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Confessions of a Zimbabwe survivor

by Naked Cricket

It was only recently that I discovered, much to my dismay, that Zimbabwe doesn't owe its erstwhile name, Rhodesia, to the cricket legend, Jonty Rhodes, but to one Cecil Rhodes, the gent who colonised the territory, and also the dude behind De Beers and the Rhodes scholarship.
Sanju Samson was made to travel more than twice what Cecil Rhodes did from England to Africa, approximately 16,9753km, to discover there was no way he could rename it Samsonia. Small mercies, he wasn't made to set sail from Fort Cochin.
Instead Samson was couriered rather hurriedly after Ambati Rayudu was injured after two games. At best, the new recruit could play two T20s. Instead, the 20-year-old played one, batting at seven. His services as makeshift keeper were not used as makeshift keeper Robin Uthappa was already in the side. Zimbabwe meanwhile, had Charles Coventry behind the stumps, who it appeared, had taken to the gloves just to stay snug. If you're not part of the Wretched Wicketkeeping Appreciation Society, this wasn't the series for you. This was the clash of the "Makeshifts".
The commentary mustered as much autonomy as one can with a sponsor's gun to its head. A mobile phone hadn't been spoken of in such glorious terms since the last Indian Premier League (IPL). There was Cycle Pure Agarbathi and then some more Cycle Pure Agarbathi - there are certain words best left unspoken by a foreigner, and even though "cycle" isn't one of them, the same cannot be said of "agarbathi". One of the bowling ends was even christened the Cycle Pure Agarbathi end. They were the sponsors, and much like any well-meaning Shylock would have, they too had their pound of flesh. So the Cycle Pure Agarbathi chief was interviewed during play: "Your first time in Zimbabwe? Will you be looking to do more with Zimbabwe cricket? Yes..." (Yes, Yes, Yes. As long as we can plaster our name all over the ground and your face, we're in) Did you cringe? Did you press mute? Did you just put the television off? Were you even watching? Oh, you did not suffer, what do you know, you are not a Zimbabwe survivor.
If Cycle Pure Agarbathi didn't get you, the title sponsor, Prayag would have. They had their quarter pounder of flesh - the Prayag boss was on air, asked the same questions, and aren't we lucky, they're looking to tango with Zimbabwe Cricket too. But nothing quite endeared me to Celkon Mobiles like that passage of play when I was informed of its features, and that some player stands to win a NEW Celkon mobile phone. What, y'kno how every player likes those Celkons from Gaffar market and Palika Bazar, yaar?
And if the sponsors didn't get me, the team selections sealed the deal. India's spinners, Bhajji Pa and Axar Patel had nailed the first four games. Bhajji's figures in the first three one day internationals (ODIs) (10 overs) - 1/46, 1/29, 2/35. And 2/29 (4 overs) in the T20 he played. So if the spinners are holding sway, why not drop one to accommodate a batsman. Enter Sanju Samson. Exit Bhajji Pa. After giving it their best shot in the first ODI, India finally lost one in the last T20.
What had the makings of a compelling series - Ajinkya Rahane as the newly appointed captain, debutants Kedar Jadhav, Sandeep Sharma, Sanju Samson and Robin Uthappa; Manoj Tiwary on a comeback; turned out to be less about the cricket and more about a sordid telecast. Just as well I unwatched most of the first match on my car radio. Rayudu's second ODI hundred and Stuart Binny's maiden half century made for a very good listen, especially in Hindi. If only I had tuned into FM for Jadhav's maiden ton. When was the last time someone from Delhi Daredevils made a mark in the national side?
Any other positives? Yes, the series is finally over. Let's watch Out of Africa.

