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Can Kohli lift a bunch of flatliners

by Naked Cricket

Technically, RCB can still make the play-offs. But for a team that didn’t make it to the ground in the last two matches, that’s a long shot. If RCB were flattened for 49 in their match against KKR, four days later they were walloped by the Gujarat Lions.
RCB are silent, Virat Kohli, even though he speaks in the customary post-match interviews, is silent. He speaks by rote, when a team goes downhill as his, there’s not much to be said - all you can hope is that it ends soon.
But it won’t. Not for RCB, not for Kohli. There are five more arduous matches to somehow turn up for. The team composition can be tossed around but Kohli will remain captain, and in all likelihood, open the innings.
After the heady success as an opener in IPL-9, where he piled up four centuries, scored nearly a thousand runs, that too at a strike rate in excess of 150, this year is turning out to be frugality in the extreme.
So far in five matches, Kohli is striking at 126 - acceptable for most Indian openers in the IPL, but way too conservative for RCB’s liking. There are two half centuries but his batting average is nearly 50 runs down from the heady highs of 2016.
In 2016, Kohli almost single-handedly rode RCB into the finals. In 2017, Kohli is being weighed down by an almost wobbly bunch of erstwhile T20 greats. Like Kohli, both AB de Villiers and Chris Gayle have not played all RCB’s matches this year - while both Kohli and de Villiers were late entrants, and played five out of nine matches, Gayle has featured in six.
AB de Villiers has one 50 (an 89 not out in a lost cause), but just 61 runs from his other four games. He has looked unsure against spin, unable to weigh in during Kohli’s tough phase.
For a player who Kohli has often referred to as "the best batsman in the world", de Villiers appears to only turn up, much like a 12th man, when it’s time to field. Such is the punishing nature of the format, and more so, the tournament, even the best can start to look quite ordinary.
Compared to Kohli and de Villiers, Gayle’s numbers look even more jaded - like de Villiers he has only 50 (a 77 in a winning cause, at a strike rate of 200+), though from his remaining five matches he has just 75 runs, with his tournament strike rate dropping to 125.
For most batsmen, these numbers would be more than acceptable, but for RCB to win, these three batsmen needed to overcompensate not just their weak bowling but the absence of KL Rahul on top.
Kedar Jadhav in the middle order has shown much promise, and far more threat than RCB’s big three but it’s way too often stopped shy of defining the match. Jadhav has played eight of nine matches, although he’s been striking at 160, his average of 29 has been more of a support cast than the leader he needed to be.
In the match against Lions, he had the measure of the bowling but switched off and threw it away in only the ninth over - a 31 off 18 balls would’ve served well as a lower order charge, but did nothing to control the innings. It would go down as just another Jadhav cameo, another lost opportunity.
As for the support cast, they have been woeful - both Mandeep Singh and Stuart Binny are in their eighth IPL season, but looking at them play, you’d be mistaken for thinking each match was their first.
While Binny is picked as a lower order batting all-rounder, Mandeep is supposed to be a top order batsman. Binny has bowled four overs so far and somehow wrangled three wickets. With the bat it’s 77 runs at a strike rate of 111. Mandeep has 73 runs in eight matches, with an unacceptable strike rate of 90. Top that, he ran de Villiers out in the last match.
At which point, Kohli just looked away. There was nothing else to say or do. Kohli had lost his anger, quite possibly lost all hope in this bunch. RCB slid to 60/5 with 10 overs yet to be bowled.
If Mandeep’s numbers are dismal, then Shane Watson’s horror run with the bat is symptomatic of a far more acute illness that plagues RCB - in five matches, Watson has cobbled together 61 runs at a very unT20ish strike rate of 96.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Watson has bowled nearly 15 overs – two wickets for his troubles at an economy of 10.53. No wonder RCB benched him and left him to chat up Michael Hussey on the sidelines. Even there, he seemed off the boil.
While Gayle is 37 and Watson nearly 36, and both might yet have a few seasons of franchise cricket in them, it’s doubtful either player has a future with RCB. Kohli must play each match with this knowledge - that two of his overseas’ mainstays have been largely redundant. If Kohli started off doing the job of one Kohli - that of attacker, nourisher, sustainer - he now also has to overcompensate for the lacks of others.
It’s bad enough if Kohli doesn’t turn up on some days. Then to sit and watch the team do nothing, match after match, that can be sapping. No matter how much energy Kohli might have, being part of a train wreck takes its toll.
The best Kohli can do is look to bat 20 overs. Nobody else is going to do it. There is no hurry. There’s nothing left to prove. Just go back to the Zen of cricket clichés - play each ball on its merit, don’t expect the others to, for there’s little merit left in them.
And what good are leaders, if they can’t show those lost the way?
First published here

