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The Oval Test lowdown

by Gaurav Sethi



The counter at The Oval, all in the mind. Watch here

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Batting order or anarchy?

by Gaurav Sethi

We don’t have to get over the Virat Kohli question. Just as we couldn’t get over the Virat Kohli answer. Be it to bowlers, oppositions, interviewers, the world at large. 

Both the Kohli question, as too the Kohli answer are deeply imbedded in Indian cricket, and will continue to, for years. 

We can continue to ask them, but in the middle of a series they will not be answered: Kohli will continue as captain and player. 

 There are other solutions, but India’s win at Lord’s, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane’s contributions in that Test may have deferred them. 

Both Pujara and Rahane are one format players for India. That comes with an added thrust of insecurity; one that hovers over the head – one that has over the years, compelled them to defy the white ball’s shrug. 

This has been more marked in Rahane’s game even though Pujara continued to back himself as a white ball cricketer in the press. 

For years, Pujara remained unsold in the IPL auctions. Then when CSK did come around, it met with an applause. As if CSK had indulged in some form of red ball charity. Pujara however, remained on the CSK bench. 

 In the 2020 season, Rahane played 9 matches for the Delhi Capitals, went largely unnoticed. The following season, just 2 matches. Rahane is an afterthought in his IPL team. 

Rahane’s Test innings often appear to be an unacceptance of the white ball verdict: even before settling down, he looks to score. That loosely thrown around term, ‘busy cricketer’ seems to be him. His methods are high risk. Yet they come off at least once a series. 

With so much uncertainty in his batting, it’s remarkable that he can make significant contributions, albeit the one-off knock per series. Then there is that other well documented facet, Rahane the captain; the back from the dead turnaround series Down Under. Rahane’s century at Melbourne. There will always be Brisbane. That series victory is in Ajinkya Rahane’s credits. But with a Test average threatening to keel over into the 30s, Rahane is skidding fast on an already slippery slope. 

Ajinkya Rahane highest score in the series so far is 61 with two single digit scores. It’s one thing to defy the media with words, quite another to prep for each innings as your comeback knock. 

 *** 

Once upon a time, that was Rohit Sharma. Then something happened. Rohit decided he had more time on his hands than Pujara. He had nowhere to go, and he was going nowhere. He slid back in time to a space when he started batting for the first time in the nets – leave, block, leave, defend, leave. Isn’t that how it starts? 

Rohit has always had a stillness to his batting. It’s just that the brain fade before breaks was never far. That continued to mess with his Test career. Yet the love for rekindling Rohit’s Test career was a lifelong obsession with Indian cricket. 

Against South Africa at home, Rohit ran into three tons. In Australia, he had starts. Against England at home, Rohit was by far India’s best batsman. 

 In England this has meant starts in each outing, as also falling to the pull three times in five completed innings. Rohit Sharma’s highest score so far in the series is 83, with no single digit score. 

 *** 

First, Rishabh Pant the batsman bailed out Rishabh Pant the wicketkeeper. Then Pant the batsman bailed out India. 

Before that Pant in his short career was scrutinised like few before him. In Australia, he converted all those questions into answers with some of the most emphatic innings by an Indian batsman overseas. 

Yet by the Leeds Test, Pant too had dispensed with his defence. Pant’s batting was precarious enough to be in the Rahane or Kohli ballpark. 

Pant’s highest score in the series so far is 37, with two single digit scores. 

 *** 

 Before Pujara’s second innings at Leeds, he laid the foundations for the Lord’s win with Rahane. His 45 (206) was his highest score in the series. Before his 91 at Leeds, he had three single digit sores. 

As is often documented, Pujara seems to be the recipient of that cracker delivery. Yet after an indifferent home series against England, Pujara’s troubles outside the off-stump were starting to seem Kohliesque. 

Then England bowled poorly to Pujara, allowing him to score rapidly, almost an oxymoron. Pujara’s 91 was as much a contradiction of his poor form, as of England’s bowling effort. A cut through point seemed like a throwaway to a different era. 

On the last morning, Pujara’s inability to put away a half volley seemed more like it. The strokeless dismissal that followed seemed almost befitting. 

