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Bhuvi is a treasure and must be used wisely.

by Naked Cricket

First, Bhuvi opens the bowling. Then he closes it. In between, when India loses its grip, he comes on to keep it tight. Often it's hard to tell what the fuss about Bhuvi is. Because if there's one thing that Bhuvi doesn't do is fuss about anything: whether he has the openers on a string (with his new ball swing) or whether he outfoxes the big hitters with his variations. It is beautifully bland, ball after ball, new thought after new thought, the celebrations and the hair colour are saved for others. It's almost as if Bhuvi never took the wicket and the catcher or the captain or whoever is topping the celebration charts did.

Yet it's a pleasure to watch Bhuvi across formats - the same ice cool but one sharp mind that adapts and switches his craft. He's a welcome exception to the hype of international cricket frenzies.
He's been many a captains' go-to guy. In Test cricket, especially overseas, it isn't uncommon to see Bhuvi bowl the bulk of the overs - in England, in 2014, in three Tests, Bhuvi was pretty much the bowling spine - 124.5 overs for his 15 wickets. Add to that three half centuries, 228 runs in the series.
In the recently concluded Test series, he had South Africa on its knees at 12/3, knocking over the openers and Hashim Amla. He played two out of the three Tests, finishing with 10 wickets and 101 runs at an average of 33 in a low scoring series. That he did not play in the second Test match, is still a sore point. By the time India won the Johannesburg Test, there were enough reasons to believe that Bhuvi and not Pandya is the all-rounder (at least in Tests) that India's looking for.
However, compared to Test cricket and T20I's, where his bowling average is 26 and 22, in ODI's, his average is just 38.31. He went wicketless in his last three ODI's vs South Africa. In six matches prior to that, he only took one wicket on each occasion (with a 1/92 against New Zealand in Kanpur).
Is there a case to use Bhuvi more effectively in only Tests and T20s? Or will he swing things back in one-day cricket too?
There is merit in caution, and India must decide whether they want Bhuvi the match winner (only yesterday he knocked SA over with his best T20I figures, 5/24)

Of late, India has reaped the rewards of playing wrist spinners, Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav over seniors, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja in ODI's and T20's. Jasprit Bumrah made his Test debut in South Africa - when conventional wisdom would've gone with the tried and tested, Ishant Sharma.
There's a long international season ahead, but before that, there's another pointless ODI series with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. If India wants Bhuvi at his best, they may have to cherry-pick when they play him - and when they rest him.
It could well mean resting him altogether for the tri-series, because what follows is the IPL (where he was retained by his franchise, Hyderabad Sunrisers) a first Test against Afghanistan and the England series.
What India decides on doing with Bhuvi today, will have far-reaching implications in the years to come - and be the difference between a match-winner and just another economical bowler.
Time starts now. It's over to Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri. Bhuvi is not from Mumbai or Delhi, he's from Meerut, he's soft-spoken yet articulate. There's a twinkle to the eye as there is to his bowling.
After his 5/24 against South Africa, he walked back chatting with Bumrah and Pandya, as if it was just another day at the office. Maybe unlike most of us, that's what Bhuvi enjoys - just another day at the office. It's a lesson for youngsters, no matter what the success, no matter what the perks, no matter what the falls, take it in your stride. Far greater chance then, you'll enjoy the ride.
(Hat-tip to @Cricket_GIF who started the conversation on Bhuvi's inadequacies as an ODI bowler)

First published here


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