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Why Kohli needs to chill like Dhoni

by Naked Cricket

The first ball that Virat Kohli faced was his last. Eden’s people went hysterical with happiness. This was as much India as anywhere, maybe even more with cricket, but this was not that much Virat Kohli.
He was the RCB captain, not the India skipper anymore. Kohli appeared annoyed, dismissing something or someone behind the sightscreen. That wasn’t going to change anything, crowds are not referred to the third umpire. Kohli knew he was out, Eden more than him. RCB was 2 for 1 off 3 balls. Virat Kohli was dragging his heels back to the dugout.
But before that, he had been naughty outside off again, attempting that lovely cover drive of his, but way too early - the ball moved, after someone in the crowd moved, edge taken, catch taken, not taken, taken. It all happened in slow motion, as often the worst things do - giving you just that glimmer of hope, then snatching that hope, snapping at you with despair.
This wasn’t Virat Kohli’s first duck in the IPL. Doubtful though he will ever forget it. After dismissing KKR for a mere 131, it appeared RCB just had to turn up and do their thing. Even if they had factored KKR’s bowling, there was no way they could have seen a backlash so severe, an ineptness so extreme.
After Kohli’s wicket, the others fell in the blink of an eye. Those magnificent batsmen with their batting machines, AB de Villiers, Chris Gayle, KedarJadhav, they all fell, and Virat Kohli had barely walked back to the dugout.
To return from a dodgy shoulder injury, missing just three IPL matches for this? After an insipid Test series against Australia, the injury gifted Kohli a much-needed break from a bad run.
Kohli’s return to the IPL handed him the comfort of a format he had learnt to boss with minimum fuss - he returned with two half centuries and a 28. In his first match, he top scored with 62 - the rest of the team and extras managed just 80, of that, de Villiers and Gayle made 41 between them. RCB cobbled together a meagre 142 in Bangalore and lost to Keiron Pollard’s 70. Once again showing, in this format, one innings can win you the match.
In his second match, Kohli scored 28, the second highest scorer behind de Villiers’ 29. Gayle wasn’t playing but by the look of it, neither were the other batsmen. Chasing 161, RCB lost by 27 runs, once again on their homeground.
In Kohli’s third match, Gayle was playing - and added 122 in 12.4 overs with his captain. Of these 77 were Gayle’s - Kohli held his own with a 64. Finally, RCB won under Kohli, beating the Gujarat Lions.
And then they ran into KKR at the Eden Gardens - nothing, not KKR’s first innings, not KKR’s collapse, from 65/1 in 5.4 overs to 131 all out in 19.3 overs would have prepared them for this.
But then how do you prepare for an unexpected tsunami of fast bowling? This was Virat Kohli’s first failure in four matches. The first time he failed to get into double digits. As did all the other batsmen, and extras too. This was, and could well be for a while, the lowest score ever in all ten editions of the IPL so far - RCB had been ripped apart for 49.
Virat Kohli was sitting in the dugout, head in hands, eyes still open, still sneaking a look at the shambolic batting, how they went and came and went and came, one after the other. Just the other day, Delhi Daredevils had threatened to set a new low in the IPL, freefalling to 24 for 6. DD though, much against all hope, picked themselves up, adding 91 for the seventh wicket. RCB’s freefall was in the 40s - from 40 for 5 to 49 all out.
To brush this defeat aside as a one-off is far from the solution. By now Kohli would have figured that RCB is not too different from the Indian limited overs’ team - they both feed off his success, and are frail when faced by his failure. When Kohli falls early, or even cheaply, it often takes away the will to fight or stand up - to weather the storm, to just hang in and defend.
Against KKR, Kohli’s superstar batsmen appeared clueless, unwilling to hang in, to bat ugly. To not be overtly bothered by not making runs. Dhoni did just that along with his captain, Steve Smith in their match against RCB. They scored similar scores of 28 and 27 at almost identical strike rates of 112 and 112.5. When it was tough in the middle, they didn’t throw it away. The highest score in the match was 31. Befittingly, Dhoni’s Pune beat RCB by 27 runs.
That somewhat awkward Dhoni innings proved to be the stepping stone for greater things -after a rough initial run, with low scores of 12, 5, 11, 5, Dhoni’s 28 in a winning cause, turned things around for the team.
What followed was a scorching 61 off 34 deliveries, with a trademark last ball finish from Dhoni. Dhoni was back, doubters and owners were damned likewise. The world was once again turning on Dhoni’s axis.
When Virat Kohli was interviewed in the post-match, immediately after the match, it was as if he was still walking back from his dismissal - he was questioned about the dismissal. There was talk of the small sightscreen, the UFO behind it. However, Kohli had also moved on, talking of the other nine batsmen that had gone into freefall after him.
This could happen again, if not with RCB, then with another IPL team. An already intense tournament has been squeezed even tighter. Kohli could look to Dhoni’s last two innings, and pick a thing or two from them - to free his batsmen, he might have to chain himself again. With the ability to absorb pressure better than few other batsmen of this generation, Dhoni and Kohli stand apart.
To win again, Kohli might have to lose the opening position. Without KL Rahul by his side, the magic of IPL-9 on top is missing. Maybe Kohli needs to float, bat himself down to three or even four. With the added cushion of Kohli in the dugout, the openers might just do what Mumbai Indians’ openers are doing with Rohit Sharma waiting in the wings.

