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When Virat Kohli asked you to unfollow him on Twitter.

by Naked Cricket

Virat Kohli made his Test debut on 20th June, 2011 in the West Indies. In five innings, his highest was 30. He followed that with two fifties against the Windies in Mumbai, making it to the flight Down Under. He made 11 and 0 at the Boxing Day Test. By 29th December, 2011, India was beaten by 122 runs within four days.

Even six years back, Twitter was an unforgiving space for cricketers that did not pass muster on the scorecard. By the look of it, Virat had been put under scrutiny and told off repeatedly, worse still by Tweeters tagging him so he was privileged to read their abuse. (In those early days, it’s doubtful that Virat had e-sleuths handling his social media account).

On 1st January, 2012, Virat requested “Those who are here only to criticise can unfollow :) we are humans not machines”.

Within a fortnight however, the Virat run-machine was ready to go: scoring his first Test fifty at Perth, followed by his first Test century at Adelaide. Since then, Virat has added 20 more Test centuries

At the time of the tweet, Virat had already played 74 ODIs, scoring eight centuries, averaging over 46. He had already been part of India’s World Cup winning team beckoning his mates to carry Sachin Tendulkar on their shoulders.

Since then, Virat has scored 26 more ODI centuries, his batting average has shot up to in excess of 57.

During the third ODI at Cape Town, Rohit Sharma, not exactly Twitter’s darling, faced an over from hell from Kagiso Rabada. Rohit survived five balls but was done-for on the sixth. It was time for Rohit jokes again. They even outlasted South Africa’s innings. Rohit may not be too off the mark if he shares Virat’s above tweet.

While Rohit’s overseas innings provide us with much mirth, to tag him on Twitter is just not on. It is nothing short of abuse. Wonder how these people who abuse Rohit (by tagging him) would behave if they came face to face with him?

Now is a good time to admit that I enjoy Rohit Sharma jokes too. The good ones (especially when they don’t tag him) are part of Twitter folklore. But to lash out at him, abuse him, hold him responsible for his dismissals – as if he’s dying to be dismissed is refusing to read the game. There may be merit in criticising the selection policy, but even there abusing coach, Ravi Shastri by tagging him on Twitter is below the belt.

By now, Rohit’s social-media team may well be on overdrive muting and blocking Twitter users. It’s a sad reflection of our times where we cannot comment on a subject without annoying or offending someone – and that too without making sure they feel downright rotten about themselves.

In the third ODI, Virat had some close shaves that could have gone either way. Without his unbeaten 160, the rest of the team could well have been up for some generous abuse too.

Hardik Pandya is already finding life after the home season an altogether different world. His new found limitations with the bat have received much scrutiny, be it on Live television or Twitter.

In hindsight, it was Virat’s fifth Test, almost seven years back in Melbourne, that earned him much abuse. That after a 52 and 63 in his previous Test match. Somewhat ironically, Pandya’s fifth Test too, swung open the floodgates of abuse. That after a top score of 93 in the previous Test in Cape Town.

It was too early to tell back then what Virat would become today. Perhaps it’s a trifle premature to write off Pandya too. And even if the experts in us, can’t help but mock him and write him off as an IPL bully, a little thought is always welcome.

Why tag him? Before long, we’ll be eating our own tweets. And making others eat theirs. For, like in Virat then, in Pandya, however unfinished and unformed he might be today, is a once-in-a-generation cricketer.

Virat Kohli, at the time of the 2012 tweet, had only just turned 23. As for Hardik Pandya, he turned 24 a few months back. It might throw a lot of things into perspective if we were to look back and recall how we were at that age. How harsh will you be with your younger self now?

Perhaps, it’s time to move on. To take a leaf out of Tom Robbins’ book, “it’s never too late to have a happy childhood”. Or the other option out of Virat Kohli’s book, “unfollow J”.

Hat tip: to someone on my timeline who shared Virat’s tweet yesterday.

First published here


How Virat Kohli breached the chase-code.

by Naked Cricket

It would be wrong to say that it’s too easy for Virat Kohli. If you look closely at most of his innings, he hardly ever takes the easy way out. If anything, he takes the rough way, replete with thorny bushes, sudden drops, a flight of steep steps, abrupt darkness, a classic video game chase on a higher level. It’s another thing, he’s mastered the chase. To borrow, Sunil Gavaskar’s new oddity, he’s a “chase master”.

