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The warm embrace of an Afghan win.

by Naked Cricket

Imagine years from now if India makes the FIFA World Cup and wins a match. Yeah, that to the power of ten... no, who am I kidding, I don't know what Afghanistan must be feeling right now. Meet Nawroz Mangal who now opens the batting for Afghanistan - like his mates, he picked up cricket in the refugee camps of Pakistan. When Taj Malik (Afghanistan coach) spotted the talented Mangal, he straight away wanted to take him under his wing. But Father Mangal had other ideas, and his son making a living from cricket wasn't one of them. It took some cajoling for Coach Malik to convince Father Mangal to allow the boy to seriously play cricket. Much like in the Bollywood movie, Iqbal, the coach even stayed overnight to push the cause of cricket. Nawroz Mangal went on to captain Afghanistan. Food for cricket thought?

There are more than a few Afghan eateries in Delhi, imagine watching this game there - in Lajpat Nagar Central Market, under that sprawling chandelier where the TV usually blares Bollywood at an unforgiving pitch. How loud must the TV have been - how tight was the huddle - did they fire guns after the victory? Or is that something reserved for farmhouses in Delhi?
My other Afghan sightings are in the village opposite the Saket Malls or in the adjoining hospitals. They're all refugees in one of the world's biggest refugee cities. I feel compelled to sit and chat with an Afghan about cricket, about today's match. Feel some of their happiness, make it mine. Because right now, I want to feel even happier for Afghanistan. Just like our Prime Minister.

You may not watch all 100 overs but keep the TV on, the scorecard ticking. Even if you can't commit to seven hours, be there for the last 15-20 minutes - for the winning runs, for the losing wicket, even more so if two Associates are playing - such as Afghanistan vs. Scotland, with neither team having ever won a World Cup match.
I walked past the TV with Afghanistan at 70-something for two, walked past again, 97/7. I could have given up on them right there and then. But that is precisely the moment when both Samiullah Shenwari and I committed to sit in for the long, long haul. By far the best decision I've made all World Cup. Shenwari was as deadpan as Dhoni: leaving ball after ball, blocking ball after ball, relishing in the monotony of not committing to anything; knowing that romantic last over finish was more than 20 overs away.
His previous highest score was 82*. "He'd have to better that if Afghanistan want to get across the line" - someone in commentary, adding to the monotony. His first ODI was also against Scotland, in the ICC World Cup Qualifiers, 2009. That day he made 52(57), batting at seven. Afghanistan won that game by a country mile. His batting average against Scotland, 58, quite Dhoniesque.
Here was a player batting in the knowledge that if he waits it out long enough, there will be that one over when he can play and maybe even hit the jackpot. That over came. It was the 47th of the innings. It was as if Ross Taylor had possessed Samiullah Shenwari - six over cow corner, six over mid wicket, six over square leg, six over - NO! OUT. Falling four shy of a maiden ODI hundred only added to the tragic romance that is Afghanistan cricket, where nothing has ever come easy. Agonyistan for the next 16 deliveries with bad calls, near run outs and two boundaries, the second four sealed the game and our haemorrhaging hearts.
"First of all I will say I did my job, and my job was just staying at the wicket till late. And some of the other players didn't take responsibility, that's why they're out." - Samiullah Shenwari, February 26, 2015, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Even in the post match, Shenwari was as deadpan as Dhoni.