First published here

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Can Dhoni own the IPL again?

by Naked Cricket

This IPL Season 10, the Rising Pune Supergiants haven’t turned up. After last season’s dismal finish, they’ve now returned as the Supergiant. While most teams tend to be plural in their branding (Daredevils, Knightriders, Sunrisers), Pune for reasons best known to them, have decided to drop all illusions of being called a team – probably because they aren’t one.
In addition to the changed name was a change in captaincy - Steve Smith for MS Dhoni. If that was done to make news, it served its purpose – but the Pune owners refused to tread softly, and cited cricketing reasons for the same. All hell broke loose, sensational media thought it unacceptable, citing treason, calling a spade a spade in the IPL was just not on.
Three games into the IPL, Dhoni has scores of 12*(12), 5(11), 11(14). Pune has lost two of their three games, far from narrowly. Somewhere in between, the franchise owner decided to delve into statistics citing batting strike rates. Leaving little doubt who it was aimed at. With Sanjay Manjrekar in the box, and an owner such as this, Pujara should be pleased he isn’t playing for Pune.
Amidst all this, MS’ missus shared a pic of herself in CSK’s yellows. How opportune. If you have to feed the flames, what better. Perhaps a photograph with Meiyappan and Srini to follow too. But that is nostalgia, and regardless of what happens on the sidelines, this could be a tough season for Dhoni – unsupportive owners, for whatever reasons, might go as far as to rest or even drop Dhoni for the odd match.
Other dynamics aside, even if viewed purely for cricketing reasons, it may not be acceptable in the IPL – for either the broadcasters or the fans. Pune, Dhoni aside, only has Ajinkya Rahane as a regular team India player. But Dhoni is Dhoni, often beyond numbers, stats, strike rates. Much like Sachin Tendulkar in his last season, his presence on the field is more than enough. Much like Tendulkar, even after he retires, his presence in the dugout will be more than enough.
After an indifferent Season 9, Dhoni made his first telling score, 64*(32) in the 53rd match – with a winning six of the last ball of Axar Patel’s 20th over. That one innings was enough for the broadcasters, already there have been replays of it during live matches. Dhoni is part of both Indian cricketing and IPL folklore, nothing he does or doesn’t do will change that. Tinkering with him will only bring on the wrath of fans on the franchise.
In the past, Delhi Daredevils have been indifferent towards iconic players like Sehwag and Gambhir, their chaotic handling of players has led to constant chopping and changing, making one of the most formidable franchises into a joke that repeats itself season after season with a new cast.
While this will be Pune’s last season, going to war with Dhoni, however subtle, will lead to bruised egos and an embattled team – making them look far worse than they are. Empowering Dhoni, however unfathomable it may be to the owners and captain, Steve Smith, could prove to be a decisive move to bring about a change in fortunes: RPS’ best bet could be to promote Dhoni up the batting order – so far he has batted twice at five and once at six.
Recently, Dhoni moved up to number four in ODIs, giving himself far more time to settle down and control the innings. While this could lead to a duplication of roles with Rahane who opens, it will give the broadcasters and fans something to crow about, more air time for MS Dhoni.
The IPL will always throw the odd low-scoring game, and with Dhoni up the order, Pune will enjoy far more control, and who knows, start to win again. In Imran Tahir and Adam Zampa they have two leg spinners who will continue to exert influence throughout the tournament. But for that, they both must be played, regardless of the odd bad game.
While after one week, it looks pretty much down and out for Pune, they need to look at the positives: They beat Mumbai Indians in a high scoring chase with Steve Smith and Dhoni in a supporting role. They ran into Glenn Maxwell in their second game, there’s not much that can be done then. They ran into Chris Morris in their third game, when someone smashes you for 38 off nine balls, you just have to move on.
Whether RPS move on or not, of course, will depend largely on whether the owners and Dhoni can move on. Stranger things have happened in the IPL. When it was all yellow.

