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Like Hardik Pandya, we too should be rested for the Sri Lanka series.

by Naked Cricket

Oh no, not again, India-Sri Lanka-fication. There’s pollution outside, and if you stay indoors, turn on the TV to watch this series, there will be pollution inside. No air purifier will come to your aid. As you watch and inhale the extra-large pollutants off your extra-large flat screens, you will be numbed into submission. Just as Sri Lanka is supposed to. Not yet to have won a Test match in India, the islanders return, because they were asked to, no, commanded to – and who wouldn’t want to play India in their right financial mind. Bermuda has been lining up for years after that magnificent slip catch, but they never made it past that triangle.

What could sort this repetitive mess, once and for all is if India start to play India – not like Indian cricketers playing each other in First Class tournaments or List A matches but proper internationals with two Indias. Anyway, it’s fast emerging with greater certainty that there are two clear Indias out there. What could be better than forming two Indias based on players’ political convictions.

But what about players who don’t have any political beliefs, and just want to play cricket? That could be tricky. In such cases, abandon the politics and go for an outright auction. It will take care of more broadcast rights to be sold, and even create an opening for many more Indias.

Anything to do away with these Sri Lanka series really. But what if Lanka were to turn the tables and become a far more adept team – wouldn’t that be equally unacceptable? How will we ever forgive our boys for losing to them?

Defeat could be a far greater threat to our viewing than one-sided wins. Disillusioned with the national side, we may not just stop watching this bilateral bullshit, but abandon the team with all our heart.

There is no solution to this but to not watch at all. To rest ourselves. Yeah, just like Hardik Pandya has been rested. After being promoted to all positions and corners of the team, and found wanting every now and then, his workload has been reassessed, his hair follicles have been processed – and modern BCCI science has arrived at the perfect solution. In cricket parlance it’s defined as a “Much needed break”. In common speak it is Chilla-X. Also worth noting as Pandya was to bring that X-factor. So when you ask the X factor to chill, that’s why it’s called what it’s called.

But in BCCI speak, which is fast sounding more like it’s outsourced its PR to Wimbledon, here’s what’s being said:

"Considering Mr Pandya's heavy recent workload, the decision was made to negate any possibility of a major injury concern. Mr Pandya will undergo a period of strength at conditioning at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru."

Oh dear. Mr Pandya did they say? It almost sounds like they’re saying Game Miss Graf, Miss Graf leads Miss Sabatini by two games to one, first set. But who does Mr Pandya lead? Who knows, but we sure could take a lead out of his book – and at the risk of repeating myself, I’ll say it again, rest ourselves.

We may even add an air of dignity to ourselves. Catch someone saying, “Mr Sethi has been rested from the series so as to lessen the viewer’s chance of eye injury. Considering the viewer’s recent writing load, the decision was made to negate any possibility of a writer’s block. Mr Sethi will undergo a period of blindfolding at conditioning at the Non-watcher’s academy at an isolated location. Should he remove the blindfolds, he may see a TV screen but there will be no cable or dish connection.”

As some major dude once said, “extreme times require extreme measures”. And it’s not like watching this Sri Lanka series will land us a Viewing Coach position in the Mumbai Indians’ dugout?

First published here


Dhoni should allow others to fail too

by Naked Cricket

India had lost the second T20 to New Zealand way before the second ball of the 20th over. However, in spite of being pretty much a lost cause, with any approach being of little consequence, except statistically, MS Dhoni on 49, one short of his second T20 international half century, refused to take a single.

A ball before this, Dhoni had hit his second six. In Dhoni’s own universe, he often refuses to take singles, denying the strike to batsmen he no doubt considers of lesser hitting ability than himself – either overall or at that precise moment.

So on the second delivery of the final over, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, not yet off the mark, was at least in Dhoni’s mind, going to be of lesser impact than himself.