First published in daily O


Here's looking at you, India

by Naked Cricket

As always, Sachin Tendulkar used the power play way better than his mates. Rohit Sharma fell early, Shikhar Dhawan-Virat Kohli took their time in the first ten. But Tendulkar just pulled out his phone and took a selfie.
Yet again, he buzzed us. From that moment on, India started to slowly, single by single, go almost unnoticed into control mode. Much as Phil Hughes was in Adelaide, Sachin Tendulkar was the 13th man in Melbourne.
In the last few months, in spite of being in the playing eleven, Dhawan appeared to be more like the 12th man. Commentary often pointed out how he was aloof, uninvolved, not quite there.
"The issue with Shikhar has always been confidence. Once he feels confident and at home, he can take on any opposition." - Madan Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan's coach
In the Tests down under, he had starts that went nowhere. Got dropped, picked for the tri-series, barely wangled a start there. In between all that, the much denied episode with Kohli.
It wasn't a good time to be Shikhar Dhawan.
But most of this World Cup squad had been written in stone for more than a year. If nothing else, Dhawan had the back-up of that belief.
In the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy that India won, he knocked off two centuries and a 50 in five games. In all, Dhawan has seven ODI centuries. India has won all seven games.
As I mentioned here last week, Dhawan scores in clusters and this could well be the start of one such cluster.
"I would say that the people who were asking why Shikhar was there in the (World Cup) squad don't know their cricket." - Ravi Shasri, India team director
On January 30, the first leg of India's Australia tour ended. A little over a week later was their first World Cup warm-up match. Something happened to Dhawan and his mates in that break from cricket.From a condemned bunch, they started to play like world champions again.
After beating South Africa, Ravi Shastri referred to the tri-series as the "BLOODY Triangular" and how the World Cup was the real deal - how the players were tired and the break was a blessing.
If switching off for a week can make the Indian team play like this, imagine what thoughtful itineraries could achieve?
Such as two key World Cup matches, a week apart, both on a Sunday with a leisurely 9am start for viewers back home. Imagine waking up across the border in Lahore at 3am, only to see your team drop five and then refuse to catch up at 1/4.
As for us, one full week to gloat over that Pak defeat and another six days to toast the South Africa result. Throw in some Star Sports' promos that seem even funnier because the joke's on them. Follow that up with two noon starts, both on the weekend again, and I'm wondering whether this World Cup has been designed for the Indian viewer.
Even the initial #WeWontGiveItBack campaign doesn't seem that farfetched now.
Unlikely India will test the bench against West Indies, Ireland or Zimbabwe, but will they against UAE? Seeing as the quarter final spot isn't sealed, with ample breaks between matches, India should stick with the best eleven - one they foresee playing in the knockouts.
If anything, Dhoni could look to bat himself up the order against UAE. Who knows, maybe even Jadeja can treat himself to more than a swing and a miss.
The top-order batting in the first two games has been spot on, just as the middle order has been in more than a spot of bother. Sampler: Against Pakistan, India crawled from 273/3 (45.2) to 300/7 (50). Against South Africa, India slunk from 269/4 (44.5) to 307/7. Over to you with the bat, Mahi.

First published on daily O


The son Shastri never had, Rohit Sharma.

by Naked Cricket

November 14, 1991, JNS, Delhi: South Africa's third one-dayer on return to international cricket. India are 2-0 ahead.

Keith and I have just stormed the stadium along with hundreds of revolutionaries chanting, "Hai, hai Shastri, Shastri hai, hai!" India bat first, Shastri's century (109/149) is greeted with more "Hai, hai Shastri, Shastri hai, hai" - the equivalent of “Sachin! Sachin!” of the 2000s?

What happened next zapped us: Another Mumbai slowpoke, Manjrekar, scored a century – off 82 balls. There were boundaries, eight of them, even two sixes.

Surely this cannot augur well for India's chances. South Africa won with overs to spare.

"When you went through a bad patch, the crowd would get on your back. I would stick two fingers up at them. Then it spread from one state to another. It just inspired me to get more runs but it wasn't easy.”- Ravi Shastri (via The Wisden Cricketer)

February 22, 2015, MCG, Melbourne: The trolls will greet another Mumbai player, even before he walks out in the middle.

Rohit Sharma has played 11 times to Shastri's six against South Africa. Unlike Shastri, Sharma has had a rough one against the Proteas – averaging barely 20, striking at 64. Remember how he left the ball over after over against Steyn?

Unlike Tests, leaving the ball is Sharma's forte in ODIs – by the fifth over he wakes up a tad, just to manage a half pout. Key for Sharma is to inculcate what his Bombay senior did well to score one century too many – don't throw it away early. Opening with Dhawan, Sharma's role is to be there till the Batting Power Play. He is an opener in the classic ODI mode – build, build, build, then berserk. Timing of the power play too should revolve around Sharma.


From the Benson & Hedges World Championship, 1985, the only player who is a part of this current Indian team is Ravi Shastri.

Shastri knows a thing or two about winning in Australia.