First published here

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Why an injured Virat Kohli still has a role to play in the IPL

by Naked Cricket

RCB skipper believes the recently concluded Dharamsala Test strengthened his resolve

Trust Virat Kohli to take a negative situation and turn it on its head into something positively inspirational. Arguably no player likes to be rooted to the dugout while the action pans out in the middle, least of all, Virat Kohli. After a matchless 2016-17 season that spanned every format (including IPL 9), the former RCB captain is set to miss out on the first few weeks of season 10. While the extent of Kohli’s shoulder injury is still murky, there is talk of assessing his condition mid-April to determine his readiness to play.

Kohli though, is having none of this. He has already said he is raring to go – if not in the middle as an opening batsman and captain, then definitely in the middle as the drinks’ boy. Kohli has dismissed age-old beliefs that the 12th man does not have a role to play – in fact quite the contrary. It is Kohli’s belief that carrying drinks like any other is a skill one that has to be honed over time. “Even though I have very little experience carrying drinks, I’ve been lucky to carry drinks only recently during the grueling last Test in Dharamsala. That experience is sure to hold me in good stead for the initial part of the IPL season. I will look to assert myself with the drinks during all the strategic time outs.”

This may not be a good thing for TV viewers though who will miss out on Kohli charging his mates in the team huddle in the middle – it’s a known fact that the strategic time outs are when the ad breaks kick in during the IPL. Some advertisers are now in talks with broadcasters to shit their ads from the strategic time outs to the actual playing time. A sponsor who wished to remain anonymous stated that it was criminal to place ads when Kohli was making his presence felt. “It will work negatively for our brand, there is no way we can have a positive association if we try and fight Kohli for the limelight. It’s better that we graciously accept that this is Kohli’s time to shine – also it’s just for a few games only”

There are also rumours that when not on the field carrying drinks, Kohli will be swearing from the dugout with choicest of abuses. The captain takes his job as RCB cheerleader very seriously only stopping at not wearing a skirt. “Yes, you have to draw the line somewhere, and while there’s nothing I won’t do to inspire the boys…I won’t do that. I don’t mind doing a little bhangra with the cheerleaders though. But how these girls from Belarus will do the bhangra I can’t say…”

While it’s tough to say how Kohli will shape up in his new avatar, former owner, Vijay Mallya, said he was very buoyant – “As a captain of a team named after a drink, there can be no better association than carrying the drinks. It’s a shame that the IPL after parties were discontinued, if I was there at the IPL, I would’ve pushed for an IPL party during the strategic time outs in the middle – yes, it’s just a few minutes but maybe they can do RC shots or put down a pint in that time” When asked if Mallya wanted the players to dehydrate themselves by consuming alcohol in the middle, he quickly retracted his statement, “of course not, we’re just looking for a little fun and games in the middle…and having a beer is the best form of rehydration…that’s why the Aussies always have a round of beers after a tough day’s play”.

The IPL kicks off on 5th April, with defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad taking on last year’s finalists, RCB. As a build-up to the event and his new role, Kohli was spotted in the gym, doing a light routine, instead of dumbbells though, he was lifting energy drink bottles.


(However plausible this may sound, this is largely a work of fiction.)