First posted here

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Wanted: Open heart surgery for Indian cricket

by Naked Cricket

"They know too much, most of which they cannot talk about, that's why journalists are such heavy drinkers". A journo friend, also a heavy drinker, once told me. It's been a few hours since the latest Indian Premier League (IPL) verdict, and I find myself thinking of those unspeakable names in the envelope. The names have been flying around for a while now. To those names are stories, conspiracy theories, truths, half-truths, our own narratives, and by now, way too many pegs downed by journalists who must keep their lips zipped. They possibly share those names with a few friends, and I suspect that's how far it goes. They can't even attribute those names in the envelope to sources, so no story has appeared. A tweet to Lalit Modi however has. But that too was brushed aside by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), giving no credence, as it often does, to all things Lalit Modi.
In the last few years, whenever there has been a ruling or a verdict, it has left me with much trepidation about the loopholes, and how the cricket masters will sneak out. They always have, haven't they? With the Lodha verdict, I'm hurled yet again into the dark recesses of the early 2000s when "The boys played well" and his "boy" were found out. Or so I thought.
Those thoughts are often like being sucked into a black hole of cricket emptiness. That nothing really happens to cricket's manipulators. Could it have changed today? On the face of it, it appears the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Rajasthan Royals (RR) have been suspended for two years. But is that the case? It's the owners of CSK and RR, India Cements and Jaipur IPL that have been suspended. Can the CSK and RR find new owners and still exist? Or do they just need to be managed by a new entity? Will India Cements float a subsidiary and somehow hoodwink us all, yet again, into not owning but really owning CSK? Is CSK, as much an IPL success story as it is an IPL failing, rotten to the core, and should it be allowed to exist? Or will it be salvaged, because resuscitating CSK is in the best interests of the BCCI and Indian cricket? Is Gurunath Meiyappan the least of it? Why did the BCCI pursue the whole affair with such reluctance? Did they even pursue it? Was it just down to damage control? Remember the time when they appointed Ravi Shastri to head some independent investigation?
Is the IPL rotten to the core? Is the BCCI rotten to the core? Are most IPL matches fixed? Isn't that what you think? Though no way as obvious as some of those Indian Cricket League (ICL) games, there was way too much happening that left me thinking, WTF? On second thoughts, the IPL could still redeem itself as an honest enterprise if it rechristened itself WTFL, the "L" is for "League".
Sitting at mid-off, a straight drive from the master should have had me mesmerised, instead, I wondered whether his friend and state-mate, intentionally made a hash of the fielding, rolling all over it at mid-on. When I second-guessed a result, or a certain batsman's score (half expecting a fifty or a 30 at least), it only allayed some of my deepest fears. And as those fears grew, I withdrew, watching fewer and fewer games.
It's only in the last two years, after the 2013 IPL scandal broke, that I've found IPL matches a lot less fishy. It appeared they had become almost discreet about the fixing; matches were often boring, fewer super overs, the good teams didn't lose too many, unpredictably.
And now this verdict. When I expected little, a rap on Meiyappan's and Kundra's knuckles at best. How cynical has Indian cricket left you? A two-year suspension is way more than I expected. But it's left me wanting more, and those names in the envelope for starters don't tell us it stops with Sreesanth and those other two RR guys whose names nobody remembers. If Indian cricket has to be saved, it might have to bleed some more. The BCCI won't even bother with a band-aid, it's up to the judiciary to conduct an open heart surgery. Look at it this way, Milord, you're saving a cricket fan's broken heart, thank you.
First posted here

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After Djokovic, Indian batsmen to eat grass off English wickets.