Dhoni was dismissed the next delivery on 49. Such is Dhoni’s match awareness, and perhaps overall awareness (of both himself and people’s perceptions of him) that it can be argued, that even in a completely lost cause – 43 needed off 5 balls – he was possibly thinking of one of two things – either give the crowds something to rave about with another six or two, or just in Dhoni auto-pilot mode, doing what came naturally to him, taking the onus upon himself, even in a lost cause.

Perhaps the first time we got a sense of this Dhoni quirk in an international was when he denied Ambati Rayudu the strike repeatedly.

From September 8, 2014 (ESPN Cricinfo)

“He had the experience of finishing off similar chases in the past. It would have been unfair to expect a scratchy Ambati Rayudu to do the big-hitting, in what was his T20I debut.

Declining three singles in seven balls when you have a specialist batsman at the other end was definitely not the right approach. It undermined Rayudu's credentials and cost India the game.”

Chasing England’s 181 that day, India lost by 3 runs. Dhoni finished with a 27 off 18 deliveries, Rayudu 3 off 5 deliveries. Both remained not out. Played as a batsman, Rayudu walked in to bat at seven after bowling all-rounder, Ravindra Jadeja. Dhoni was captain in that match. Rayudu since then played five more T20 internationals for India (his last in June, 2016), with a highest of 20.

In that game from 2014 , as in yesterday’s, Virat Kohli was India’s highest scorer. Ironically, with somewhat similar scores – 66 off 41 deliveries (9 4s, 1 six) that day, 65 off 42 (8 4s, 1 six) yesterday.

Appears both Kohli and Dhoni are stuck in a rut. As too are India’s selectors, team management and cricket watching public. While Kohli’s rut is a batting masterclass, Dhoni’s needs to be examined further.

While Dhoni’s cricketing mind continues to evolve, as is obvious in his leadership role, even under Kohli’s captaincy (as was evident in the recently concluded ODI series vs New Zealand), his batting often meets with the same comment from VVS Laxman amongst others on air – “Dhoni nowadays needs those extra few deliveries to warm up before he can get into his stride”.

In yesterday’s innings, chasing an asking rate way in excess of 10 runs per over, Dhoni at some point was striking at less than a run a ball. That in spite of the one six. But Dhoni is not alone – India’s overall T20 batting is very much stuck in the 50 over format, a format that both Dhoni and India continue to master.

Regardless of the series outcome, India continues to embarrass some very good longer format batsmen by picking them for an entirely different game, which face it, T20 is.

Faced with a suspicion that Hardik Pandya may not be the fifth bowling option further complicates the team’s selection.

Yesterday, Dhoni walked out to bat at six, with no serious batting cover to follow – which is not to belittle Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s recent surge with the bat (26 off 15, 2 4s, 2 6s less than a fortnight back) and more significantly, the 72 runs off 8.5 overs in partnership with Dhoni vs Australia as recently as on 17th September. Bhuvi finished with 32 off 30, Dhoni 79 off 88.

But that’s an altogether different format. To watch Dhoni come down the track, only to play the ball back to the bowler or a fielder within the circle has become a common sight. It works for him and for India in ODIs.

It doesn’t with Dhoni low down at six in T20s. Dhoni may still be the finisher, though not with the same impact, and needs to be re-examined as the nourisher in T20s, and bat no lower than four. Also questions should be asked, is there time and place for a nourisher in T20s? And if so, how many?

It may not be a bad thing for Dhoni to take a relook at himself. And his batting partner from the other end. Let other’s fail at not finishing the game for a change.

It’s not easy being Dhoni. Not even for Dhoni these days.

First published here


When did we learn to laugh with Ashish Nehra and not at him?

by Naked Cricket

Ashish Nehra is a peep into our lives, what we were two decades back, what we became - as he faltered, as he rose again, as he fell, as he rose again, as he laughed, how we mocked, how we refused to forgive, how we forgot about him, how we laughed when he returned, how we were amazed when he bowled well.

