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Thoughtful yet not passive, Gambhir was a rarity in Indian cricket.

by Naked Cricket


It’s been a few years since I visited your profile page. And I had almost forgotten what your Test average was. I was surprised when I saw it wasn’t 45. Who would have thought that it’s only 41.95?

Decimal points are important with Gambhir. You’d expect him to tell you his average down to the last decimal point. No approximations.

Gambhir remembers. You always get the impression he does. A duel. A decimal. A defeat. Delhi. Delhi Daredevils.

Gambhir rarely minces words, you think he remembers because he will remind you he hasn’t forgotten. He tends to say things most Indian cricketers don’t. He is far from copybook. He tends to write things most Indian cricketers don’t. With him, you can be sure there is no ghostwriter. There is a peculiarity, almost an oddness in his writing that makes it refreshing.

His writing will swing between strange observations and excessive bonhomie with one of his KKR mates. Perhaps, because KKR was one team, more than any he played for, that was his own – he helmed it, he drove it, he flew it, he flew with it. He embraced KKR as KKR and Kolkata embraced him, firmly. There was never any ambiguity, just as there was an abundance of ambiguity with his previous franchise.

A franchise so clueless, it didn’t know who its captain or opener ought to be then; a franchise so clueless, it doesn’t know its name. From that cluelessness, Gambhir straddled KKR. Yet he never forgot, should he? But he returned, should he have? A nameless, faceless franchise can only fasten a cricketer’s decline. Gambhir’s return, did just that.

It seems so long, it’s easy to forget, somewhere in-between when Gambhir moved franchises, he moved mountains for India. In his retirement documentary, Gambhir has reminded us that he was there in 2007 and 2011. Top scorer. In those two World Cup triumphs. Why? Because you may have forgotten.

In MSD’s feature film, we were reminded of Gambhir’s dismissal in the 2011 World Cup Final.

In 2012, in Australia, Gambhir was in the batting form of his life. Gambhir was also in the speaking form of his life. He questioned an Indian chase. He questioned Dhoni’s tactics. He questioned Dhoni.

In two consecutive games, Gambhir was dismissed in the 90s – 92(111) and 91(106). In two consecutive games, Dhoni was there at the end. Unbeaten with 44(58) and 58(69). The first match was won with two balls to spare, the second was a last ball finish.

"We shouldn't have taken the game to the 50th over. That's my personal observation. I know it's always easier to talk when you are in the dressing room and it's always tough in the middle, but my personal observation is we shouldn't have let this game go into the last over” – Gautam Gambhir

"In the previous matches, we left it for the lower order batsmen. Yeah, we should have finished the previous game in the 48th over. When you are chasing it is very important to take it to the end." – MS Dhoni

On April 2, 2011, in the World Cup Finals, Gambhir made 97(122). India won with ten balls to spare. Dhoni unbeaten 91(79).

In all three ODIs, Gambhir was the highest scoring Indian batsman. On all three occasions, Dhoni was unbeaten at the end. In two out of the three ODIs, Dhoni was Man of the match. Gambhir in spite of his highest score was Man of the match in only one game.

Gambhir’s fourth score in the 90s (90 off 84 balls) in an ODI was against Bangladesh. Dhoni did not bat that day. Suresh Raina won that match with 116 (107).

Gambhir last played an ODI in 2013. He played his last Test in 2016. Dhoni retired from Test cricket in 2014.

*****

"To me, he is the best opener India has had since Gavaskar." – Virender Sehwag, April 2009.


After saving the Napier Test with 137 (436 balls, 643 minutes). After India’s push for a win in Wellington with 167 (257 balls, 352 minutes).

“having come from my favourite player it means a lot to me” – Gautam Gambhir, April, 2009.

Once upon a time, Sehwag-Gambhir were like Sehwag-Gambhir. You couldn’t compare them, not on the field, not off it. Their sound bites were like love bites. Their batting had bite. God and Sachin’s hand rested upon them. When the greats failed to read Mendis and Murali in 2008, these two did their thing as if it were just another Ranji home game.

Gautam Gambhir inside out, carving a spinner, because it was meant to be. Gautam Gambhir running himself out, because it was meant to be. Gautam Gambhir leaving his pads on for posterity, because it was meant to be. Gautam Gambhir talking without a pause, for there is so much to be said before the commercial break.

*****


It’s almost uncanny that Gambhir led a group of what-if-Indian cricketers at KKR. That he led the likes of Yusuf Pathan, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey and Piyush Chawla to two IPL trophies amongst them says something about him as a leader of men.

Perhaps, Gambhir never stopped believing in someone like Yusuf, because he never stopped believing in himself.