 *** 

Amongst India’s top six, KL Rahul has the lowest Test batting average, the only one in the 30s. He’s also the sole Indian batsman with a century in the series. Picked after Mayank Agarwal’s concussion, Rahul’s last three single digit scores have added to the team’s headache. 

Yet Rahul has shown similar application as his opening partner. His 5(44) and 8(89) have amply demonstrated this. What is worrying is, will this be a repeat of Rahul’s earlier trends: 100 or bust? 

KL Rahul’s highest score in the series so far is 129. Man of the match at Lord’s for his troubles. The 86 at Nottingham revealed a defence tight enough to belong to his namesake. 

*** 

Virat Kohli alone has a 50 plus batting average. The cushion of captaincy, bygone runs separate Kohli from the rest. 

Virat Kohli’s highest score in the series so far is 55, with two single digit scores. He has been dismissed five times. Edged and taken. Each time. 

 *** 

What the statistics fail to reveal are the bio-bubbles cricketers have inhabited over the last year. That centuries may not be as accessible as before. That there will be periods when more than half the batting won’t click. That in England, the 250-350 range plus/minus 50 could be more the norm. That even on a flatbed such as Leeds, under bright sunshine, the batting could go missing. That this is James Anderson’s backyard. And he owns the few feet outside your off stump. 

If years of facing James Anderson in English conditions have taught India’s top order little, what hope is there for new recruits? But then again, didn’t the summer of 1996 unfurl the careers of Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. Back then too, Dravid and Ganguly had two Tests in England– two centuries, a ninety and an eighty later, Indian cricket was redrawn for good. 

Unlikely India will change the batting personnel at the Oval. Come Manchester though, it might get personal. And with this Indian bunch, you never know what that means – it could be with the opposition on the field, or leaks in the media. And we all know how that pans out. The batting needs to breathe, just as it needs to be guarded.

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What after the Leeds Test #IndvEng

by Gaurav Sethi



 

Talking Joe Root walking on water, highs, lows, Pujara, Rahane @editor_ji . Used soft hands. Comments fell short of the slips. You can watch here

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Joe Root Ka Gulam!

by Gaurav Sethi

 



"India toh #JoeRoot ka Gulam hai" - Before the third day's play, calls on the Test, and how it will pan out. You can watch the show here on Editorji

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Thanks for not unfollowing us over the last 13 years.

by Gaurav Sethi

 






#HappyBoredDay 13. (August 13, 2008  -  :))



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Lowdown on the #WTC Final

by Gaurav Sethi


 

Great to be back with the usual suspects - watch us go on about the match here at Editorji

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The lure of that one ball in cricket.

by Gaurav Sethi


Watching The Disciple, I was taken in by the protagonist, Sharad Nerulkar’s sudden impulse to gatecrash a game in a Mumbai maidan. Till then, he was a largely immovable object. The only form of exercise had been splashing a glass of nimbu pani on an objectionable man’s face across the table. 

Sharad did get that one ball to play. 

What happens when I walk within playing distance of a game? I crave to play. Yet I do not want to intrude. The need to play far outweighs not wanting to intrude. But there is a balance, often that goes with who’s playing. If it’s kids down the road, I measure their intensity and openness to hand me the bat or ball. Often it’s a casual measure, and I enter into a quick Hi, followed by a “Can I bat one ball?”. Usually the bat is handed to me. 

What happens when you give into the game? When you play again? From watchers, that so many of us have lapsed into, we damn right come alive again. It’s fleeting as life these days, but it’s that gasp of overpowering life one feels when you hit the surface again – you breathe again. What it does to your SPO2 levels is another thing. 

You connect to a happy space of childhood. When bat and ball held sway, when every evening brought playtime. 

I haven’t gone looking for that one ball in cricket, it’s often happened to me. Four houses down, the kids obstructing the road were a common come hither. The urchins at the bend with a plastic bat, how could the bully in me spare them. 

The left turn, onwards to the temple park where I played so much tennis ball cricket with my mates. But that somehow seemed more adrift, unwelcoming, and I don’t recall gatecrashing too many games there. 

If I took a right at the crossroads instead, our childhood park had become a rich old man’s botanical garden. The erstwhile pitch is a walking track. 

If I walk straight on, towards Vasu’s, my cricket accomplice through his growing years, there is a game down the steps too. 

But it was usually when cricket appeared out of nowhere on holiday that I could not resist. 

