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Paranoid about Pujara

by Naked Cricket

"Pujara should know better than most, it takes very little for form to escape. It will when it has to, it always does. Just don’t help it get away. Hold on to it, like you hold that bat, brandish it like a sword between deliveries, and swear to fight for it. For form may not be a lady, but it can still be pretty damn fickle."

You can read the full post here 


How Parthiv Patel breathed life into a wicketkeeper’s career. By batting for three hours and fifteen minutes.

by Naked Cricket

Maybe you had only seen Parthiv Patel play in the IPL. Maybe you had some memory of him in that Little Hearts’ TV commercial with Syed Kirmani. Maybe you saw him save a Test on debut in England.
Or Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you’d forgotten all about Parthiv. Maybe all you know of him are from those silly jokes online. Maybe you thought he was making his debut in Mohali.
Parthiv made his debut in the summer of 2002. Before Mohali, he played his last Test in the summer of 2008. And here he is, in the winter of his career, pushing 32. He even has a beard but when that smile breaks through, he pushes back all those years, he’s 17 again. It’s Trent Bridge all over again. He saved a Test with his bat then. Today, he won a Test with his bat.
That smile. As if the years in between didn’t happen. As if Dhoni didn’t happen.
Parthiv Patel is back. He was back on November 27. Bat in hand, battle in mind. He was there after Murali Vijay fell in the 16th over. He was there for 26 overs, 115 minutes, 42 runs, goodbye new ball.
He was back on November 29. After Murali Vijay fell in the second over. He was there for 20 overs, 114 minutes, 67 runs, 54 balls, goodbye England.
Parthiv Patel kept wickets for 184.1 overs. Then he opened the batting. Twice.
Earlier in the day, Pakistan had lost nine wickets against New Zealand in a session, the post-tea session. India had lost Murali Vijay before tea. James Anderson was bowling with some of that old fire, Chris Woakes was in too. The target was 103. Would India do a Pakistan and lose 9 for 71?
Parthiv Patel slashed, cut, scooped, even drove, 11 fours, a six, he sealed and WhatsApped the match to India. Just like that.
England hardly got to ponder, "stranger things have happened". Stokes was taken off, Batty was on, that’s how lost England were.
Patel finished it with a four. It was his moment. Inside out, through covers, over the ropes, across the line India was. Patel’s chip was symbolic of this win, it was an unglamorous team effort. One that may just make it to Parthiv Patel’s untold story when it’s told behind closed doors amongst close friends.
He was in whites not in blue. It was a four, not a six. It was the third Test of a five Test series not a World Cup final. He wasn’t even the back-up keeper through most of the Dhoni years.
Is that why Parthiv Patel’s comeback story needs to be toasted some more? Where and how did he come into the picture? What were the hard yards, hard runs he scored?
Those nameless domestic seasons he played and won? How he led Gujarat to their first Vijay Hazare trophy? Those 339 runs in Mumbai Indians’ championship finish?
There were also four catches and one stumping. Of all, Jonny Bairstow’s catch stood out; it was way too low but then so was Patel. Not many keepers would’ve caught that.
And somewhere there is the hope for India’s wicketkeepers who’ve played on, behind the scenes, through the Dhoni years, filling in when there’s the odd call up for the odd series.
There’s something unique to each one’s game, hanging in is the key. Here’s to you, Dinesh Karthik, Wriddhiman Saha, NamanOjha.
And you Mr Parthiv Patel.
Even when you’re not playing for India, we know you’re out there, doing your thing. It could be Gujarat or India Green or Mumbai Indians or Rajasthan Cricket Association President's XI or Royal Challengers Bangalore or Sunrisers Hyderabad.
No matter what, we’ll always have Mohali. No matter what, we’ll always have Trent Bridge.
(Note: From August 2, 2002, when Parthiv Patel made his Test debut, not one cricketer from either India or England is currently playing international cricket. From India, only Harbhajan Singh and Ashish Nehra have not retired.)