by Naked Cricket

In what is seen as somewhat of a tradition now, Wimbledon men's champion, Novak Djokovic has taken to grazing on the greens of the Centre Court. While Djokovic's measly appetite only allows him a morsel of grass, India's cricket director, Ravi Shastri (in London on a cricket assignment) was quick to see the benefits for his battered batsmen - "In cricket, a batsman cannot rough the pitch up with his shoes, but there is no rule against eating the grass. Everyone knows Indians are traditionally vegetarians and in England you don't get anything other than bloody fish and chips or chicken tikka masala. I think it's an excellent opportunity for the batters to assert themselves in English conditions by eating grass. This will not only give them a high-fibre diet but also negate the seaming conditions. With no grass on the pitch, I don't see the ball doing much and that should take Jimmy Anderson out of the equation. Which means Virat Kohli can get one back at his old enemy."
Sachin Tendulkar, also at Wimbledon, to support his friend Roger Federer saw this as yet another innovation in cricket. "But if we eat grass, we have to be prepared that they will eat dirt... off our pitches. Everyone knows how the dust and dirt add to our slow tracks. If that's taken away it can get tricky and negate our home advantage," Sachin added cheekily, "And we all know how these foreigners eat anything." Commenting on his Europe and England trip, the Indian legend claimed his wife and kids had restrained him from posting more than five selfies in a day on his Facebook account. "After more than a million likes honestly, who can stop? I look at accumulating likes much in the same way as accumulating runs. Haha and the thousands of shares don't hurt either."
India's new Test captain Kohli was also spotted at Wimbledon, with his companion, Anushka Sharma. When asked for his opinion on Indian batsmen eating grass, he was dismissive - "The grass doesn't bother me. For all I care let them grow more grass and turn their pitches into the Kaziranga National Park. I have made some adjustments to my technique... " When reminded that Shastri thought the idea had merit, he added, "Of course if Ravi thinks it's a good idea, there's no harm in looking into it. Oh, and we're here to watch the tennis so if you'll please respect our privacy."
Meanwhile India's ODI skipper, MS Dhoni, appeared unaffected by batsmen eating grass - "Whether they eat grass or don't eat grass, it doesn't affect me one bit. Ever since I've retired from Test cricket, I only play on flat lifeless pitches with not a speck of grass or a hint of life in them. But if you ask me for my opinion, I'll be quite frank and say that Duncan Fletcher did a good job and had suggested that we eat grass much before all this Wimbledon nonsense started. And just because nobody ever took Duncan seriously they thought he was raving mad to even suggest this. Now Ravi has suggested it and everyone will say he is a genius."
Rahul Dravid has suggested that before Indians can start eating grass in overseas conditions, they have to acclimitize and eat grass in Indian conditions - "This may not be a bad thing really, because finally we might see some grass on our wickets, if only for a short while."
Meanwhile, Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, India's Test match openers have been entrusted with the task of eating grass for at least the first 15 overs. Shastri says, "As the openers, we expect them to take the shine off the grass."
(However plausible this might sound, this is largely a work of fiction.)
First posted here

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How can India own the Ashes

by Naked Cricket

It's not about England and Australia any more, hasn't been for long - it's India first, and then Australia and t-h-e-n England. Yet, in spite of Test cricket's long pending demise, the Ashes continues to thrive, seen by some as almost rivalling the popularity of the IPL. Yet, just as there are very few, if any Englishmen in the IPL, the Ashes continue to ignore Indians. And just when the mighty N Srinivasan is set on world domination it now appears he's struggling for a chair to park his behind in the Cricket Centre, Mumbai. But while the good folk of the BCCI mend fences (so much fence-sitting these days), the people of India must wake up, and ask for what is rightly theirs, a piece of the pie that is the Ashes.
While it is widely believed that Sachin Tendulkar's dream was to win the World Cup, few know that he lives with the deep regret of not scoring a century at Lord's, and to a lesser extent, never taking part in an Ashes Test match. "What use is it playing 200 Tests when you cannot be part of a great rivalry", he was once overheard saying to one of his many minions. While some interpreted this as the paucity of India-Pakistan encounters, noted cricket historian, Albe Plemisphere observed that the little master often spent his summers in England, not so much for Wimbledon but for the Ashes. "Even at Wimbledon, he's always streaming the Ashes on his mobile phone. And how can he not be at the tennis? His good friend, Federer won't have it any other way".
If the Indians can accommodate four foreigners in the IPL, why can't England and Australia extend the same favour to India? Just imagine how it will help South Asian youth corrupted by football hooliganism to reconnect with their desi heroes in the summer. And for those who think cricket is too soft, what better than an earful from Virat Kohli to his detractors Down Under?
Kohli, in fact, has already proven that he is ready for split-captaincy and could quite easily take over as England's Test captain. He rarely moves without his trusted general, Ravi Shastri, and considering that the latter is already on board as a Sky Sports analyst, the duo should be signed on by a county to fast-track the tedious requirements to play for Old Blighty.
And what about Kohli's lieutenants, Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane? Rohit should be considered just so that he may not be considered after a routine overseas underachievement, and to give the Poms an illusion of equality in selection. Also, seeing that there's no Dhoni to unpick Rahane, and that these are not "slow wickets", the quiet one should play, right?
But enough of selection; what about the sponsors, why is it the Investec Ashes? Does anyone in India know of Investec? This is a clear case of alienation - tap into Micromax or Maruti, and if they're hell-bent on specialist banking and asset management groups, why not ICICI or HDFC?
Of course, the Ashes must be played in England or Australia; this much tradition demands. But like all one day internationals (ODIs) played by India in England, a larger desi presence at the grounds will only add to the festivities - it can be argued that the Indians hardly turned up for the England-India Test series, but that was largely owing to the visitors' poor performance. With four Indians in either team, no matter who wins, an Indian wins! (with the odds forever in their favour.) Add to that subsidised tickets (student rates for South Asians), which should do the trick.
There are strong English traditions on display, and while desis can down their sparkly and ale like anybody else, halves and quarters (Old Monk etc) and super strong beer (Haywards 5000) too should be allowed to mingle with the other vile spirits. The drinks trolley should embrace truck art and refreshments should be served in stainless steel lassi glasses. Who knows, maybe even a charpai in the centre with a hookah for good measure? But these are mere details; the crux of the matter is, to save Test cricket, India will have to enslave the Ashes.
Just a matter of time, when it's down to seven Indians and four Englishmen/Australians. As for the Pakistanis, no doubt they'll want to play in the Ashes, but do you think we can allow that?
(Is this satire? Or will this be a reality? However plausible, it does appear for now, this is fiction at play.)

