the opponent is a sign of your greatness, you are already traversing the great outer space hallowed glory of one gent going by the name of Kane Williamson”

None of them seemed interested in this unnecessary Hayden detail, but were far keener on giving their own two paisas on visualisation. 

Mohammad Rizwan opened with, “I want a hug from Kohli. I want to bat through the innings and hug Kohli first”

Hayden shrugged, “One things for sure, you guys are not Australian”

At this, Mohammad Hafeez asked, “Don’t tell me, you want us to imagine that we are Australians now”

And that is exactly what happened. 11 Pakistanis who believed they were Australians took the field on a Friday in Sharjah. 

 Hayden had also made the boys fall in love with the Coldplay song, Yellow.

Once on the field, the Pakistanis sledged the Indian batting with Sharjah! Sharjah! Remember Sharjah? This is Sharjah! Also doing the rounds was Thank God it’s Friday! Friday! Friday! And oh look, Chetan Sharma! They didn’t stop there. They even started sledging them like Aussies – Remember Ponting from Wanderers, 2003? 

Whether it was these sledges, or those two deliveries from Shaheen Shah Afridi, that broke the back of the Indian batting, we will never know for sure.

But both Pak openers visualised well. And they had their moment with Kohli. Sometimes, all you need to do is believe.

Befittingly, Hayden made the boys sing, “I’m a believer” after their triumph. The singing skills were severely tested. 

First published here

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Inside India’s World Cup War Room

by Gaurav Sethi


With Generals, Majors, and some minors

It’s late evening, Ravi Shastri has his shades on. He’s sitting by himself in a conference room bathed in artificial light, there are miniature light towers on the periphery of the room. 

Virat Kohli walks in, animated; clapping, repeating, “let’s get this thing started”.

Simultaneously, Rohit Sharma enters from the opposite side, somewhat languidly.

As they take their places at the table, the roof opens up, and MS Dhoni descends in a mini helicopter. 

He gives a half smile, informing the others that the gimmick could work well for a documentary titled, “How we planned to win the World Cup, staying true to ourselves, of course, a catchy name can be decided by these brand guys, long as there is no catch to it, and even if there is we will have to see how it performs in the nets…”

Kohli looks at Dhoni quizzically, and then puts his arm around him and laughs - Mahi bhai, just like that Bhangra track we tested in the nets. 

At the mention of Bhangra, Rishabh Pant walks in all serious, doing Namaste and a faux Pairi Pauna to his elders.

Shastri clears his throat, “right here, right now, is the Core Group that will set the ball rolling for our second World Cup win.”

Dhoni interrupts, “You could say it’s our fourth title but it will be our second T20 title win.”

Shastri concurs, “that’s correct, MS. It’s a numbers game. 4-2, 4-2. As coach, first, I’d like to address who opens with Rohit…Rohit, would you like to come in here, your point.

Rohit deadpan, “I’m ok with anyone, Dhawan…”

Shastri: Er Shikhar is not in the squad, Rohit.

Rohit: Haan, that’s okay, but anyone is cool, KL, Virat, Dhawan also, I know he’s not there but if there is any injury to a regular opener then I’m cool to even open with Dhawan.

Dhoni: the key is to be open.

Everyone nods in seriousness. 

Shastri: Well said, MS, we will make openness the key and theme of our World Cup theme - let’s call it India Open. 

Kohli claps, excitedly, “Yeh hui na baat, Mahi bhai, you’re too cool, that’s why we need you as a mentor – from Captain Cool to Mentor Cool…or Menthol Mentor.” 

Pant is quietly serious through all this. Till he asks - so who will open with Sharmaji? Can I give a suggestion please, sir?

Shastri: Rish, Rish, you can, you will, and you shall overcome.

Pant: I think Left Right combination works well on top, but balance is important also, so we will do good to go with Rahul Bhaiya. Also both are Bhaiyas - Rohit Bhaiya and Rahul Bhaiya, it will be as you say, sir, a brotherhood of man.

Kohli is all cracked up, and whacks Pant on his back hard but affectionately. 