Walking down Juhu beach, a game waved at me. I asked for a bowl. Got it. Often my fellow traveler, Vandu would be asked to capture the moment. This moment, with the slaty Arabian sea alongside, mid-on hunched forward, it’s been frozen as my twitter cover photo forever. 

That was my one ball in Bombay. 




Before that on the same trip, walking through Koregoan park’s sleepy tree covered roads, a game woke the devil out of me. It was a proper game, one that you’d be advised to not gatecrash. With the brashness of someone on vacation, I took my chance in between overs. Perhaps they couldn’t refuse an older, eccentric man. 

That was my one ball in Pune. 

Walking through a large yawn of a square, I stumbled on to these Pakistani teenagers in Barcelona. I just had to. How could I not. I talked up our India-Pak match. I bowled a few, was blasted on the second. Batted too. (Me in flight before being clobbered has been my whatsapp DP for ages now) 

That was more than my one ball in Barcelona. 




After a birthday bash, at Rajat’s office in Okhla Industrial Area, the road outside presented a game under streetlights. The prospect of cricket after many beers, why not. The intensity of both request and duel are upped. So I bowled, batted, till my friends lost patience with my indulgence. 

That was my one ball in Okhla. 

Walking out of Koti Resort, little pink cheeked Himachali kids hurling themselves between the rhododendrons. Even their small bat couldn’t deter me. 

That was my one ball in Koti. 

On the Delhi metro, a solemn kid with his oversized sunmica bat. There was no ball but I did have my camera phone. So I lured him into a straight drive. 

That was my one ball on the Metro. 

The last thing I expected to see on the Banaras ghats were people alive with cricket. But I did. I stayed on the periphery of the game, viewing it from the Ganga alongside; closed in from leg slip and started clicking it like a trigger happy Playboy photographer. Captured the heave, the miss and the clean bowled. And that was innings closed. Surely it was my time. It was. Bat was handed to me. I heaved. Edged. It ricocheted into the cracks of some huge step of stone. I pretended to look, but before long, I waved my goodbyes and was off. 

That was my one ball in Banaras. 




And much like Sharad’s gatecrash at the Mumbai maidan, I was never the same after that one ball. It didn’t matter what I did with that one ball. My plea had been answered. These stray cricket gods had given me my one ball. 

The ball was my ladoo. I gleefully accepted. It was holding that ladoo in my hand is when it clicked. Whether the ladoo delivered did not matter. 

What mattered is, I asked. And they answered. There was no lapse between ask and answer. It was prompt. 

When the playgrounds open again, when the kids down the road resurface, when Vasu returns from his internship, when I walk down that road again, it will be with the knowledge not to take that one ball for granted.

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When did the boy in the bubble become a man?

by Gaurav Sethi

How Rishabh Pant outgrew his former self to become cricketing gentry. 



Rishabh Pant’s eyes are wide open, attentive; he’s taking in every word that Harsha Bhogle is putting to him. Pant is still. He answers to the point. Bhogle is speaking to Pant about his happy demeanour. Pant shows little emotion, continues to answer, much like a 20 something at an IIM interview. There’s an effervescence to Bhogle, largely professional but genuinely happy to be speaking to Rishabh Pant. 

How can you not love Rishabh Pant? 

 *** 

 In the recent England Test series, Axar Patel brought out a barrage of burbling chirps from Pant. He called Axar many things, mostly endearing, often funny. Meanwhile, Axar made a joke out of England’s batsmen. Pant-Patel were an outrageous pairing. 

In Delhi Capitals’ fifth match, Axar Patel returned after recovering from Covid. Pant did none of that “Well bowled, Axar Patel!” or “Bapu!” calling. In a little over a month, Pant had changed significantly. His eyes appear wider, far more open; his mouth somewhat closer, almost pursed. 

In a few years, the change that Rishabh Pant has undergone, both as a cricketer and a person, are probably far more than what most go through in a lifetime. 

A few IPL seasons back, Pant was the chosen one – he was in promos with MS Dhoni, Virat Kohli. In Pant, the broadcasters found a compelling new story, and a potent counterpoint to Dhoni and Kohli. 