First published here

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Newly appointed captain, Ajinkya Rahane drops himself from the Zimbabwe series.

by Naked Cricket

After having been dropped for the second and third ODIs against Bangladesh, Ajinkya Rahane was picked to captain the side touring Zimbabwe. The tough taskmaster that Rahane is, he felt as a captain, he did not want to influence team selection and therefore dropped himself from the team that will play Zimbabwe in three ODIs and two T20s. "After being dropped, I have not proved myself by scoring runs - I am not convinced of my own form. In the interests of the team, I will first like to score runs and then return to the side." When asked how he hoped to achieve this by not playing against Zimbabwe, Rahane nodded understandably saying, "I know, it isn't easy to make a comeback but the same standards should be there for the captain and the players." It is learnt Rahane hopes to play some university cricket in Zimbabwe.
Regular ODI captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni was visibly upset on learning of Rahane's decision to not pick himself and almost regretted dropping him - "If I knew he would be so harsh on himself, I would never have dropped him... I would have made him my deputy, at least Jinks doesn't seem like a guy who will speak against my decision making."
The inseparable duo of Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli will both not make the trip. It is unclear who asked to be excused first, but Shastri had prior commitments with Sky Sports for the Ashes, and Virat Kohli had signed up for a two-week Vipassana meditation retreat in Kerala. This could be Virat's toughest examination thus far as it will entail two weeks of silence. A source close to the player said Virat wants to fight his urge to spill to the press.
Harbhajan Singh's return to the side is once again being credited with Dhoni's absence. Even though the player said he would love to play with his former teammate, and Dhoni was unavailable for comment, it is widely believed that the volatile bowler had threatened to slap the skipper and himself, if Dhoni didn't join him for a Punjabi duet.
Suresh Raina asked to be rested for the series as he was busy house-hunting for a larger accommodation - "Now that I'm married my bachelor pad won't be big enough, if you know any good real estate guys, do let them know (wink wink nudge nudge)". As for a visibly upset Jadeja, he has been dropped and not rested. "After they made Rahane captain, I felt the least the selectors could do is make me his deputy... this is a clear case of double standards. Also if you look at the scores of the first ODI against Bangladesh, Rahane made only 9 while I scored 32 and don't they always say a batsman is as good as his last innings??"
Shikhar Dhawan hopes to take the time out by bonding with his baby son over tattoos - "Even though there is no moustache in sight, I thought there should be something that makes me feel like he's my buddy... my son... a tattoo of a moustache seemed like a good idea."
Ravichandran Ashwin, who only recently claimed he could die for Dhoni, explained that once he learnt that Dhoni was not travelling to Zimbabwe, he too decided to call it off. "I don't know if I can die for Rahane," he offered as an explanation. When informed that Rahane too was resting himself, he seemed bemused - "Maybe Rahane can't die for Rahane?"
(However plausible this might sound, this is a work of fiction.)
First published here

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Indian in NBA inspires American in IPL.

by Naked Cricket

Meet Freckles 'Fuming' Filaccio from Murphys Village (aka Murphys Estate), the first cricketer from America in the IPL. Way back in late June, 2015, it was just another quiet day in Murphys. Freckles and his friends were idling in front of the TV when his father stormed in - “You kids better watch out or after taking over all yer jobs these Indians will take over all yer sports”. Satnam Singh Bhamara had just become the first-ever basketball player from India to be drafted into the NBA. The Dallas Mavericks had selected him with their 52nd pick.