First published here


Rahane's rope

by Naked Cricket

"Being the chosen one has its perks, just as being Ambati Rayudu does not.  
You are given a much, much longer rope. To first, string yourself up, repeatedly, and then, your demons, and once you have rid yourself of all that baggage, you can get on with it, much like Sharma has lately."
You can read the rest of Rahane's rope here at scroll


Is Pujara too much of a nice guy?

by Naked Cricket

"Does not India’s No. 3 in Tests with a batting average of 49.95 warrant that much? Kohli’s batting average is 46.11, his deputy, Rahane’s 49.40. Kohli has 13 centuries, Rahane has eight and Pujara nine. This is the present, and if sense and fitness prevails, the future. What was Kohli’s reaction when Rahane spilled a sitter on the third ball of the first innings? That was Cook too. What if it had not been India’s best fielder? What if Pujara had dropped Cook on the third ball?"

You can read the rest of it here 


For sincerely L Cohen

by Naked Cricket

If you want a boxer
I will step into the ring for you
And if you want a doctor
I’ll examine every inch of you
If you want a driver
Climb inside
Or if you want to take me for a ride
You know you can
I’m your man

– L Cohen

When you hum a song, often it doesn’t start at the beginning. It starts sometimes from the chorus, sometimes, it starts at the end. ‘I’m your man’ was the first Leonard Cohen album I heard. It was his eighth studio album, released in 1988. I had not heard Suzanne yet, I hadn’t heard anything of Cohen yet. And then I heard and saw the ‘I’m your man’ cassette. Cohen on the cover, eating a banana, he was in B&W, and in spite of his friendship with Andy Warhol, the banana too was in B&W.

For me, the song starts with, “If you want a boxer” (even though it doesn’t), and Cohen starts with ‘I’m your man’. An old man with a banana then. And now when I look back, a cool guy who could pull off a banana in his hand on the cover, peeling away at life, at himself, at sounds, keyboards, full on, none of the light strum here – Jazz Police, First we take Manhattan then we take Berlin, Tower of song.  A man’s musical life right there, spelt out to a new sound.

Those years I used to scrounge for sounds like a starving man for a half-eaten rotten banana in a bin. I was still in school but the sounds of the 60s and 70s were knocking at my door. My source: older acquaintances and friends with older siblings, schooled in sound, and more importantly, in possession of sound. An empty TDK tape got me Led Zeppellin IV via Kaushal, a visit to next-door Kartik got me to meet Cohen, via his big sis. I learnt then that next-door Roop learnt to play the guitar listening to Cohen.

Here’s a little something for Sincerely L Cohen (as a few of us refer to him)

Thank you for your words
Thank you for your words
I would’ve liked to see you kneel down
In your blacker than black suit
See you serenade me with your darker than dark words
So I could thank you
Thank you for your words
In person, underneath the glint of your eye
In person, underneath the glitter of your gold tooth,
even if there wasn’t one

Just the other night I drew my small silver chair
And sat alongside you
I plugged you in
I gave me life
I plugged you in
I gave me death
I plugged you in
I gave you goodbye
You gave me something darker

There you were
In Black & White
There you were
In darker than dark
There you were
In your blacker than black suit
And the girls from Greece
And their voices all sprinkled
All over you
And the girls from Greece
Their voices all sprinkled
All over me
Oh, you sure knew how to keep
Your Zorba happy
You sure knew

You said you was ready to die
You said with a hint of sly
You intend to live forever
You just did
In the blink of an eye
You just did

There’s some cricket playing
And Pujara’s batting too
But what the hell
I just can’t get my mind off you

I don’t think I’m sad
I’m feeling foggy
To be writing about you
Like I did, every time I snuck in a bit of you
Into the cricket I wrote.

Back in 1988, not yet 54, Cohen wrote, ‘Tower of song’. He sure sounded like he’d lived his life then.

Yeah my friends are gone and my hair is gray
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I'm crazy for love but I'm not coming on
I'm just paying my rent every day
Oh in the Tower of Song