Much like an obsessive teenage kid, he’s mastered this game but refuses to tire of it or the approach that ushers him to the top score each time.

Rather than be an excited 20 something, quite bored of his toys, Virat’s prime toy is the chase. And he wants to play it, more or less the same way each time.

Virat doesn’t want a new car. He doesn’t want to step up or simulate a highway when he’s driving in the street, he knows the city limits and he’s always within kissing distance of them - if and when he breaches the limits, no cops, no cameras, nobody can tell. For all you know, he might well be intoxicated but the breathalyser has been breached by him.

Virat has breached the chase code. It looks simple because he has. That he refuses to relay this truth, to even himself, is what makes the breach appear so seamless. Nothing is taken for granted. Not the boundaries, nor the tight singles. And if at the altar of a tight single, a batsman is sacrificed, so be it. The chase code is entered before he walks out to bat. There is no going back. Sometimes it will be Dhawan, sometimes it will be Rohit, sometimes it will be him, sometimes you just have to run against the damning odds. For that’s what brings about a rush of blood, from the legs to the head.

For each such magnificent chase, often adding to an equally magnificent statistic, is the thing of building, nay laboured construction, but not just day labour - often it’s what breaches into the afterhours, into extra time, at night, under lights. Often you will be led to believe that he’s playing these innings between the sheets. That each Virat innings is nothing short of sex.

There are way too many different ways to describe a Virat innings. But what shines through each time is his commitment to stay committed - to not play that ball in the air. We’ve seen it repeatedly, it’s been spoken of repeatedly, and should be said, without wordplay or smart phrase repeatedly, Virat refuses to play the ball in the air. Neither Virat’s head nor the ball he plays is in the air. It could be on the up, but rarely is it in the air.

It’s a learning for Virat, and through each innings he teaches himself that same old boring lesson again. Ajinkya Rahane marked his return with two sixes, Virat stayed put with 10 fours but no six.

In 203 ODIs, Virat has 98 sixes. In 175 ODIs, Rohit has 164 sixes. When it comes to boundaries, Virat has 849 fours to Rohit’s 553. A comparison between two of the world’s best ODI batsmen throws a difference in batting average that’s over 10 – Virat’s 56 to Rohit’s 45.

Rohit has 16 ODI centuries, Virat has 33. Rohit has three double centuries, Virat none. Chances are, Rohit, like most top order ODI batsmen, will often be dismissed attempting to play a big shot in the air. Rohit pulled Morkel for six in the third over, he perished attempting another such shot in the seventh over. With 13 needed for a win, Virat allowed himself the luxury of playing the ball in the air.

While we delight in the statistic, the 33rd century, the records that lie broken, strewn at his feet, Virat delights, roaring in the dressing room, at another Indian chase gone right. Dhoni and Pandya are at the crease, Virat appears like just another foot soldier, playing it, with a jump, in the air for a change.

First published here


Why all's not well that ends well

by Naked Cricket

India needs to make fresh mistakes for a change. It’s the only way this bunch will grow into a brave new world-beating team overseas.

It’s a matter of concern, if after all these overseas’ tours, India refuses to learn from its mistakes – and those made by the people in charge before. To brush the series defeat under a silk Kashmiri carpet, which could well be the stunning win at Johannesburg, is all too convenient. And while a couple of days are necessary for players and fans to bask in the sunny glow of this win, we all would do well to address the bitter cold of the 2-1 defeat.

In many ways, this was a series that almost walked up to this Indian team, and said, “I’m all yours, baby, you can have me, in three days if you want”. What India mistook this big, bold message as, for reasons best known to them was, “land up in South Africa and play Test cricket prompto!” After the hanging out and shopping, of course.

You’d think, that by now, there would be an appreciation of the demands of Test cricket by the world’s best against the world’s best – that too in their den. But India has, for way too long, been partying so hard at home, they forgot what it was to travel. Other than on holiday.

South Africa was always going to be a tough tour. Just as India is always a tough tour for South Africa. Playing Sri Lanka as prep on a loop is far from ideal. It would be akin to South Africa mauling Zimbabwe in their own backyard before a series in the subcontinent.

That the BCCI continues to get away with such shenanigans is shocking. In spite of the apparent disruptions in its functioning, India’s cricket Board pretty much functions as it did before – be it Mr. Rajeev Shukla holding court at the IPL Auctions or itineraries being drawn out at a whim.