The similarities between Satnam and Freckles were uncanny. Both were from tiny, almost insignificant villages with populations of less than a 1000.  Basketball was the last sport on anyone's mind in Punjab. Legend has it, the growth of basketball in these parts almost coincided with the growth of Satnam Singh. When he was a day shy of 13 he was already six feet tall. And that was the day when he planted the first makeshift basket – he always took his nani's advice to heart, she would often say, “Reach for the stars, Satnam, reach out for the stars”. Both cricket and hockey had fault in their stars, he was determined to start something new. Baseball was a lost cause as his friends compared it to cricket. One early morning he surfed to a Live NBA telecast. It was then that it dawned upon him why he was much taller than the others. The first basket was planted halfway up a tree. A basketball was procured from the nearest town. Satnam Singh had his friends for company but it was clear he was playing against himself. Every second day, the basket was nailed higher till it reached the tree top. Next a higher tree and then an even higher tree.

The day when his dad barged in, Freckles barged out. His privacy had been invaded. Worse, he didn't understand what his father was fussing about. It was only later when his dad sat him down and planned America's revenge that it became somewhat clear. Freckles would take on a new sport, one he had barely heard of. He was a day shy of 13, already six feet tall, and a baseball bully -he could whack it longer than even the older kids, and hurl it in faster than any pitcher his age. Cricket seemed the obvious choice for Mr Filaccio to plan his revenge.

The route to the IPL was long but completed in less than six years – from Murphys Estate to the California Cricket Academy to South Africa to Ireland to England. Still only 19 (same as when the NBA came calling for Satnam Singh), Freckles signing with CSK though not a lifelong dream had been something of a teenage wet dream. “When I was just 13, I started watchin videos of Dhoni n Raina play for CSK...changed my life it did. Dad made sure I watched Jadeja too, he always say, it's vital to know what not to do”. Overjoyed to be playing with Dhoni, he feels at 39 the captain still has 5-6 good years of cricket in him, followed by another 10-15 years of mentoring youngsters at CSK. “I just can't imagine a CSK side without Dhoni. But a few years down, I reckon Raina will be ready to lead the side”.

It has been learnt that the Mumbai Indians bid of Rs 57 crore for Freckles was disallowed as the player  did not see a future with any side other than CSK and even threatened to withdraw his name from the auctions. An exception was made wherein Freckles was sold for CSK’s last bid of Rs 55.9 crore.

“My Papa always said, ‘IPL was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’”  - Freckles 'Fuming' Filaccio

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

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India shock Bangladesh in 2019 World Cup