In the 2020 season, Pant was arguably unfit, overweight. It appeared he did not have access to exercising equipment. Yet along with Shikhar Dhawan and his skipper, Shreyas Iyer he handheld DC’s batting into the final. His strike rate was at an all-time low – 114, that, compared to an overall IPL strike rate of 150+. An average of 31, three not outs, and his season’s first 50 in the final. The season was as much about realisation as it was about restraint. 

The Australia and England Test series that followed made Rishabh Pant the leader of the pack. In Virat Kohli’s absence, he was India’s most compelling batsman. What followed against England was an encore. Pant was back playing all three formats, first choice wicketkeeper for India, edging past Wriddhiman Saha, Sanju Samson, KL Rahul. 

It’s no coincidence that Pant and Pujara make a solid pairing in the middle. Pant is no stranger to Pujara’s restraint in the middle. 

In the current IPL season, Pant restrained himself from hitting a six in the first two games at Wankhede. After 37/4 against Rajasthan Royals, Pant showed his other options as a batsman – he stayed deep in the crease, breaking Rahul Tewatia’s length repeatedly for fours either side of point. On show was Pant’s sharp blade and mind, an ability to harness his ego which often made him maul spinners over the top. 

Five matches later, Pant has hit just two sixes. Yet he has four wins as a captain. 

*** 

At this stage, Pant’s numbers are uncannily like last season’s; the averages are similar, there’s that one fifty. The strike rate is much higher at 131. With two matches at Chepauk and three at Wankhede; the added demands of a new captaincy, sustained life in a bio bubble from last season’s IPL; it does appear Pant is playing well within himself. With the added knowledge that after him, the batting can be a tad thin. 

 Shreyas Iyer’s absence led to the addition of Steven Smith at three. That Smith is more adept at ODIs than T20s suits DC’s approach – his addition is to stall last season’s collapses. The team’s approach is straight out of the MS Dhoni playbook – to take the game deep rather than reveal one’s hand too early and risk losing it in the power play. 

This approach isn’t too dissimilar to Pant’s Test approach. Most Pant’s Test innings start with the measured drive down mid-off or a cut past point for that single to get him off the mark. Pant the Test batsman has all the time in the world. There’s an acceptance that he can bat on, there are no limited overs. Till he reaches the 90s at least. 

 *** 

There was an almighty serious video of Rohit Sharma interviewing Roshabh Pant about his approach. In between, there’s some pokerfaced leg pulling from Rohit– “you think of all this?”. Pant remains poker faced and gives an earnest answer. He is aware. This goes on the BCCI.TV feed. 

As with most Indian cricketers, there are numerous videos of Pant doing his gym routine. There’s something of him working out to the desi rip-off of Spiderman. Espiderman – the song that Pant made famous from behind the stumps. Yeah, he pretty much sang it all. Will Pant sing something as DC captain?

Beyond being the DC captain, Pant is also the brand ambassador for the franchise owners. 

*** 

Ravichandran Ashwin appeals for LBW. As with most Ashwin appeals, he’s convinced and wants to review. There’s a consultation with his wicketkeeper and captain. Pant’s eyes are stretched wide open. It’s as if he’s listening with them. Eight seconds are left, neither as hasty as Kohli, nor too last minute as Rahane – Pant nods a slight disapproval; there’s a hint of a smile, in the sparkle of his eyes. 

*** 

In the last eight months or so, often much about Pant the cricketer conjured Paul Simon’s song, Boy in the bubble. Little did I notice when he became a man in the bubble. 

And in that bubble Pant knew he needed to show strength. Strength that was born out of not hitting sixes. Embracing boredom. Denying himself. Batting till the end. Batting in the beginning. Opening with Shikhar Dhawan in the Super Over. Reverse scooping Rashid Khan for four. Scrambling that last ball leg bye. Going for a second when the game was already won. 

And midst all that, thankfully, even as DC captain, he continues to chirp his easy-easy-easy many times over. What a soundtrack. Even when it goes mute. It’s within us. From Brisbane to Ahmedabad. 

How can you not love Rishabh Pant? 

 First published here

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Amit Mishra’s welcome-back party

by Gaurav Sethi

When the IPL’s second highest wicket-taker has a low-key bash in the middle. 


Amit Mishra’s shoulders are drooping. Most bowlers aren’t buoyant when they’re being hit out of the park. Or when they’re wicketless. Or when they’re on the bench. Or not in the squad. Or off the radar. 
 