Dhoni deadpan as ever says, “it’s important to approach the opening for the big game versus Pakistan with experience - and I think Rohit and Rahul can soak in the pressure of a big game like this. We can look at other options if need be, but only if required and no need to get ahead of ourselves. Kishan will get his opportunities. 

At that precise moment, Ishan Kishan walks in with refreshments. He leaves after a few minutes. 

Shastri toasts: To the men in blue, to the men who do.

Dhoni: even though I’m not a player anymore, I will say that if I’m a senior, then I would like to be part of this.

Kohli: But you are, MS, you are Mahi Bhai.

At that precise moment, Pant starts a Dhoni! Dhoni! Chant and everyone else joins in. 

Dhoni gives a half smile, “yes, all this hero worship is fine and all but we have to get our heads out of our own asses.” 

Shastri spanks the table: well said, MS. We need to see the bigger picture. That these players are more than superstars, they’re servants of the game, here to serve.” 

The group has now reconvened to the swimming pool, or as Shastri says, Fun and Games.

Shastri: Let the games begin, or better still, let the fun and games begin.

Pant who is quite serious, suggests something that throws everybody a bit: I know we are talking about Rohit Bhaiya and Rahul Bhaiya, but why don’t we also consider another R wallah, even though he is not a Bhaiya?

Kohli is all cracked up, and starts splashing the water hysterically – Tu, tu karega open, open hahahahabhawhaha (You, you will open, open hahahahabhawhaha).

Rohit gets quite serious though – Virat, you were on maternity leave when Rishabh played some solid knocks in Australia, he showed solid Test temperament, don’t think it is that surprising, and we should not dismiss his suggestion lightly…

Dhoni weighs in: Well, Rishabh could bring the X factor as opener and give the Left Right combination also…in T20 we need the X factor on top…and I believe Rishabh can have the X factor…

Suddenly everyone is taking Pant’s suggestion seriously. But they’re all looking and nodding at Dhoni.

Shastri: Once again, MS, you have hit the nail on the head. You nailed it. X factor. On top. Who needs a power point when you have MS who always makes a power point, Rishabh, you need to know yourself better, what you are capable of, you should thank Dhoni for this…

Rishabh Pant starts a Dhoni! Dhoni! chant and everyone joins in. 

KL Rahul enters the pool, asking, “What did I miss?”

Shastri: Pearls of wisdom!

KL Rahul: Oh…what did Mahi bhai say?

Kohli whacks him on the back, all cracked up: He’s given your opening slot to Rishabh…only he could come up with such a genius idea.

Dhoni: Well, if you think about, it was Rishabh who first suggested it…

Shastri: MS, always the modest man, it was you who packaged it brilliantly, it was you who marketed Rishabh Pant, thank you so much.

Rishabh Pant starts the Dhoni! Dhoni! chant, when Sachin Tendulkar walks past…they all start chanting, “Sachin! Sachin!” 

First published here



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A note to Rishabh Pant

by Gaurav Sethi

 To Rishabh Rajendra Pant, the man who lets go of his bat but not his team

Dear Rishabh, 

Hard luck on the CSK defeat. Or was it? There is so much second guessing, thinking ahead, what if this happens, then this, then that, that the team management seems to be in denial of what there is – what makes Delhi Capitals intimidating.

What makes it intimidating?

What comes to mind first, the quick bowlers? Right. But more than that, who’s the poster boy, captain, Team India regular – who has more job security in this team that anyone.

It’s you. YOU.

Delhi Capitals is you.

For now, at least. 

There have been times when you have had to be conservative, hold back, go slow, for that was how it was. 

And yet you made the final. That worked. You and Shreyas Iyer had to play the role of nourisher, sustainer, bat time, get to a total.

Here we are, in October 2021. It’s still so much the same. There is this denial in Delhi.

Some of it has changed, somehow, Shimron Hetmyer gets to play more than he sits out.

Dhawan-Shaw open more than they don’t. Rahane hasn’t played a match yet.

But these are all largely peripheral.

What part of the team or you doesn’t still accept that Delhi Capitals is you. YOU.