by Naked Cricket

In another huge upset, Pakistan beat Ireland
The world of cricket, it seems, has turned on its head. After four years of losing to their neighbours, rank underdog, India, put one past the "Tigers". It will be wrong to say, nobody saw this coming - in the build up to the World Cup, the Indian selectors finally relented and dropped Ravindra Jadeja, who had played 58 matches without scoring a fifty or taking a single wicket. To Jadeja's credit, whenever he was on the verge of being dropped from the Indian team, the Indian Premier League (IPL) came calling, where he scored the odd 30 and grabbed the even odder wicket. Critics feel it is Jadeja's criticism that has kept him in the team for so long - everyone knows how Dhoni likes to prove his critics and the media wrong. Often when the selectors suggested dropping Jadeja, Dhoni countered that for that to happen, they would have to drop him, Suresh Raina, Mohit Sharma, Ishwar Pandey and Ravichandran Ashwin as well. Dhoni went on to elaborate: "It's a package deal you see, if you drop Jadeja, you drop all of us". When one of the selectors cried, "CSK (Chennai Super Kings) conspiracy!", Dhoni snapped back by simply saying, "So shoot me!". The selector who is known to belong to the anti-Srini faction did take a shot at Dhoni, though with a water pistol. Cries of Happy Holi! filled the board room, Indian cricket swept its troubles under the carpet yet again.
After Jadeja's ouster, the picking of Ashish Nehra (also CSK, but it could no longer be held against him) had the most impact on the result. Nehra's opening spell of seven overs all but broke his back and the back of the Bangladeshi batting - and even though Nehra was dehydrated and vomited on the pitch (some feel the puke and not his bowling did the trick), his decision to bowl with a drip kept him going. Nehra dismissed all four batsmen after he threw up.
Virat Kohli's ascendancy as the one day international (ODI) captain in early 2019 is being downplayed but his rapport and like-mindedness with cricket director Ravi Shastri cannot be underestimated - their ability to communicate clearly and abusively was seen as a step in the right direction. Everyone knows Dhoni did not abuse much if at all and that was beginning to hamper communication with both his deputy and the director. And even though Kohli mocks Shastri's Bombaiya accent when the latter swears (ch***ya being an old favourite), the bonhomie between the two has been something to behold. In certain circles they are being referred to as "The Bombay-Delhi Highway". And the joke is, "It's my way or the Bombay-Delhi highway".
Not many are aware that Rahul Dravid held a preparatory camp with the Indian squad in England before the World Cup. The emphasis was to play out Bangladesh's most threatening bowler, Mustafizur Rahman (who has taken no less than five wickets in every India-Bangladesh ODI since his debut on June 18, 2015). Dravid worked extensively on the backfoot play of the openers - both Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan were barred from leaving the crease except for the hourly toilet break. In addition to conducting workshops on mind control for the whole team, Dravid had his Rajasthan Royals colleague and coach, Paddy Upton, pen down his observations in a notebook. The notes that Upton has diligently made are being seen as the key to the Royals' success over the years - "Notes can only get you to the knockout stage, after that, it's up to your own resolve," he remarked. Private sessions with Rohit Sharma and Indian commentators are being credited for the player no longer being referred to as "Talented" and finally living up to his potential. This is being seen as a major breakthrough, up there with the axing of both Jadeja and Axar Patel. "Trolls no longer use that T-word on Twitter. Though I am not too fond of the finished article, I can live with it," Rohit told his media manager and wife, Ritika Sajdeh. She failed to hide her nervousness and proceeded to bite both her own and Rohit's nails.
Uncannily, in what many are seeing as a reverse upset of the 2007 World Cup, a weakened Pakistan (hit hard by last minute retirements and recruitments) beat a formidable Ireland. The Irish coach was safe, though security outside his room has been beefed up.
(However plausible this might sound, this is largely a work of fiction.)

First published here

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Where does Younis Khan figure in the list of Pakistan batting greats

by K

Twenty-nine centuries and an average of over 53 in Tests. Where do you think Younis Khan figures in the list of Pakistan's batting greats? I think unrelenting Javed Miandad was the greatest that I've seen, he swung many a game, so did Inzamam-ul-Haq, a complete batsman in all senses. Mohammad Yousuf was perhaps one of the most technically sound batsmen they've ever had. The elegant stroke-making of Zaheer Abbas, one hears, made him a joy to watch. Younis makes it to the top-5 with the weight of sheer numbers and consistency. Saeed Anwar maybe just misses out on the top-5 despite his numerous match-winning knocks and effortless strokeplay.