-       L Cohen


Forget 2019, Dhoni should play till 2023 World Cup

by Naked Cricket

One sure-shot way to make the news is to have an opinion on MS Dhoni – on how long should he play. Should he play? Why should he play?
"Of course he should play. He is fit, fitter than players younger than him. Have you seen him run between the wickets? Have you seen him keeping wickets? Have you seen him stump?"
"Yes, but have you seen him catch? He drops a catch every other game."Who doesn’t? He’s only human, they’re tough chances, anybody would drop them."
37-year-old comeback kid, Ashish Nehra, has an opinion on this whole Dhoni affair. "By the time it’s time for the 2019 World Cup, Dhoni’s age would be close to 38, but these days age isn’t a factor. Look at Pakistani players like Younis Khan and Misbah-ul-Haq. They are still playing international cricket past the age of 40. And as far as Dhoni is concerned, he is fit enough to go on till 2019."
Nehra last played for India on March 31, 2016, so he should know a thing or two about longevity. He just doesn’t know Younis’ age, who at 38, should be still considered under 40.
Then there’s former cricketer and selector, Vikram Rathore: "Dhoni should definitely play on if he wants to. I don’t see any issue with his fitness. He is actually looking fitter than what I have seen earlier. If Nehra can come back at the age of 37, Dhoni can also do it."
What Rathore’s saying is the team is Dhoni’s Then, there’s the bit about Nehra making a comeback, someone plagued with fitness issues throughout his career, and hell, if he can comeback, Dhoni can in his sleep – "hmmm, had a dream, I was playing for India in the 2023 World Cup, think I’m gonna..."
There’s this constant emphasis on fitness, what about ability, what if the skills are on the wane, what if his keeping and batting falters, why isn’t that ever mentioned?
Because Dhoni is still on top of yet another game, calling it before anyone else does.
In the recently-concluded series, he nailed it: "To some extent I am losing my ability to freely rotate in the middle, so I have decided to bat up and let the others finish."
Why doesn’t anyone have the guts to say that as long as he maintains his batting and keeping, his fitness and experience makes him an instant pick in the playing XI.
Or is fitness and experience far more important than his core skills as a cricketer? Why does Indian cricket live in the past of great cricketers to justify the present-day narrative?
Ravi Shastri shares his two-bits: "Dhoni is at par with greats like Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar."(Interpreted: Kapil and Tendulkar long overstayed their welcome, why shouldn’t Dhoni?) Shastri continues, "he is the kind of player who won’t be around if he is not able to deliver for India. He has played cricket on his terms and will continue to do so."
Full marks for honesty there, way too many powerful cricketers play on their own terms, for any selection committee to remove them is unthinkable. As we have learnt in the past, it’s far easier to remove an unbiased selector.
Kiran More, fresh from his cameo in the Dhoni biopic says, "Fitness is the key issue when it comes to international cricket."
Of course, not performance but fitness. Because how can you perform if you’re not fit. But if you’re fit, is it natural that you perform?
More continues, "Dhoni does not need to worry about that. His chances of playing till 2019 are very bright. India will need Dhoni, and I am sure he will not walk away just like that."
Virat Kohli walks back after being dismissed. Ranchi celebrates. MS Dhoni walks in to bat. Ranchi celebrates some more. MS Dhoni walks back after being dismissed. Ranchi goes AWOL.
In Ranchi, Dhoni, in at four, completed a somewhat incomplete innings – 11 off 31 deliveries. Previously in Delhi, Dhoni had assembled 39 off 65. Unlike Ranchi, where he hit no boundaries, Delhi featured three fours.
In between, there was Mohali. 80 off 91. Three 6s, six 4s. He wrapped the series with a patient 41 off 59, four 4s, one 6. New Zealand managed only 28 more.
In spite of niggles with rotation, Dhoni is delivering, though with far lesser intuitiveness. Also it doesn’t help that he comes in after Virat Kohli;  these days, even a very good batsman will look somewhat inept in such company. What chance, then, does a player not quite at the peak of his powers stand?
The untold story has been told. Is Dhoni now playing from a brilliant memory of himself? Or is he holding on to a last whiff of that immortal perfume that lingers on with the best sportsmen?
Either way, he can do without the platitudes in the press. The narrative is taking place in the middle. It always has, always will.
A player calls it himself. Dhoni is still playing.
 fiefdom and if he wants to hang with his boys and play, so be it.

First published here


Blimey!!! Blighty!!!!

by Homer

 Plenty of commentary, especially post the collapse at Mirpur, about England's prospects in India.The general consensus is that it will be a wipeout, that India will steam roll England. But even the most optimistic (or pessimistic, depending on what camp you are in) supporters are unwilling to concede a 5-0 series win to India. Granted it is early days, and cricket, by its very nature, is a fickle mistress, but lots of parallels are being drawn to England's last outing in India, where they emerged victorious, 2-1.

While there is a lot to merit for cautious optimism, I respectfully beg to differ.