March 29, 1985, MCG, Melbourne. Shastri lifts an Audi and the Champion of Champions to go with it. Three half centuries, one each in the semis and finals, add to that eight wickets, and everyone in India knew about this German car manufacturer. What, we even gave, "Hai, hai Shastri" a rest for a day.


Shastri loves Sharma like his own son. Or like Gavaskar's son. He has backed him through Rohit and Nohit. He's prompted him on air during interviews. He has spoken the words, talent, potential and out of here in conjunction with Rohit more often than all the trolls on twitter.

It's not been easy for him. There are times he must have wanted to jump out of commentary and shake Rohit up with a stern, “YOU ARE NOT DOING JUSTICE TO YOUR TALENT, YOUNG MAN”. In his mind, it's always been, “I will do justice to Rohit Sharma's talent”.

Perhaps director of Rohit's cricket would've been a more appropriate designation.


Shastri didn't have Sharma's talent, Sharma never had Shastri's determination. What he does have though is a father figure – who played 80 Tests (70 more than him) and 150 ODIs (22 more than him).

Excerpts from Shastri's pep talks to Rohit:

“If a talentless guy like me can play 80 Tests. 80 TESTS, Boss! Someone with your talent should at least play 150, Yeah, I mean it. 150 TESTS!”

“I became champion of champions in 1985 in Melbourne... Make no mistake, 30 years later the time has come for you to be crowned champion of champions in the same city... in Melbourne.”

“From Mumbai to Melbourne.”


Shastri's international career lasted 11 years, by 30 he was done. Sharma is nearly 28, has already been on the scene for nearly eight years. As Shastri would say, it's now or never. In reply, a full blown pout from Rohit Sharma would be most becoming.

First published in daily O


Can Yuvraj Singh resurrect Delhi Daredevils?

by Naked Cricket

The Delhi Daredevils should be made into a case study. Make that a nutcase study.
In IPL1, they had by far the best team going. Sehwag and Gambhir in their prime. Young, unblemished Dhawan, Tiwary and Karthik. Local boys Manhas and Bhatia, foreign hands McGrath and Vettori. That was 2008, and in their first game they smashed the Rajasthan Royals who went on to become the champions that year.
Since then they have gone on to dismantle their team every IPL. First they broke the Sehwag-Gambhir partnership on top - both Delhi boys, inseparable buddies, India openers. It may not be a stretch to say that David Warner's rise as a Test cricketer started with DD under Sehwag's wing.
Next, they didn't retain Gambhir - who went on to captain a dysfunctional franchise like the KKR to two championship titles. Instead, they stuck with Sehwag as skipper - a job he took to as a fish takes to riding a bicycle.
Baffling bids at the IPL auctions led to a dismal year - James Hopes and Venugopal Rao were their best batsmen.
A few years and dismantled teams later, they ended up with Mahela Jayawardene as skipper. Odd as Mahela wasn't a sure shot in the team and even sat out in a knockout game. This was further compounded by recruiting England-discard and lone-wolf, Kevin Pietersen (KP) - who was both rusty and recovering from injury. Once mended, he played to block one of the four overseas' player spots. The Delhi Daredevils rose to the bottom of the table again.
Miraculously, they did this with coach Kirsten at the helm.
But all this pales in comparison to their unhealthy Ross Taylor fixation. After a torrid season, DD dumped him only to buy him back again. The results weren't any different but Taylor continued to play match after match - was it a desperate attempt to get some return on investment?
When it comes to wacky picks at the IPL Auction, DD is second to none. Collingwood, Agarkar, Botha, Irfan Pathan, Ross Taylor again, ROFL Merwe, KP, Murali Vijay, Rahul Sharma and Wayne Parnell, Saurabh Tiwary, Owais Shah, Shoaib Malik, Gulam Bodi, Venugopal Rao, Jesse Ryder (withdrawn), Sunny Gupta (to open the bowling versus the CSK in a knockout game), Sridharan Sriram, Zaheer Khan (in 2015).
There is a method to DD's madness - their ideal pick has to be burnt-out/injured/out-of-form/dropped/discarded/over-the-hill/unknown/not a T20 specialist/not considered by CSK/not a national hero.
When you consider this, picking Yuvraj Singh could be their best move in years. After Sehwag, they haven't had a compelling Indian star, that's like saying, they haven't had a face.
Will Yuvraj score match winning runs? Debatable, but going by past seasons, doubtful too. Will he lead the side? Unlikely, he hasn't shown any such qualities before. Will the crowds line up to watch him? Yes goddammit, he's Yuvi.
Yuvi's work will start way before the season - he will be on every brand tie-up that the DD bags - largely because of him. On either side of him will be, wait, let's see, umm, maybe more Yuvis. Somewhere on the side will be Zaks, Mathews, Duminy, Tiwary, maybe even de Kock.
Yes, that's how badly the Delhi Daredevils need Yuvraj Singh. For Delhi and India's IPL going janta, it's not about cricketers - it's about the stars. Saurabh Tiwary, Jayant Yadav or Kedhar Jadhav are not stars yet. Neither is Manoj Tiwary. Nor Mayank Agarwal. No, not Amit Mishra either. And chances are they don't know who Shreyas Iyer is yet.
They won't make the trip to the Kotla to watch Nathan Coulter Nile or Angelo Mathews. They will roar just to see Yuvi hurl himself at the ball at point. They will wait for that six - one of those six sixes, each one is etched deep in their heads - will it be flicked off his pads into the short square leg boundary? Or cut with his broad sword over deep point? Or dismissed over long on just like that?
Yeah, they will come for that. Yuvi gives them that. It's called hope. Rockstars do that to people. Even better when they can play a little.