After the first IPL, we wondered what Australia would’ve been like under Shane Warne. Begs the question, after those twin IPL wins, what India would’ve been like under Gautam Gambhir?

One thing’s for sure, we wouldn’t have ever had to wait for a last ball six.

***

Here’s to a rare Indian cricketer, who found it possible to be thoughtful yet not passive.


First published here

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Yet another Bohemian Rhapsody, DK: The misfit that refused to fit in.

by Naked Cricket


Long before Shikhar became Da One, one Dinesh Karthik was the one. He then became the second, third, almost forgotten wicketkeeper of India. Much water and even more keepers have flown under the bridge since then. That Karthik is still around, swimming against the keeping tide, with the tenacity of the last cricket survivor is unbelievable.

It places the belief that many of us had in him, back then, back to where it belonged – with DK.

The formats and his roles have since shrunk, from that England Test series, to that of just a T20 finisher – but boy, does he pull it off well.

During the third T20, when Marcus Stoinis and Coulter-Nile were making merry, DK on long-on boundary patrol, seemed like the only Indian fielder clued on. That he added 60 in what was looking increasingly like a tricky chase with his captain, wasn’t surprising. That India had a sniff in the first T20, was largely because of DK’s thrust at the end.

In T20, more than any other format, isn’t it the thrust at the end that wins it? The dimming of Dhoni’s big hitting abilities (leading to his subsequent exclusion from the T20 side), and that long meandering tail that starts at eight, make DK’s role so much more crucial. That he can impart some of the icy Dhoni cool and do it without being as funky as KL Rahul and Rishabh Pant only stacks the odds in his favour.

By now, DK has already done his share of funky. And been done in enough times by it. A long cherished shot was the reverse sweep. It would often come out before he had even faced a ball. Previously, DK seemed on edge. Now he’s cutting edge.

He plays angles. He slices the field. He stalks the boundary. He does it repeatedly. But with this third T20, his job is done in Australia.

Rishabh Pant is the first choice wicketkeeper for Tests, and Dhoni’s understudy for the ODIs. Parthiv Patel is backup for Pant.

Yet against both West Indies and Australia, DK has given India plenty to think about – what if? This what if could linger, depending largely on how the Aussie summer pans out for Pant and Dhoni.

The stats are all over the place – but if you haven’t seen them, here they are again:


In T20Is, No. of times Kohli remained unbeaten in chases - 12 times No. of times India won - 12 times No. of Dinesh Karthik remained unbeaten in chases - 9 times No. of times India won - 9 times

The third T20 was Kohli’s 12th and Karthik’s 9th unbeaten run chase. Add successful to that if you must. It sinks in. If Virat is #KingKohli, could Dinesh be his #Queen?

The most powerful piece in chess. Queen. That twisted, unforgettable supergroup that many of us are reacquainting ourselves with, because of a movie release - Bohemian Rhapsody.

Ironic. Sometimes, it takes a movie to cherish great music yet again. So too, it’s taken the shortest format to reignite a recognition of DK’s long and winding cricketing road. Even more for himself than for us.

To be made KKR captain was laughable for some. Not BossDK they said. A few games into the IPL, the laughs morphed into slow claps. “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” (from Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.)

A song that took Freddie Mercury seven years to write.
Dinesh Karthik is in his 14th year of international cricket, writing the final edit of DK’s cricketing story.

Mercury was originally working on three different songs that he combined into one.
DK was working to play in three different formats before it came together in one.

The lyrics sound like a murder confession, but it’s suggested that Mercury was murdering his old image.
With his T20 finishing, DK is murdering his old image.

In the title, “Bohemian” refers to artistic misfits – not the Bohemian region.
Isn’t DK just that, an artistic misfit?

In classical music, a rhapsody is a piece with a lot of dramatic changes in mood and emotion.
You have seen DK at the crease, twitch, switch hit, twitch some more, bob his head, and smash it like -
“Nothing really matters, anyone can see
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters to me
Any way the wind blows”

 A new generation of fans discovered the song from an iconic scene in the 1992 movie Wayne’s World
A new generation of fans discovered DK from an iconic scene in the 2018 Nidahas Twenty20 Tri-series Final.

After Wayne’s World, the song rose to #2 in America
After the third T20, DK rose to #2 in Australia (after #KingKohli)

Wayne’s World star Mike Myers says he threatened to leave the production if “Bohemian Rhapsody” wasn’t used
What will #KingKohli be prepared to do for his Queen, only time and the 2019 IPL will tell

Bohemian Rhapsody was one of the first songs with a music video – six years before MTV
DK played in India’s first T20I cricket video in 2006, remained unbeaten in the chase and was man of the match.