And this stems not from the fact that 2016 is not 2012, but also the following additional factors:

In 2012,

Alistair Cook was on his third tour of India, having played 4 tests prior, in 2006 and 2008.
Kevin Pieterson was on his third tour of India, having played 5 tests prior, in 2006 and 2008.
James Anderson was on his third tour of India, having played 3 tests prior, in 2006 and 2008.
Ian Bell was on his third tour of India, having played 5 tests prior, in 2006 and 2008.
Monty Panesar was on his third tour, having played 5 tests in 2006 and 2008.

5 players were on their third tour of India, having previously played a sum total of 22 tests between them.

Stuart Broad was on his second tour, having played a test in 2008.
Matt Prior was on his second tour of India, having played 2 tests in 2008.
Graham Swann was on his second tour of India, having played 2 tests in 2008.

3 players were on their second tour of India, having previously played 5 tests between them.

Tim Bresnan played his first 2 tests in the country.
Nick Compton played his first full series in the country.
Jonathan Trott played his first full series in the country.
Samit Patel played his first 3 tests in the country.
Steve Finn played in Kolkata.
Johnny Bairstow played in Mumbai.
Joe Root played in Nagpur.

7 players were on their first trip to India, with no experience of playing in these parts.

In comparison, in 2016

Alistair Cook will be on his fourth trip to India. [8 tests]
James Anderson ( if fit), will be on his fourth tour. [ 7 tests]

2 players on their fourth tour, with 15 tests between them.

Stuart Broad, on his third tour [3 tests]

1 player on his third tour, having played 3 tests previously.

Johnny Bairstow [1 test]
Steve Finn [1 test]
Joe Root [1 test]

3 players on their second tour, having played 3 tests between them.

Ben Duckett [0 tests]
Haseeb Hameed [0 tests]
Adil Rashid [ 0 tests]
Ben Stokes [0 tests]
Jos Buttler [0 tests]
Gareth Batty [0 tests]
Gary Ballance [0 tests]
Moeen Ali [0 tests]
Zafar Ansari [ 0 tests]
Jake Ball [0 tests]
Chris Woakes [0 tests]

11 players with no prior experience of playing in India..

When you look at the numbers, the contrast couldnt be starker.

As Aussies of the 2004-05 vintage can attest, cracking India is hard at the best of times. And by playing India repeatedly, in India ( 1996, 1998,2001,2004), the puzzle was finally solved. And not without a little help from the rain gods and Shashank Manohar's lackey.

England, in 2016, have basically sent a project team on tour.

Alistair Cook has the most experience in these parts, and the next  most experienced player is Stuart Broad ( in Jimmy Anderson's absence).

Their bowlers have a sum total of 4 tests bowling in India. In comparison, England bowlers of the 2012 vintage had 11 tests between them.

And the spinners of the 2012 vintage, had played 7 tests, over 2 tours and a bit. England's current spin quartet has a sum total of 0 tests in India.

And then there is the small matter of a wicket keeper playing his first series in India. I have always maintained that England's fortunes are directly linked to Johnny Bairstow's performance behind the stumps, rather than in front of. And notwithstanding Dobell's extolling of Bairstow's performance in Bangladesh, the fact remains that he dropped catches and allowed byes.

And this against a team that the English barely beat ( by 22 runs) and were pounded by 108 runs in the follow up.

And then there is the small matter of the Pataudi Trophy being played over 5 tests, instead of 4 ( or 2 or 3) as in the previous go-arounds. 5 tests, over 6 weeks, across the breadth of India, taxes even the best. For an England side that is top heavy in experience, and very little after, the task is even more daunting.

And then there is the small matter of the Indian batting, bowling and crowds.

Also, unlike 2012, where the gap was closer to 2.5 months, the Indian team will be going into the test series with less than a month between tests.

Anything less than 5-0 and the Indian team will be selling itself short.


Dhoni the ventriloquist

by Naked Cricket

Dhoni spends hours locked up in his Trophy House talking to his stumps. Not just that, he even plays ventriloquist and speaks for the stumps. Once overheard, “Oh Mahi, I still remember when you picked me up, me, the middle stump, off and leg were so upset, but ME in the middle, that was a lotta fun.” 