Come home, Yuvi. I'll make the trip too. And if you lead the DD across the line, it'll be just like that special day when Viru did. That's good enough for me, and I suspect for all those screeching kids with their mummies and daddies watching their first IPL game.

First published in daily O


Fixing India's No.1, 2, 3 and 7.

by Naked Cricket

Leading up to the Pakistan match, Virat Kohli had scores of 9, 4, 3*, 8, 18, 5. Leading up to the Australia Test series, he had scores of 1, 8, 25, 0, 39, 28, 0, 7, 6, 20.

What next? Hundred in his first Test in Australia. Hundred in first World Cup match against Pakistan. It's as if he has the knack to edit one series from the other.

Almost as if in solidarity with his mates, Kohli too can be out of form; though with him, it could well be switching off from the game. At the Adelaide hotel, with far too many people around, he talks of switching off.

In the last four years, no Indian cricketer has been switched-on more. Kohli 's innings against Pakistan was more graft - he was far less flash than Dhawan or Raina, there was an acknowledgment of his lack of runs, to bat deep into the innings - that India wins far more often when someone scores a century.

Kohli has 22 ODI centuries. Rest of the squad has 27. Kohli has played 151 ODIs. Rest of the team have played, right, you get the drift.

Kohli 's attitude is both Dilli and Mumbai - there's way more khadoos in him than the Mumbai boys, Rohit and Rahane combined. Enough Dilli too, with both Gambhir's pangas and Sehwag's masti in spades.

Virat Kohli - From language to numbers

After Kohli, nobody scores as quickly as Shikhar Dhawan in the team. Somewhat easy to forget as Dhawan's wretched run has extended through formats, continents and the dressing room.  Turning 30 this year, he's played only 13 Tests and 54 ODIs.

He may not play many more Tests, but continues to be the go-to guy in one-dayers. In spite of a low scores in the tri-series (2, 1, 8, 38) which were preceded by an indifferent Test series (25, 9, 24, 81, 28, 0); Dhawan was not tampered with - he opened in the World Cup warm-up games, scored a fifty versus Australia, and yet another against Pakistan.

He showed a readiness to scamper singles, rush twos; something which hasn't always been a part of his game.  

What has been a part though is a knack to score in clusters - this could well be the start of one such cluster. Previous to his bad phase, Dhawan had a rather good one - in eight matches, he scored one century and four 50s. In 2013, India won the ICC Champions Trophy in England. Dhawan scored 114, 102*, 48, 68, 31, all pretty much at faster than run a ball. Before that he had played only 5 ODIs, that too in 2010-11.

Could this be his third coming?