17.6 overs, India 133/5. 34 to win in 2 overs. Dinesh Karthik 29 (8 balls, 2 fours, 3 sixes). Sometimes, you need that one smash hit to believe. Again. 

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What we talk about, when we talk about Dhoni.

by Naked Cricket


It’s Dhoni season. Again. When did it stop? It’s just more fevered Dhoni season now. Must admit, I stopped reading posts on Dhoni a while back. That however, did not stop me from writing about Dhoni. Maybe you too should stop reading about Dhoni, there will be nothing new. And whatever new there is, cannot be or will not be spoken. It’s often been like that with Dhoni.

Isn’t it so with the greatest, the most untouchable of men? That when you dare try and diminish their greatness, you tend to diminish yourself. You are but a small man to question his bigness – that his bigness is perennial, and because of his hardy laurels, they will remain bulked up and a bulwark against all threats, past, current, and those yet to be.

Until possibly another player comes along, and almost by cricketing coincidence, by a mathematical prod, hurls us in the same ballpark of greatness – that makes comparisons and reality respectable – such as Virat Kohli’s batsmanship has queried of Tendulkar’s.

Should Dhoni continue to play for India? Should we continue to write such things? Yes. Dhoni sparks debate and draws lines between men like only political parties can these days. It will be repetitive. It will be perilously close to sounding either fanboy or bad boy, but like a cathartic internal cleansing, it will help us understand ourselves and the world we live in.

Will it go beyond You vs. Dhoni or You 4 Dhoni, who knows, maybe you’re one of those rare fence-sitters, who can hold on to the triumphs, yet be subjective when it comes to counting losses, wanting to move on – but knowing that is not an option, so really, there is no need to address the Dhoni question – it cannot be addressed. It is returned to sender. It goes nowhere.

So much banter is like that. And you wouldn’t stop that banter because it doesn’t go nowhere – that which lacks an agenda, that has no purpose, that feather-like float, at a laugh at how it all is panning out – that wonderful denial, which we see, almost with periodic certainty, when another great goes down, extending the cricket retirement age when none exists – because precisely none exists, and golden records question newly minted statistics or vice versa, how crass.

So Rishabh Pant will sit out for Dhoni. For he is yet to lead India to the 2011 World Cup and the 2007 World T20 for his country. He almost certainly never will. That he plays Test cricket today, is because Dhoni retired day before. That he will play T20Is tomorrow, is because Dhoni was, can it be said, dropped, yesterday.

Dhoni is certainty. When the markets tank, worlds collide, you need that. On your screens, he’s as much there as Kohli. He has been for way longer than either you or I can remember, beyond the cricket.

Picking Pant instead of Dhoni is not an option. Yet it will be debated. With numbers. Those picking Dhoni are looking at legacy – they’re picking a golden, albeit dog-eared page from Indian cricketing history – and hoping, almost praying, that its last chapter, will be written with the same certitude as Tendulkar’s.

Unfortunately, India cannot invite West Indies to Chennai for the World Cup finals. In Srini’s world, who knows what could have been.

Will Dhoni make a speech on 14th July 2019 at Lord’s? Will Kohli, as he once did before, dedicate India’s win to another stalwart?

And if it does happen, all those questions, each one of them, of Dhoni, his form, will wash away – each one of us will embrace that golden page as it was written for us. Lord’s will still be baked in sunlight; Kapil Dev will morph into Dhoni – and yet again, there will be nothing new to be written about Dhoni.

As it has always been written.

Dhoni will ramble. It will be an unrehearsed speech. Dimples will emerge. He will answer more questions than asked of him. There will be none of the platitudes that cricketers reserve for such occasions, few thanks, fewer dedications, it will a Dhoni kind of reality check, who knows, a match summary, he may even sound like the captain. Who knows, he may still be the captain that day.

It may not be about the runs he makes. It could be that one last stumping. That call for a review.

As it has always been written.

The boys, including Kohli, will tear Dhoni from the interview, lifting him. There will be a crowd invasion. Someone who was also there in 1983 will be interviewed. By someone who was also there in 1983.

Sunny Gavaskar will interview Kapil Dev. In Hinglish. Ravi Shastri will join them. Making a pompous announcement that will be frozen in time – with images of Hardik Pandya and Khaleel Ahmed taking turns at fluttering the tri-colour.

Behind all this, Virat and Mahi will walk, like two old foxes, on an early morning walk, cracking some dirty joke that nobody else will ever know.

Sounds like a dream? Oh well, Dhoni was never about reality.

First published here

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