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A day in the life of Dhoni

by Naked Cricket

Mahi's love for full cream milk is part of urban legend - some say four litres, others say it's no less than five, some days, even six. Still others claim Mahi is all about big shots and he only has either four or six litres - he will never have five because five signifies the ball hitting the helmet and his failing as a wicketkeeper. These days when he's home, he wakes up in the middle of the night when it's milk time for his daughter. "Like her dad, she loves milk, and if it's early morning I help myself to a glass of cold milk too, when she grows up a little I can see the two of us saying cheers with milk... yes, that's something I'm quite looking forward to but I suppose I will have to wait a bit for that," elaborates Dhoni as he often does. "I would also like to take her for a ride on my bike and yes, for once, drinking and driving is not really such a bad thing you see". Way back in 2008, Dhoni even joked with air force officers - "I used to have almost six litres of milk before. Now, I have reduced it to one litre everyday, thanks to the high prices."
Getting out of bed, Dhoni checks his WhatsApp messages - on top is the group "Kings" (refers to his CSK mates). First, a message from Raina: "Good morning MS!!! Good morning all! Hope you have a wonderful day today. Lets CZ da day. Pats on the back n u no where!" Next one from Jadeja: "hI R U UPS IM UPS OK" More messages from Raina and Jadeja. Dhoni quickly scrolls through, doesn't reply. Then a message from Virat: "f*cked up match in banga, u retired at the right time, chief". Dhoni replies: "LOL". There are other messages, joke forwards from RP Singh, some random cuss words from Yograj Singh, a long one on the powers of concentration and Buddhism from Murali Vijay, and one from Yuvi apologising for his dad's messages.
Breakfast: More milk. Porridge, lots of it. Almonds, raisins, fresh fruit juice, pickle with dal, bhat and tarkari. Talks to his dogs throughout. Has a conversation with his daughter, speaks for both of them. Throughout breakfast more messages from Raina and Jadeja. The TV is on, split screen, an action film in one part and the news in another. Dhoni continues to swap between the two.
Raina appears, he's finished working out, showered and ready to join his mate for breakfast, apologises for being late. Dhoni jokes: "I know, you were too busy sending WhatsApp messages." Raina cracks up and raises his hand for a high five, Dhoni doesn't reciprocate so he massages his skip on the back instead. Sakshi is attending to her daughter, Raina asks bhabi, if he can hold the baby so she can have breakfast instead. "Anyways I love to play with kids, you eat na?" RP Singh walks in, claims he was going past. RP asks Raina if he can attend to the baby so he can have his breakfast instead.
Dhoni sets out for his workout. Mostly badminton with Raina, followed by football with RP and a few kids and guards from the neighbourhood. After football, very briefly hits the gym at home, then more football. RP excuses himself, finally only MS and Raina are playing, penalty shots, short tackles, attackers and defenders. Tonnes of Gatorade throughout, protein powder, chicken sandwiches, a picnic.
SMS from Srini, often a joke between Dhoni and Raina is that "Boss" is still stuck in old ways; they refer to it as "Srini Mama Service"! "I have consulted my astrologer. I think you should fly to Bangladesh on Monday after the Test match. NS".
After taking the dogs and his mates for a walk, MS is set for an ad shoot. He has to ride his bike and mouth a few words. The shoot is done in 45 minutes and he's set for another quickie - this time, walking in uniform holding a lubricant for trucks. Dhoni thinks to himself, when did his ads get so boring? Earlier they used his character, now they just want to see him smile and push the brand. He tells Raina that brands don't know how to optimise their brand ambassadors. Raina politely disagrees and talks about his association with a sports brand; Dhoni tells him that they both are enemies when it comes to endorsing sports brands but when they play for India they both wear Nike. This leads to a long discussion on the commercialisation of sports. Raina is honest in his opinions and Dhoni listens intently. There is a deep regard between the two. Raina looks up to Dhoni like a big brother and Dhoni is always watching over him. Another SMS from Srini. A blank, possibly sent by mistake.
Lunch. Dhoni has his favourite dal and tarkari again, chicken curry, rotis, salad, curd. Some gaming after lunch with Raina and then another ad shoot, this time it involves Dhoni training. MS thinks to himself, how imaginative. Anyway it serves him well as it's also time to train. The adwallahs ask him to play the helicopter shot with a full flourish. The ad agency's creative director adds for emphasis, Phul Phlorish PHUL MAHI! After a few copter takes, they allow him to do his thing. It's yet another collage ad of Dhoni's hits.
Protein shake and nuts and one last ad shoot before dinner. This time for a Gurgaon real estate baron; involves a few stills, some solo, some with RP. This takes longer than any of the previous ads as there are costume changes. Dhoni in maroon kurta for the Diwali ad, Dhoni in a white one for the Holi ad, Dhoni in a suit, Dhoni in yellow, Dhoni in blue.
Once they pack up, they join Raina for dinner at home. Jadeja too has arrived as has Dhoni's favourite butter chicken. They sit round the table and talk Hindi movies. There's some leg-pulling of Bollywood actresses and their associations. Sakshi isn't within earshot but Dhoni doesn't comment, he smiles that smile again. And everything appears good with the world.
Then a message from Yograj Singh arrives. It appears he's been drinking again. Raina asks if his nephew can reply.
(However plausible this might sound, this is largely a work of fiction.)