Rohit or Rahane? Against Pakistan, it was Rohit. Was it another brainfade or at 34/0 in the eighth over, time to get a move on?

India won the match and if Rohit stays injury-free, he will open against South Africa. After six 100s (same as Dhawan but in more than twice as many matches) it isn't that obvious though.

Against Pakistan, Ajinkya Rahane, India's second choice opener, came in to bat at seven in the 50th over, after Jadeja but before Shami.

After a stunning Test series in England and an injury to Rohit, Rahane opened in the ODIs there - 41, 45, 106, 0. In the tri-series in Australia and an injury to Rohit, Rahane opened in the ODIs again - 33, 28*, 73.

Rohit did open in India's first match in the tri-series, scored 138. And then 150 on return from injury against Afghanistan in the warm-up.

Rahane's second hundred was also in 2014, as opener, and I suspect, Rohit was still nursing an injury.

Rahane opens for Rajasthan Royals, Rohit doesn't for Mumbai Indians. Going by the Pakistan match, Dhoni will prefer to play Rahane as he did Badrinath in CSK - early wicket, send him in. Need to accelerate, keep him on the bench.

But with no big hitters down the order, often this could mean underutilising both Rahane-the-opener and Rohit-the-finisher.

First Published in  daily O


Snorting an India-Pakistan encounter.

by Naked Cricket

June 3, 2009: That's when the two were about to hook up for a World T20 warm-up match. It felt like two estranged lovers were giving it one more shot. Twitter and Cover it Live were still news to us, and I was working at getting some Pakistanis involved. My Pak pal, Umair Qazi, gave the stadium a miss so he could play online with us. We even changed the masthead of our site to Bored Cricket Crazy Indians and Pakistanis. There was enough bonhomie to give both peace and John Lennon a chance.
On March 1, 2003, my buddy, Tubs, was getting married. It seemed cruel to miss the match, but I made it to his place just in time for the upper cuts. Those first ten overs had me so pumped, think I needed a horse-tranquilizer to calm me down. Just as well we had to get the groom on his ghodi. I was glad to make a life-long cricket friendship that day with Mohan Kaka, the man with the transistor. And as we closed in on the pheras, I kept asking him about Tendu and Kaif – Sachin still there? Kaif batting? That changed to Dravid batting? Yuvi batting? It was manic, and he always responded with a stoic reassuring nod. Then the fireworks – and applause – most mistook this for the completion of the seven pheras, instead India had beaten Pakistan again. Mohan Kaka nodded his approval. I hugged him for the first time that day.
In the days leading up to March 30, 2011, quite a few Indians were tweeting ticket-assistance for Sana Kazmi, to beam her up from Karachi to Mohali. It seemed improbable as Sana didn’t even have an Indian visa - somehow she made it, Pakistan did not.

With yet another Misbah skier, yet another Indo-Pak encounter was over, though the conspiracy theories didn’t quite stop. The commonest, no way Pakistan was going to play the finals in Mumbai.

Consequences of Pakistan's World Cup defeat
Mother crossed over from Lahore as a little girl after partition. She talks of her nani; whose jewelery was wrapped up in a little bundle. From her nani’s little bundle, she, and generations after have imbibed these warped emotions towards what once was home.  It’s puzzling, no it’s schizophrenic.  But inject an India-Pakistan game, and we discard every shade of grey.

Mother usually calls me, or hollers from downstairs after an India game.  When it’s an India-Pakistan game, the phone rings louder, her hollers, almost loudspeakerish. The hugs tighter. At times there’s inappropriate Punjabi slang thrown in.
Last week or so, India-Pakistan World Cup repeats have been on cocaine. How many times can you see that Ameer Sohail-Venki Prasad chai pe charcha – well, on Monday last, both me and the gym instructor froze for a full four minutes in front of a mute TV. He went on to regale me about the exchange and abuse Sohail for good measure. I was meeting this guy for the first time. My favourite though is Saleem Malik edging to More in the 1992 World Cup. In my mind I always thought he was halfway down the wicket – but at Prabhakar’s pace, Malik would have to leave the crease way before the ball was bowled. And that’s the beauty of these 5 World Cup wins – everything moves at a pace where we once froze it – like when the ball kisses Malik’s outside edge.