That, batting as many overs, getting closest to a ton, if Dhawan and Shaw can’t, you have a stab at it.

But then there are these deeply thought of, living in fear, let’s not show our hand too soon moves – such as sending Axar Patel in first.

What stopped you from going in at four and tonking the hell out of Jadeja? 

Restraint? Thinking ahead? C’mon, all that time spent with Prithvi Shaw would’ve taught you one thing: It’s now or never. 

Restraint at best lasts one delivery. At worst, two balls. 

Yet you, Rishabh, to accommodate this whole left-right shenanigan will slip lower and lower. 

What are you afraid of – being dismissed?

That doesn’t stop you from hurtling down the wicket for those kamikaze singles first ball. 

So, let’s shove fear out of it then. What is it? Deep thought, analysis, computers, an instinct to lengthen Delhi’s top heavy batting?

Best of luck, you’ll need it in Sharjah. You’ll need it against Sunil Narine and his spinning friends. 

They just scorched RCB in Sharjah. 

Kohli bowled Narine. de Villiers bowled Narine. Four out of seven wickets to Narine. Narine going at nothing runs per over – 5.25 to be precise. Varun Chakravarty at 5, Shakib at a lofty 6 runs per over.

This is Sharjah. At some point it will start resembling the Feroz Shah Kotla pitch. It will bring back all those years of a home ground that wasn’t suited to its home team.

It will bring back memories of a team packed with quicks and Amit Mishra. No wonder Mishra has all those IPL wickets. Or is that a coincidence too?

Ashwin has closed one game in this second leg – he’s done it with the bat. With the ball, he bowled 2 overs against CSK, one against RCB. Before that, he bowled his full quota in four out of five matches in the U.A.E. 

Perhaps if Ashwin played against all those Delhi left handers, you’d bowl him four overs. 

In the first Eliminator, do you know who opened the bowling against left handed Devdutt Padikkal? It was left arm spinner, Shakib Al Hassan. 

By now you probably have some sense of a captain’s instincts – perhaps that’s what made you bowl Tom Curran in the last over to MS Dhoni in the Qualifier. It went against the more obvious Rabada-Dhoni match ups. But then even before match-ups were a thing, some dude called Joginder Sharma bowled the last over in a World T20 Final.

From that day, from that team, there are still a few Indian cricketers on the IPL circuit: there’s Dhoni, Rohit Sharma, Harbhajan Singh, Robin Uthappa.   

Yes, 63 off 44 balls vs Delhi Uthappa. He played squat before this: 2 matches this season, 21 runs. It was probably some skipper’s instinct that steered him to three that day.  

It could well have been a skipper’s instinct that steered Dan Christian to bowl the last over against KKR. 

What we do know is that neither Kohli nor you have won the IPL as captain or player. 

While Kohli has stepped down, you may have to step up.

There is no better time to bat than the powerplay on these tricky Sharjah pitches. 

That could be negated somewhat by the early introduction of spin. Which in-turn could be negated by the early introduction of Rishabh Pant.

Don’t forget, before DC captain, DC wicketkeeper, Jindal Steel Brand Ambassador, you are Rishabh Pant the man who bats. 

Who no matter what, has his Test batting conscience somewhere deep within him. Isn’t that how this recent Delhi Capitals’ captaincy has come along?

Yet why, why does it always feel that you score faster in Tests than in T20s? This is beyond strike rates, this is about perception; this is about success. It’s about setting up wins, closing wins, winning wins. It’s about injecting fear in the opposition. 

You bat long and deep in Tests, leave 20 overs, you have the measure of many times that. 

Go. Out there. On the field. Soak in the stifling humidity. And enjoy those 11 fielders sweat some more. Revel in it. Break the game. 

You are 24 years old. Not nearly 33. Not above 40.

You are 24. You are Rishabh Pant. You are Delhi Capitals. 

You are also the silly squeal at losing the toss. Go Rishabh, have as much fun playing in the middle as you do with most things on the sidelines. 

Sincerely,

Gaurav Sethi

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