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Why Rs 14.5 crore for Ben Stokes is a bargain

by Naked Cricket

Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS) didn't buy Ben Stokes for Rs 14.5 crore. They bought electricity. Something that was missing all of last season. From a team that just didn't come together, first with its purchases, to a team that eventually fell apart, as its big buys fell like flies, falling to injury, one by one.
Forget Stokes' strike rate, forget his batting average too. Forget his economy, his bowling average, just picture Stokes, as you remember him from the recent India-England series. What do you see? Or rather, what don't you see?
It's hard to say whether Stokes is the sum of his astonishing parts or way more than them. To dismiss his ability with a cliché will be incorrect. If cricketers were meat, he is the leanest, meanest cut out there - one that bedazzled the carnivore in each franchise. How could they not have him?
Stokes was the prey. A prey in its prime. And a prime cut at that. He elicited such ravenous desire, a Nat Geo clip of a cheetah stalking its prey should've accompanied the bidding.
Befittingly, Stokes has been picked as the predator. One that will not only run after its prey, but also pounce on it pronto - he is to be the finisher. Both with that outstretched hand that plucks balls out of thin air at first slip, or tonks one over long on, with zero movement, Kluseneresquely. He will bowl too, and prepare for Shastri to pipe in with, "Stokes can go for a few but he's a wicket taking bowler."
In a team that appears almost comatose at times, Stokes will inject edginess. He will sledge. He will take on Virat Kohli. Or he will compel ViratKohli to take him on. He will, in the blink of an eye, be expected to make things happen.
He is, in every way, to the IPL born.
With Stokes' purchase, both India and England have opened themselves to what Kevin Pietersen's been saying forever - that England's players should play in the IPL. Isn't it strange then, that one foreign-born England player takes over from another? Both June born, one from Natal, the other from Christchurch.
What RPS expects of Stokes could define how much he accomplishes for them - they could, hold him back to a fault, as the Mumbai Indians often did with Kieron Pollard or unleash him, earlier on, spreading fear and chaos, as the best in the biz do, much like David Warner.
RPS' new captain, Steve Smith, their ex-captain, MS Dhoni, and South Africa's skipper, Faf du Plessis should rally around Stokes, as Stokes is allowed to simply let go. Letting Stokes go, could well be what the more introspective threesome needs - who knows, it could nudge them a bit to raid the opposition.
Last season, it took one captain, David Warner and one coach, Tom Moody to set in motion an expedition that defied all logic - a team bereft of superstars and one on the wane, Yuvraj Singh, three seamers, one aging Ashish Nehra, one forgotten Bhuvneshwar Kumar, one Bangladeshi Mustafizur Rahman, all somehow added to one trophy in IPL 9.
While Pune lacks Hyderabad's bowling, it ticks quite a few boxes that won the IPL last season. In coach Stephen Fleming and MS Dhoni they have the know-how of how to win the IPL. Even though that was with CSK, and that seems a lifetime away, Fleming's new collaboration with Steve Smith on top, will only rejig the team in a positive way.
In his last match, Dhoni scored his first T20 international fifty - surely stepping away from captaincy will account for something, even more so in the IPL, against hapless Indian bowlers on flat decks. Even if Irfan Pathan is missing, Axar Patel must still remember what Dhoni did to him last summer.
Now, if only Pune provides its home team with grounds like Chennai provided CSK - spinners, R Ashwin and A Zampa, could have a field day, and the qualifiers could be a lot closer than they appear.
If everything goes as per plan (and you can be sure, with Fleming there will be some devious plans cooking), prepare to hear Ravi Shastri repeat himself many a time, "Ben Stokes will be stoked" - even when he drops a catch, as was the case only recently. After all, it's the IPL, and everything goes.
But to begin with, Benjamin Andrew Stokes must go nuts. And electrify the IPL. The rest will follow.