September 12, 2012: I walk up to four boys in a Barcelona square playing cricket, ask if I can join them. Appears they’re Pakistani. I hype it up, ask them if they’re ready for an India-Pakistan match. They don’t respond but one of them smashes me over my head for six. Still, such a rush, playing with a bunch of Pakistanis out of nowhere.

First published in daily O


Dhoni's Advise.

by Naked Cricket

click on cartoon


How many Tests could Michael Bevan have played for India

by Naked Cricket

Much before MS Dhoni, there was Michael Bevan, possibly the shrewdest finisher in the one-day game. In spite of a one-day average in excess of 50, he played only 18 Tests. Raina too has played only 18 Tests. Both Bevan and Raina had their demons, mostly with the short ball.  

Ravi Shastri says a lot, often in or to the media. Take away the booming voice and you still have some booming comments in print. 

   “I am pleased to see Cheteshwar Pujara in the ODI squad. Regardless of whatever people say about his fielding etc., I think he has a role to play as a batsman. He will only strengthen the top-order. He could do the job for the team where one has to bat for long periods. By no stretch of imagination is he someone who can just grind the attack. He can be a totally different player in the one-day game. I believe that he is going to be one of our mainstays in the forthcoming World Cup.” – Ravi Shastri, February 25, 2014.

Later, in June, Pujara played 3 one-dayers against Bangladesh with scores of 0, 11 and 27. In all, he’s played 5 with a shy average of 10.2. Before Shastri’s comment, Pujara had played 2 games against Zimbabwe with scores of 0 and 13.

He did not make India’s World Cup list of 30 probables. He has played twice under Kohli and thrice under Raina but never under Dhoni’s captaincy in an ODI.

So what made Shastri think Pujara was a certainty for the World Cup? Pujara’s List A Average is 54 with 10 centuries, a highest of 158*. I doubt though he was going entirely if at all by those numbers. 

Before 2014, Pujara’s Test strike rate in the 50s was higher than Kohli, Vijay and Rohit, this in spite of the perception of a slow scorer, because unlike the others, he wasn’t an IPL or ODI regular. More often than not his first scoring shot was a flick off middle to the square leg boundary.

Shastri’s comment was soon after a poor New Zealand series, where Pujara failed to score a half century in four innings.

But it was barely 2 months after a 2nd innings’ 153 against Steyn, Morkel and Philander at the Wanderers.

This was Pujara’s 6th ton, Kohli had 5 at that point. His Test average was in the 50s, Kohli’s wasn’t even 40.

Pujara was arguably India’s best Test batsman then – and there was a temptation to master all formats, he opened for KXIP though barely striking at a run a ball. The desire to turn up for India in one-dayers, particularly the World Cup was deep.


More recently Shastri, in the capacity of Team Director said it was his endeavour to see Suresh Raina in the Test team.

“The more I see him play, he is brilliant to watch. It will be my endeavour really to do something that will get him back into the Indian Test match team. He is a class act. When is going he is a treat to watch. Even at times when I see him bat at the nets, when the ball hits the bat, just that sound or sense of timing you know it is something different. Let’s hope, fingers crossed. – Ravi Shastri, October 6, 2014”

In over 9 years, Raina has played over 200 one dayers, but in close to five years, he’s wangled less than 20 Tests.

Not too long ago, Raina was dropped from the ODI team but returned as skipper in the absence of Dhoni and Kohli. Since then, a century in England, only his 4th, but 3 swinging 50s against a clueless West Indies. After seeking Ganguly’s advice, he also appeared to have made peace with his old foe, the short delivery.

And not just Shastri, Ganguly too was talking up Raina.

Raina found himself on the flight to Australia. It’s now part of urban legend that Raina’s last three scores are no scores – a pair in the Sydney Test, preceded by a duck in 2012.

Worse, in his last seven innings, Raina has failed to score in five.


Regardless of what Shastri may have said about Rohit Sharma or Shikhar Dhawan, it’s obvious they’re at odds with one format. As too is Murali Vijay, who on the back of his recent Test form found himself in the List of 30 probables for the World Cup.