Read the rest of the ventriloquist here


The nudge

by Naked Cricket

"Well before Rohit Sharma started to flirt with the longer format, Suresh Raina and Yuvaj Singh were given the nudge. Followed by yet another nudge. And another. And another. It just didn’t work out."

Read the rest of the nudge here 


How much will Virat Kohli squeeze himself for Rohit Sharma?

by Naked Cricket

Every morning, I try and squeeze the hell out of a lemon. Yet I don't squeeze the hell out of it. There’s a trick to it. Before squeezing, roll the lemon under your palm, flatten it a little. Then slice and squeeze the pieces together. Reversing which one goes on top ekes out the last few drops.
Virat Kohli, as India team captain, could be me, and his players, lemons.
He probably wants to squeeze them for all the juice they have, but there will be times, they don’t give any. What should he do then? Try another lemon? Or roll his palm over?
Over the last two years, Cheteshwar Pujara has squeezed himself for all the juice he had. And some more. Yet often enough, he’s replaced by another lemon, Rohit Sharma. A very talented lemon, we’re told. A lemon that has the potential, we’re told, to deliver a lot of juice. Yet, come five days, and Rohit seems all juiced out. Even before he’s squeezed.
But what does Kohli do? He believes in Rohit-lemon, and wants to squeeze him. Again and again and again. He knows, like once Ravi Shastri knew, and Sunil Gavaskar knows, and Leonard Cohen sang, Everybody Knows.
Only everybody on the other side, the uninformed people who’re just watching the game, know this Rohit-lemon is turning out to be a bit of a joke. In a dull Test series, he was the only comic relief. A funny lemon really. A lemon with a pout.
Everybody waited for Rohit-lemon to fall before the break. But he did not. Could Rohit-lemon prove all of us wrong?
The new ball had been seen through, here was a tailor-made chance, coming in at five, to score those runs, and shut us all up.
But, but, but, you know what happened? What often happens. One delivery moved away, edged Rohit’s edge, and squeezed his wicket out. That was that.
What about Cheteshwar Pujara? He was sitting watching, a lucky break to not be playing, on a wicket that, excuse the expression, had a bit of juice.
Whether Rohit-lemon gives some juice in the second dig is beside the point. Should he be even there? Shouldn’t someone else be squeezed out, someone who has a lot more to offer, someone who has offered a lot more.
Not too long ago, both Kohli and Pujara had six Test hundreds. Pujara’s strike rate in Tests was even higher than his captain’s. All this has been, and if it hasn’t, should be documented.
Then something happened. That rough away series in England, where James Anderson snared Kohli in his sleep.
India won Lord’s. It was Rahane’s Lord’s. So it’s been often said. Before it was Rahane’s Lord’s though, it was 11 for 1 with Shikhar Dhawan out early again. It was Pujara and another unsung Test hermit, Murali Vijay, who stonewalled the conditions. Pujara for nearly three hours for an invisible 28, Vijay for over 90 minutes for his 24.
These are not scores that make the honours board. These are not scores that inhabit the commentary box. These are not scores that merit an IPL spot. These are scores that put the scorer in a spot.
The leaves don’t add up to runs. The leaves don’t take the shine off the new ball. The leaves, in Kohli’s book, are lost scoring opportunities.
After yesterday’s toss, Kohli talked about how Rohit can change the match in a session. The same Rohit, whose strike rate is 51.73 in Tests. Less than Kohli’s 53.69. But more than Pujara’s 48.20. And much more than Vijay’s 46.88.
Vijay and Pujara left too many balls. Scored too few, too slowly, for an India in a hurry. For an India that wants to win, win mercilessly big, and mercilessly beautiful on shiny, flat pitches without a blade of grass or a hint of crack.
It has been done in the IPL, it has been done in the World T20, it has been done and it will be done again – in Tests, against the West Indies, who are not worthy of our contempt or of our leaves.
We will bash them into submission. And if an Indian can’t, a Mumbai Indian will.
With such belief the Indian cricket empire will be built – in a day, in three hours, and if need be across five days.
Nothing can stop Virat Kohli. Not even Virat Kohli himself. Not cricketing logic. Not records. Not Pujara, not Vijay, not a shiny, moving ball. Not the success of number four. For Rohit, he will become number three, for Rohit, he will sign on a blank cheque; because, he admires Rohit.
And will prove to you, once and for all, Rohit is no lemon. Even if that means he is one.

First published here