First published here


Why you should look to buy a captain at the IPL Auctions

by Naked Cricket

On the face of it, KXIP (Kings XI Punjab) appeared to be beyond repair when they went into the IPL Auctions. Also on the face of it, what they needed was just one player – a T20 captain. What they were making do with until now, was an excellent Test batsman, doubling up as their opening batsman and T20 captain. Don’t let Vijay’s twin T20 hundreds fool you, they were made a long time back – in 2010 and 2012. Well before he harnessed his powers as a supreme Test batsman for India. With Vijay at the helm, KXIP were forced to play him, have him open the innings, no matter what.

Murali Vijay and T20s are an odd couple, somewhat like Suresh Raina and Test cricket.

IPL Season 9’s numbers, however, tell a different story: Vijay knocked 453 runs at an average of 35, striking at 124. For three years prior to this he was striking at less than 110 with an average in the early 20s.

Season 9 could well be an exception. Vijay’s scoring is by and large built on boundaries. When the boundaries dry up, the runs invariably dry up. This was the precise reason, Vijay failed to cut it as an ODI batsman. A strike rate of less than 70, only one half century, that too, in his last series, against Zimbabwe. An ODI batting average of 21 isn’t too flattering either.

With all this limited overs’ baggage, KXIP made Vijay their captain. Possibly, because after the rough run with David Miller and Glenn Maxwell, they didn’t know where else to look.

Not until this IPL Auction, with former KXIP captain, Virender Sehwag as their mentor. For all his brilliance with the bat, Sehwag was never meant to be captain. Not for India, not for Delhi Daredevils, and not for KXIP either. Captaincy never sat on his shoulders as a bat did in his hands.

One of Vijay’s IPL centuries will vouch for that. As Daredevils’ skipper, Sehwag opened with a spinning rookie, Sunny Gupta, playing his first IPL match against Vijay – in a Qualifying Final. A demolition followed. Not to be outdone, Vijay as KXIP skipper, bowled Axar Patel in the last over against MS Dhoni – 23 runs later, MSD won Pune the match. There is still the odd chance that Sehwag-Vijay could be running the show at Punjab, and you fear for them.

But they don’t have to. At the auction table, Punjab bagged England captain, Eoin Morgan and former West Indies’ captain, Darren Sammy. There are two World T20s in there, both under Sammy’s watch. Sammy doesn’t turn up for the Windies, and there’s a good chance he may not for Punjab. He makes an exceptional cheerleader, and may only play once Morgan flies back home to play South Africa.

Perennial contenders for the wooden spoon, Delhi Daredevils (DD) appear to have purchased a lot of goodies at the auction. What they still haven’t got though, is a captain who can guide the team independent of coach, Paddy Upton and mentor, Rahul Dravid’s remote control.

There’s some progressive thought brewing behind DD lines – thought that almost disregards the outcome because of the significance attached to the process. In JP Duminy, Angelo Mathews and Zaheer Khan, they might have readymade captains – but DD needs to ask themselves some tough questions, do these players always pick themselves in the playing XI.

It could well be a repeat of when then DD captain, Mahela Jayawardene rested himself so another overseas’ player could take his place in the middle.

Then again, underestimate Upton and Dravid at your own peril. They’re fully capable of making 19-year-old, Rishabh Pant captain. After all, he’s just taken over Delhi’s one-day captaincy from Gautam Gambhir.

As with T20 cricket, so too with T20 captaincy, it’s better to go with the gut than overthink it. Who knows, Sehwag might finally have applied his ‘see-ball, hit-ball’ policy to an all-new ‘see-captain, make-captain’.

KXIP have nothing to lose but the last slot. 