Omission from the World Cup squad must have hurt Vijay – leaving the ball, match after match, series after overseas’ series, Vijay fell for a three ball duck – the fewest deliveries he had faced in the last four Test series. It was an uncharacteristically loose shot from Vijay, going for a big, booming cover drive, that too so early in his innings. 

It’s premature to say whether Raina, Dhawan or Rohit’s Test failings will affect their one day game, but they will carry some baggage. How much they drop at check in, how much they keep as carry-on, will determine how far India goes in the World Cup.


Never too late for Indian cricket to learn, not every player can crack every format.

Not every player is Ravi Shastri, or as he says -

“He’s aggressive and he’s very young, so the exuberance is still seen in him, which is very good for the team. And I see a bit of myself in him” – Ravi Shastri on Virat Kohli, November, 2014


Should Dhoni retire from T20 Internationals

by Naked Cricket

Every time Dhoni walks out to bat, be it a Test match, a one-dayer, a T20 International or an IPL game, commentary will sweet talk you through the virtues of Dhoni-the-ultimate-finisher, Dhoni-the-big-six-hitter, Dhoni-the...

Well of course, this is true in one-dayers and even more so in the IPL, especially with LS in tow. And just as Dhoni never quite made the switch through formats, neither did some of the mesmerised mouthpieces.

“When he hits it, it stays hit”

Dhoni’s T20 Average (includes IPL and Champions League games for CSK) is nearly 38, his strike rate about 137.

“MS is not the next Gilchrist. He’s the first MS Dhoni” – Gilchrist

Dhoni’s T20 International Average is nearly 34 (includes 20 not outs from 45 innings) but his strike rate is 116.

“If 15 runs are needed off the last 6 balls, pressure is on the bowler and not on MS Dhoni” – Ian Bishop

Perhaps Bishop is referring to the last over in the CSK vs KXIP 2010 IPL Semis. Dhoni scored 4, 2, 6, 6 and sealed the game. The bowler was Irfan Pathan. Dhoni made 54(29) at a strike rate of 186. Irfan Pathan doesn’t bowl to Dhoni in T20 internationals.


Dhoni has played 194 T20 games but only 50 T20 Internationals from 2007-2014. He is yet to score a half century, his highest is 48*(43).  India lost this game by 31 runs to Australia.

In 24 matches that India has won, his batting average climbs to nearly 42, strike rate to 136. In 21 that India’s lost, his strike rate drops to 98.

How many remember that Dhoni was clean bowled by Umar Gul in the 2007 World T20 Finals for 6 off 9 balls in the 15th over?

And how many will ever forget Dhoni lifting the T20 Cup beating Pakistan?

Averages and strike rates have never defined Dhoni.  Dhoni is much greater than the sum of his numerical parts. Much like Afridi is for Pakistan, MSD is top draw in a limited overs game. While India might find it comparatively easy to come to terms with his Test retirement, losing him in the other formats will be way too much for India’s cricket industry to stomach.


Virat Kohli has played 28 T20 Internationals – he averages 46, strikes at 132, and has 9 50s. Unlike Dhoni his T20I numbers are much better than his IPL numbers. I often joke, “Kohli ne RCB ka nahin, India ka theka liya hai”. (Kohli gives a damn for India, not for RCB)

After the World Cup, I see only one man captain India across all three formats - will Dhoni play under Kohli?

Or as the numbers’ suggest, Dhoni earns his place in the T20I team, first as skipper, talisman, superstar, last-over-believer, and then as a batsman.

Take away the captaincy and you take away the aura – almost like taking off his gloves, leaving him naked at deep point.  What else? A few overs of seam up from him?

“I am learning the ropes of captaincy from MS Dhoni.” – DJ Bravo, CSK

Dhoni made a duck in his first one-dayer. That was followed by 12 and 7* all against Bangladesh in 2004; how many remember that?

And how many remember that 148 against Pakistan that followed? Dhoni in, early at three, after three failures at seven. Ganguly was captain then. And his hair was long, wild Conan-like.


Is it time for Dhoni to embrace cricket purely as a sportsman again? He’ll find life is much simpler without positions like captain and Vice President. Who knows there could be a sequel to the Helicopter – The Mars Orbiter.