In spite of all this, India had South Africa on the mat at 12/3. Bhuvneshwar Kumar had the top order in the blink of an eye. In the blink of an eye, AB de Villiers had Bhuvi for 17 runs in an over. But much before that, India picked Rohit Sharma for Ajinkya Rahane, whose overseas’ record speaks for both him and his Mumbai mate.

It wasn’t very different from going into an overseas’ Test series without any warm-up games. These two aspects of the tour are not about to die out soon. And they should not be allowed to. Whether they cost India the series, we’ll never know, but they cost India an obvious edge – and when the team itself gives up on an edge, for not just one Test but two, then it must have its head examined.

So after its two warm up matches which also turned out to be the first two Tests – India decided to correct not just one wrong but two. For reasons best known to them, they topped the Rohit-inclusion with a Bhuvi-exclusion. In Joburg, armed with Bhuvi again, India knifed through the Protea top order again.

Surely the team management must know – you don’t drop your best bowler. Not for promising Bumrah, not for unlucky Ishant, not for second innings’ Shami, not for partly there Pandya, not for athletic Ashwin. Yet the conditions kept Bhuvi out. It was as if India had returned home for the second Test, and suddenly he wasn’t even good enough to be the fifth bowler.

This is where both Kohli and Shastri misread both the conditions and their bowlers. They underestimated Bhuvi, and expected too much of Pandya. Their thinking was flawed, as they continued to go with their own muddled logic which is largely based on limited overs’ numbers and accomplishments. Bhuvi didn’t play, partly for the same reasons that Rohit played.

Yet in Bhuvi, unknown to them, they had the allrounder they continued to look for in Pandya. From 92/7 in Cape Town, the Pandya-Bhuvi partnership added 99 runs. Pandya had two chances, his 93(95) was the finest art of deception in the series. Bhuvi’s stoic 25(86) was the glue that made Pandya’s attack possible. Comparisons with Kapil Dev were inevitable. Pandya’s 93 in one innings was followed by 26 runs in five innings. Worse, some of the dismissals were either of a tailender on heat or an IPL bully gone bonkers, not yet ready for the rigours of Test cricket overseas. As for Bhuvi, his 25 was followed by a 13 not out in the second innings, and a 30 and a 33 in the third Test. There was enough intent in Bhuvi to bat it all out, and not just throw it all away with a wild swing.

Soon enough, comparisons of Pandya with Kapil Dev ceased, not least from the man himself. Pandya summed his series with carelessness, that extended from not grounding his bat to missing the stumps when they were well within kissing distance. Like Rohit, was Pandya too out of his comfort zone? Had Kohli and Shastri expected way too much from them? Had there been a fourth Test match, would either have made the playing XI?

India competed throughout the series but lost vital sessions. Most definitive when AB de Villiers counterattacked Bhuvi and none of the support caste stepped up. To Pandya’s credit, he scalped three top order batsmen in the first Test, but went at close to 4.50 runs per over, and in a series that was as much about wickets as about the squeeze on scoring, his captain rapidly lost confidence in his bowling. He did not take another wicket in the series. After bowling 18 overs in the first Test, Pandya bowled 33 more in the four innings that followed.

But this is only Pandya’s second Test series, before this he had only played Sri Lanka, scoring his maiden century and fifty. Compared to Pandya’s six Tests, Virat Kohli has now played in 66, captaining in more than half; Ravi Shastri played 80 Tests. Both captain and coach appear to be on the same page. Which can be both a good thing and a not so good thing. When the team makes obvious mistakes even before stepping on to the park, questions need to be asked – and the two men that call the shots need to answer them.

Maybe not to the press or on twitter but at least to themselves. An admission of guilt can lead to some long term gains. Knowing that India had the wherewithal to be more competitive but did not use it, is a start. It could lead to not repeating the same old mistakes, and making some fresh ones for a change.

Jaspreet Bumrah on Test debut in the first Test was a move that could have backfired. Yet it was backed by a belief that he will do better than unlucky Ishant and erratic Umesh. By the third Test, he had his first five-for in Test cricket. He finished the series with 14 wickets at 25.14. The thinking to play Bumrah went against conventional wisdom. Then again, convention isn’t going to win you a Test series in South Africa. A little wisdom however, could go a long way. As no doubt both Kohli and Shastri have learnt. The hard way as it turns out.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, All’s not well that ends well.

First published here