Why Virat Kohli failed to score a triple century against Bangladesh

by Naked Cricket

And the precise match he will go on to score it
Long before Virat Kohli had even reached his double century, there was a poll on Star Sports – it had to do with his triple century. Anyone who was watching Kohli bat was in no doubt of the triple century. It was just a matter of time. Either before tea or after, but come it would.
On his way, there had been minor hurdles, more like irritants, the odd appeal; he had even been given out. But he reviewed it. It looked out but it couldn’t be – there was that triple for the taking. On being reviewed, the ball was missing the stumps, the umpire had to eat his decision.
However, there was this small matter that everyone was unaware of – there was no way Kohli could make a triple century, because if he did, he would have had to take the drastic step of dropping himself from the following Test match, the first against Australia.
Why? If there’s one thing that Kohli is, it’s that he’s fair to a fault. Dropping triple centurion, Karun Nair, was not an easy decision. Yet in Kohli’s mind, it was the correct call. Made to accommodate India’s middle order mainstay, vice-captain, and proven match winner, Ajinkya Rahane.
While both Kohli and Kumble had explained their reasons to Nair, this decision did not sit easily on Kohli. He admitted to being greatly pained by it, confessing to his teammates that life and cricket can be so unfair – and that dropping Nair was his toughest decision as captain.
He hoped that it did not scar Nair for life, and hoped he would play for India again, sooner rather than later. At the same time, the dressing room was abuzz with the one-off Bangladesh Test being a great opportunity for a maiden triple century – for who else but the captain.
It was then that Kohli had admitted that if he were to make a triple century, he would drop himself from the following Test match. He said, “I want to feel Karun Nair’s pain…I want to know what it feels like to dropped after scoring a triple century…it must be so deflating…yet it is also a great lesson in resilience to rise gain, to feel the crushing pain and then comeback...isn’t that what heroes are made of?”
While Virat Kohli is a man of his word, and there was no way he was not going to stick to his guns if he scored a triple century, it was on coach Anil Kumble’s insistence that there was a change in plans.
Kumble had convinced Kohli to not score a triple. This way he would not go against his word and also play the crucial first Test against Australia.
In the first innings, Kohli’s awareness, of both his batting and the DRS (Decision Review System), had been quite unsurpassed. He had already made a canny call which overturned a LBW decision. So naturally it took everyone unawares when Kohli trooped off when given out LBW with two reviews still in the bag.
How could Kohli not know the ball was pitching outside off? How could Kohli not review his key wicket, after all, an early declaration hinged on how long he batted?
Finally, it was all down to not scoring that triple century. And being fair to himself, the team and the other triple centurion, Karun Nair.
Whether Virat Kohli will ever allow himself to score a triple century nobody knows. But he was heard whispering to nobody in particular, “Maybe I’ll only score a triple in my last Test.”
Karun Nair shook his head in disbelief, as if to say, “what have I done?”
(However plausible this may sound, this is largely a work of fiction.)
First published here


The comings and goings of Virat Kohli

by Naked Cricket

Virat Kohli had had enough of Virat Kohli. The umpire had given him out LBW, not even India’s two reviews could stop him from walking away. At 204, he looked like a man thankful for his innings, wanting to just switch off the game for a bit.
By walking off, and not using a review, Kohli had just decided to play captain, umpire and executioner, all rolled in one. If Kohli had cut his first ball for four, he had decided to now cut himself to size on his last ball.
Why a batsman on song, going through the form and daresay, fortune of his life, would not use a review will be baffling to most people – Virat Kohli is not most people. He had now been given out LBW for the second time in his innings. On the first occasion, he reviewed and the decision was overturned, somewhat surprisingly for Kohli, who appeared almost relieved then. Kohli was on 180 then.
19 runs later, on the cusp of a fourth double century in four successive series, Virat Kohli decided to just go for it – mishit over covers for four, from 199 to 203, beyond Bradman and Dravid’s record of double centuries in three successive series.
Cricket is often just about runs and the men who make them. Those who had watched Kohli make those 203, will remember how they were made, those wrists, that fearlessness, from that first boundary to the last one – the unstoppable surge, the intelligent risks, lucky breaks, but most of all, the will to walk away when he thought he was out.
At best of times, Virat Kohli hates to get out. His love to bat on and bat long almost exceeds his love to impulsively review a decision. When given out, the child in Virat snaps, cries and howls. He can be in single digits, or he can be on a hundred and some, it’s usually that same reaction – as if his work is far from done, there is this mountain to not just climb but climb through that scientific route that only he knows.
By getting out, it’s as if he’s aware that everyone has been denied their treat – to watch this great mountaineer climb a mountain on a flat field. It was his task to deliver, and while there’s both an awareness and acknowledgment that others in the team can climb the mountain, Kohli wants to be there on the climb – with his teammates. Often showing them the way, as he did with Ajinkya Rahane on a comeback.
Before the match, Virat had already undertaken the climb with his deputy, Ajinkya. He had backed him in the press, repeating, that the mountains climbed by Rahane in the past were not forgotten. Virat had backed his return over the triple centurion. As had the coach, Anil Kumble. Together it was a uniform team voice.
Rahane walked in to keep Kohli company at 3/234, he was finding his touch, a tad tentative. With his captain’s ascent, he too started the climb up the mountain. Nothing like a good hike in good company, the climb flattens, urging you up like a tonic. 223 runs later when they parted, Kohli had achieved much for both himself and Rahane. While Rahane fell short of a century, these 82 runs will be priceless as he prepares to climb into Australia in a fortnight.
As for Kohli, the climb from 50 to 100 to 150 and then 200 happened almost organically. It was preordained. There was talk of a triple hundred as there is talk of a toss before the match. In our collective mind space, Kohli had already scanned various summits.
In doing so, he was combining various forces of past Indian greats – Virender Sehwag’s ruthless means to score big and score fast; Sachin Tendulkar’s unquenchable thirst for centuries; and Rahul Dravid’s demeanour – to know when the show’s over and it’s time to walk off.
That this match is being played in VVS Laxman’s hometown, Hyderabad, is apt. One look at that wristwork that rushed Kohli to a hundred from 96, and you know, this innings was a toast to something far greater than meets the eye.