First published here

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What if instead of Rahane, Ashwin or Jadeja was made captain

by Naked Cricket

Ajinkya Rahane captained in his first Test in Dharamsala, and did so with aplomb. Even though, often the only barometer for this aplomb was when the Aussies bombed themselves. Still, as they say, you can’t take anything away from Rahane, he was captain, ace slipper, and vitally, the fury at no. 4. Whatever you forget, it’s doubtful you’ll forget those twin sixes off consecutive balls, at least Cummins won’t.

But imagine, or allow me to, what if Rahane was not captain – say, what if someone else was, what would’ve happened. The possibilities while not being endless, are at least ten in number.

Let’s start with the most likely candidate after Rahane – Ashwin. If nothing else, Ashwin would’ve stationed himself at first slip, to reduce the pretense of any fielding to a minimum. After a few drops at first slip, he would’ve either moved himself to second slip or leg slip. Or still better, a wide leg slip. Regardless of whichever slip he would’ve fielded in, he would’ve ensured a backup fielder – either at third man or fine leg. This way, he could gingerly chase the ball (as he has through the series) to order the said fielder with a stern command such as, “KEEPER!” or something equally stern such as, “BOWLER!”

In addition to these fielding shenanigans, Ashwin would ace the reviews. He would still nod rapidly (vertically) after his furious appeals, though more out of habit than in the hope of convincing the captain. He would jog mid pitch to Saha and the others, and review with maximum determination and minimum dialogue with his mates. Ashwin would use both the reviews, quite possibly the first two times the ball would make contact with the pads. When turned down, he would nod rapidly (horizontally). In the post-match interview, he would speak at length about his bowling and how Jadeja had supported him – even if it was obvious that he had supported Jadeja.

If not Ashwin, imagine if Pujara was captain – he would’ve promoted himself to open, simply stating that he was sick of waiting for the obvious, that is, the first wicket, which always seemed to fall, sooner rather than later. Like Ashwin, Pujara too would post himself close in through the innings, at either forward short leg or silly point. He would get himself a full body protective suit which he would wear underneath his whites. As captain, he would try and set an example, and chase balls, albeit greatly hampered by the full body protective suit. When asked how it compared to running in shin guards, he would say in his usual dead pan way, that all the preparations had been made, the suit was good because he had trained in it during the ODI series (his offseason) and they would bowl the Aussies out in no time at all. As captain, he wouldn’t bother running suicidal singles to impress his peers.

If Jadeja was skipper, he would use both the reviews off the first two balls bowled by him – never mind whether it hit the batsman’s pad or the batsman’s bat, that he had bowled it would be enough for him to take a wicket. Instead of making the review symbol, Jadeja would review with his very own sword slashing symbol. When ignored and not reviewed by the umpire, he would look quite puzzled but pay it little heed and mechanically bowl another delivery.  Jadeja would bowl unchanged from one end for the entire course of the Aussie innings. In a full day, if Australia lasted, India would bowl at least 110 overs. Expectedly, Jadeja’s rapid over rate would baffle umpires and batsmen alike, and he would often end up bowling 12 ball overs and sometimes from both ends.

Murali Vijay as captain would make leaving the ball an integral part of the net session. With this in mind, quick bowlers would be instructed to bowl only outside off. After being dismissed nicking one behind himself, Vijay would instruct some hapless seamers to bowl at him in the nets – outside off of course. Off spinners would be treated with disdain, Ashwin included, who he would hit repeatedly over his head in the nets. After taking a catch, Vijay would slyly ask the umpire to review. He would even bowl a few overs to keep himself from dozing off in the slips.

If Saha was skipper, he’d be in a real quandary with reviews, waiting for his mates to take a call and make the review. When reminded of his captaincy, he would reluctantly, and somewhat shyly ask for a review. It would be similar in the team huddles when everyone would look to him to speak – and he at them. In spite of being captain, he would still remain an able foot soldier.

And what if Ishant Sharma was made captain – he would ask for face-making drills to be made mandatory. As too, longer hair. And use of the unlucky tag to deflect tough questions – “we lost because we were unlucky” being the norm as too, “we won because the opposition was unlucky”.


There are other players too, but they’re not yet ready for captaincy. Not in this post at least.  For that, they need to add a little kink to their cricket first.

First published here

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