We are all complicit. We all Tweeted. Even before Twitter.

Ashish Nehra, much like a younger Anil Kumble, is the reason we rag in colleges. Why we react to a person’s physical attributes. Call him names, much, much before an old, cool friend of his adds a “Ji” to his name. And the networks pick it up and parrot it. And we, we for a few days, nay, a few hours, forget about those memories, and forgive ourselves conveniently, and show him some respect.

But Ashish Nehra is a funny guy. He refuses to forgive himself. Or at least it would seem so. He hasn’t become someone else. He has remained Nehra. He is still that AHSH-EEESH. That gawky, funny guy, who refused to fit in.

He’s way cooler than us. He’s way funnier than us. He refuses to be part of any club that will have him. He is, in a warped, funny way, a legend, without really being a cricket legend. He is a life legend. A survival kit. A guy you can almost expect to sing the parody, “Like a surgeon” to mock his 12 surgeries. Our own guy from the early Tim Burton films when they were funny, original, disrespectful and weird.

Nobody does weird better in Indian cricket than Ashish Nehra. Possibly because nobody who does weird survives – look what happened to Kambli and Sreesanth. Life mocked them, we mocked them, hell, they even mocked themselves. One was snubbed by life, the other slapped.

As for Ashish Nehra, he doesn’t whine, so while his 12 surgeries and Jimmy Amarnath-like comebacks are part of folklore, they didn’t define him. Unlike his more famous buddy, Sehwag, who was unable to choose his farewell from cricket, Nehra did.

He announced one fine day, that the Delhi T20 against New Zealand will be his last cricket match. No, not just international, but last match. No IPL for him, unlike so many greats before him. Did Nehra just kick a few million bucks in the ass? Who does that?

Ashish Nehra does. Nehra does what you cannot even fathom. Ask for the ball. Ask for the ball to bowl the last over in a chase that has sneaked up so close, Pakistan can taste the korma, and are dancing in aisles of Sharjah. Never mind that there may not have been any such chase in Sharjah, the Nehra story is nothing without embellishment.

We embellish it. He embellishes it. With sauces, words, hyperbole. And when it is cooked, hot to be served, we collectively draw our knives and carve both Nehra and his story out.

We start to laugh at his teeth.  Oh, how we love to laugh at his teeth. And how he lost us that last match by screwing up the last over and went into hiding after that. We make cartoons of him, mocking him. I made a cartoon too. When I would draw. Draw knives at Nehra. Not remember him as the coolest thing that happened to India cricket, even if it was just for one night.

“ got the wrong guy...I'm not this
Nehra guy you keep calling me”

My favourite Nehra memory for a long time was him ripping into a leg of chicken in the dressing room – the prying cameras caught him in the act. You will never see Sachin or Dravid eat, maybe sip water or walk on it, but never rip into a bone. Nehra, a long, long time back, was privileged to be caught in the act of food porn on television.

But either side of that leg of chicken, I was forever amazed that an Indian bowler could bowl that beautiful length – that perfect short-of-a-length length. That length that pitched where a ball must pitch, and pull the batsman up like a puppet, ball after ball.

And it was like a stick-figure was bowling it. There, I couldn’t help myself, even in praise, I had to make a cartoonish comparison.

I haven’t seen Ashish Nehra for a long time. I’m told he’s been training where I train, in Siri Fort. But have I even seen it? With Nehra you never know. Your memories are either much more or much less than they really are. Your Nehra stories will soon become your own extractions. Whether he won or lost that match is entirely up to you.

On 1st November, 2017, Ashish Nehra was a match winner, with both the ball and his mouth. While with ball, it was short of length, with the mouth, it was anything but that.

When wished a happy retirement by the much ridiculed Manjrekar, Nehra snapped, “I’m always happy”.

For once, there were no Nehra-teeth jokes. The goalpost had long shifted to Sanjay Manjrekar.

First published here