First published here

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Che Pujara undervalued? Rohit Sharma overvalued?

by Naked Cricket

On 17th July, 2014, Cheteshwar Pujara made a gritty 28. India had been put in on a seaming Lord's wicket, Dhawan had fallen early, Pujara walked in in the third over. He battled for nine minutes shy of three hours, negating England's new ball and the heady morning conditions. Before him, Murali Vijay and Virat Kohli had fallen. It was on top of Pujara's hermitage that Rahane built his palatial hundred. In the second innings, Pujara added 43, digging in for two hours. Kohli was there for a blink of an eye. India won Lord's but I recall only Mike Atherton acknowledging the weight of Pujara's 28 in the post-match while speaking to Dhoni. India lost the series 3-1.

Virat Kohli went on to have the well documented tour from hell: 1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28, 0, 7, 6, 20. Pujara in the vicinity of hell: 38, 55, 28, 43, 24, 2, 0, 17, 4, 11. At the start of the series, as at the end, both Kohli and Pujara were tied at six centuries. Pujara batted for 12 hours for his 222 runs in England, Kohli close to seven hours for his 125 runs. Rohit Sharma played just one Test, rediscovering his happy knack of getting out when set.

The Test series in Australia is where Kohli tore away from Pujara and the pack: he added four more to his century's tally, Pujara, none. And even though India failed to win a Test, the emphasis was on brave cricket which it sure was. Pujara had a forgettable tour, a high of 73, followed by five starts that he failed to convert. In spite of that he occupied the crease: his briefest outing was 67 minutes. In six innings, he was in the middle for over 11 hours. Pujara fell prey to his own high standards, he was dropped for the fourth Test. Of all people, Suresh Raina took his place. A golden pair followed, falling outside off in both innings. He lasted four deliveries, eight minutes.

Raina has played 15 Tests in a career that threatened to begin in 2010. His claim to a Test spot is no different to that of Rohit's or Yuvraj's – One-Day specialists being shoehorned into the Test side.

Yuvraj made his Test debut in 2003, in close to 12 years, he played 40 matches, a career built on recalls. None to different from Raina, who has already wangled 18 matches in close to five years. Early days for Rohit, who's now played 11 Tests in close to two years. Yuvraj, Raina and Rohit are either ODI or IPL wonderboys with an entitlement to represent India in all formats. Their four overs of merriment gain far more eyeballs than Pujara's painstaking three hour vigil at Lord's. Raina last made a comeback to skipper India in Bangladesh - It wasn't on the back of either form or runs, more to do with past credentials, right?

In November 2013, Rohit blasted two Test centuries during Tendulkar's farewell series against an Invitation XI from the West Indies. A series when not just Rohit even Mohammad Shami staked his claim as a Test batsman. Following those home Tests, Rohit has toured South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia. In these 15 innings, he's accumulated two half centuries and six single digit scores – three each of six* and zero. Rohit may not get as many chances to fail and then succeed in Tests as he has in ODIs, but he will continue to be given a rope longer than most.

Both Director of Cricket and Test captain are huge admirers of his game, and don't miss a beat to extol the virtues of his batting talent. For Shastri, in many ways, Rohit is the son he never had, for Kohli, he's a mate, in whom he sees his Indian team blazing away in the next few years.

Both Rohit and Pujara played three Tests down under scoring 173 and 201 runs respectively. What appears to have been an ordinary series for Pujara, seems to be the start of something big for Rohit. He was retained as India's number three for the lone Bangladesh Test.

As the new Test captain, Kohli has repeatedly emphasised the need to score quickly. In Rohit, who strikes at 51.51 in Tests and Kohli at 53.08 (compared to Pujara's 49.25) is the new attacking India. While they're at it, why not pick Raina too – he strikes at 53.14. All these bloated perceptions are often based on the players' ODI and IPL records – seldom do they have much bearing on how a player transplants to Test cricket. Few would know that before Pujara's lean patch in England and Australia, he had a much better Test strike rate than both Kohli and Rohit.

It's doubtful Pujara will be allowed to adapt his game to the shorter format; in spite of his excellent List A numbers he never took to ODIs – five games, 51 runs, goodbye. Not everyone is as lucky as Rohit Sharma. Looks like Pujara might have to resign himself to the number three spot in overseas conditions. If that's the case, a hundred at Leeds for Yorkshire is a step in the right direction.

*On June 12, 2015, Rohit made his fourth score of six

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