First published here


“Will try and score 400 next time” – Karun Nair

by Naked Cricket

Even before a ball could be bowled in the one off Test between India and Bangladesh, the buzz was about Ajinkya Rahane’s return and Karun Nair’s omission from the Test team. While Nair had scored an unbeaten triple century (303*) in his last Test innings, it was argued by both coach, Anil Kumble and captain, Virat Kohli that Rahane’s stellar work in the last two years had not been forgotten.

While it is extremely unfortunate for Nair to be left out, he has taken it bravely, on the chin, so to speak. The 25 year old Karnataka batsman has a deep respect for Ajinkya Rahane, and has gone on to admit that if he was in charge of selections, he too would’ve picked Rahane. While not undermining his triple hundred, he did feel that Rahane was a proven performer across all conditions. “I’m lucky to have got a chance because of his (Rahane’s) injury but now that he is fit, I’m glad to see him return to the side. He is a match winner and even though I scored a match winning triple century, I do not have a body of work as vast as his…once it is comparable, it will be easier to look at selections in a more objective manner”

All things aside, how much does one have to score to seal a spot in this Indian team? Karun Nair feels that even 300 is not enough. “As you know, triple hundreds are quite common these days, especially in home conditions against indifferent bowling attacks. The real Test will be for me to show my stamina, I will try and score 400 next time”

When asked if he thought that 400 would seal his spot, he answered in the negative, “No…I don’t think so, even if I score 400, and if Rohit Sharma is fit and available for selection in the next match, he should be picked before me. Rohit is much more senior and a proven match winner across formats. Also I don’t think I can compare myself to his talent and potential. Captain has great regard for him too. He is set to do big things for the country in the Test arena”

When Karun Nair will play for the country is anybody’s guess but this is not dampening the middle order batsman’s spirits who feels that just spending time in the dressing room with seniors like Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane is a blessing in disguise for him – “every day I learn something new, there is a great atmosphere in the dressing room. Something that no amount of time in the middle can teach you. Right now I am focused on carefully observing the seniors and picking a trick or two on how to handle myself spending long hours on the bench”

When asked if India’s other triple centurion, Virender Sehwag, had spoken to him, he said, “yes, on Twitter. He made fun of me. But that is Viru Bhai. He’s an original and it is a privilege to be mocked by him. I’m really looking forward to be made fun of by him when I make 400 runs. I can almost anticipate him tweeting that he will have to come out of retirement to keep me company and returning my favour of keeping him company in the 300 Indians’ club”.

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