Dhoni’s Army.

by Naked Cricket

Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s was more than a team, it was an empire. Retirement from Tests is his way of relinquishing far away outposts whose tending was becoming more of an irritant.

In his golden era, he had under his command, the Generals, each an ambassador to these outposts. With their fading, the rules of engagement changed.

How many Waterloos can an Emperor survive?

Far too many if the homeland is secure and the coffers are overflowing. The return of the colonisers, however, changed that in 2013. The homeland was breached. Two more Generals were on the wane.

The desire to make Generals out of trusted lieutenants was deep; Emperor himself was a foot-soldier, one who had risen through the ranks, from quick combats to command his men in the Five Day Wars.

One such lieutenant, Suresh Kumar Raina, lasted 17 Wars (2010-2012). A master in swift-combat and home battles, he failed to score four times in his last four wars. Only to return in 2015, and fail to score yet again.

Recruited for the Australian sidelines, his moment in the sun was a selfie with the partly-retiring Emperor.

Another lieutenant, Ravindrasinh Anirudhsinh Jadeja, lasted 12 Wars (2012-2014). A chieftain at home, and the go-to man for a skirmish, foreign lands exposed his travel weary spirit.

A burgeoning Rajputana moustache and beard couldn't hide the boy within, he claimed to have been bullied in the Isles – but there were no videos from the aisles. Both he and his Emperor were demeaned.

As too in the case of Rudra Pratap Singh, a holidaying lieutenant in far away sands, who was rushed to prove his allegiance – 14 Wars in more than 5 years with well over 3 years between the last 2. Yet he was there.  

Then there was the Talented Lieutenant in waiting, Rohit Gurunath Sharma, after many stop-and-start battles (126, 2007-2014), he fought his first war at home. But once away, he missed home way too much to put up a fight. Stop-and-start wars followed, 9 in over a year, often picked to be discarded. To be picked yet again.

More than a lieutenant but treated no less than a foot-soldier was he, Ravichandran Ashwin – from the Emperor's right hand man at home, he was left out in the cold. 23 Wars (2011-2014) the fastest to 100 skulls for his Lord; he only served in 8 wars overseas.

Was he more than a lieutenant, had he an independent mind? Was he more a general? Or with his skills, even an ambassador, dare I say, a King?

But none of these even came close to the man from the North, Yuvraj Singh. Well before the Emperor's time but a mere 40 wars (2003-2012), won the biggest battles but still not proven in war. There was a lesson in his failures, one that wasn't applied in recruiting fresh lieutenants.

Beyond them there was an insider who was an exception; Murali Vijay lost most of his scattered battles (only 14, 2010-2014) but went on to win some wars, especially the later ones which were far less scattered (30, 2008-2014).  Even though he was no longer a lieutenant, he owed much to the Emperor's persistence with him.

There were others, not yet lieutenants but trusted stable boys, Mohit Mahipal Sharma, Ishwar Chand Pandey – who walked with the Emperor in those midsummer night skirmishes at home. Will they ever fight a war now?

And so the Emperor becomes a mere wallflower for the time being. But not before he suggests that one of his erstwhile foreign generals, Michael Edward Killeen Hussey shepherd the army.

His erstwhile army is now under the command of a new general, Virat Kohli.

The army will fight under two commands.

Under the Emperor will be most of his trusted old lieutenants. As with their leader, they too will return to a combat they yearn for.  

King Kohli will command two quiet men, both without rank – one who shone in last year’s wars, Ajinkya Madhukar Rahane, the other, Cheteshwar Arvind Pujara, the years’ before. Neither are the Emperor’s men. Both prove themselves in a long apprenticeship before they could fight alongside him.

As for the Emperor, a few weeks away before he returns on 18th January to lead his lieutenants again.

He’s won enough battles and lost enough wars to sit back and ask himself at leisure – would he pick Subedar Kannaur Lokesh Rahul and Major Manoj Kumar Tiwary to fight his battles? No? Then why ask all those lieutenants to fight his wars?


Skirmishes = IPL/T20
Battles = ODIs, T20I
Wars = Tests
Lieutenants = CSK / Limited Overs’ Players
Generals = SRT, RD, VVS, VS, GG, ZK
Emperor = MSD