Where did Mishra go? Where did he come from? Who is he? What was he? Does anybody know. Does anybody care to know. For many, he is that ridiculous runout meme. 

For some, he is that elder statesman in the team who accompanies balls to the boundary. That he and Ashwin play for the Delhi Capitals, and often find themselves on the field together is a coincidence. 

Last IPL season both were injured and indisposed quite early. Mishra played only 3 games. Ashwin returned and played 15. While Mishra has been around in the IPL since its inception, Ashwin checked in the following year. 

*** 

On the back of Amit Mishra’s 5-for on Test debut in 2008, something compelled me to rush to Mohali for the last day’s play. Sitting in the stands, as Mishra snared Michael Clarke, the last wicket to fall, I had a strange premonition: Mishra will not have a long Test career. 

Most of Mishra’s seven wickets were either bowled or LBW, there was so much guile, a ripping googly, all that you want to see in a leg spinner, it was there. Yet Mishra seemed by stature and built, almost too modest to hold his own in Indian cricket – the XI was made of maestros, Zaheer Khan was at the peak of his powers; Gambhir-Sehwag opening, Tendulkar, Laxman, Ganguly still in the middle; there was Harbhajan and Kumble. MS Dhoni was skipper, man of the match too. 

Amit Mishra played 22 Tests across 8 years. He never took a 5-for again. 

*** 

In the early days, Amit Mishra was a thing. He knew it too. Interviewed way back in an Ed Hardy t-shirt, he talked up his batting, how he had so much to achieve. In the current IPL edition, Mishra spoke about how he was working on his batting again. In between somewhere, Mishra scored a double century for Haryana. There were some Test 50s too but his batting continued to be an aberration in the IPL. 

*** 

Whether Mishra accepted it or not, he was in the team as a bowler. If it came to his batting, that meant the Delhi Capitals were already sunk. 

Both Mishra and Ashwin were picked for the Capitals’ first game. While Ashwin went the distance, 47 off his 4 overs, Mishra bowled only 3, conceding 29 runs. Mishra did not play DC’s next two games, Ashwin did. 

In DC’s fourth match, both paired up again. Ashwin had bowled two in the power play, Mishra found himself pitted against Mad Max Surya Kumar Yadav. It’s evident, Yadav is a cricketer in a hurry. And in his hurry he intends to make quick work of most bowlers. Mishra was meant to be most bowlers. A perfectly acceptable delivery on middle, pitched up, had Yadav mash potato it, inside-out over covers. Someone needed to put an arm around Mishra. Instead, he bowled the last-resort slider down leg. It was spanked down behind square. It appeared that Mishra was being spanked. 

From behind the stumps, Rishabh Pant was encouraging his Mishi bhai. But Mishi Bhai looked as if he needed a hug. 

That’s the thing about Mishi bhai. He’s old enough to be everyone’s bhai in the team. His appearance, what with the dyed beard and hair implants, he looks like everyone’s favourite uncle. 

So while Rohit Sharma ripped into Mishra for fun, Pant saw trouble, and walked up to him. This was clearly not something that could be addressed from behind the stumps. The bowler needed a word. 

It helped. Mishra flighted another one. Sharma took the bait. The bait was a legbreak. The shot was mistimed, pocketed at long on. 

Amit Mishra is happy. When he is happy, he bounces. Literally. Up and down. Like a happy, little child. There is a twinkle in his eye. He is drawn to everyone, and everyone to him. That huggable, endearing quality of Mishra’s radiates right through. 

All is good in Mishra’s world. The DJ is playing his redemption song again. There is laughter, much teasing, horsing around. It’s almost as if it’s Amit Mishra’s welcome back party. And everyone is invited. It’s an annual event. It’s happened year after year after year after year, why wouldn’t it happen this year again? 

Of course it will. It is that quintessential story of the journeyman IPL cricketer. That guy who didn’t cut it in Tests or ODIs or T20Is beyond a point, but he’s just right for Amul chocolates or something like that. 


That is Amit Mishra. The sweet taste of the slow, flighted ball, t-e-a-s-i-n-g you – and as a batsman you want to get teased – it’s only Amit Mishra, harmless, sweet, little Amit Mishra – what can he do – so you go for it. 

And you fall for it. Like so many before you. And so many after you will. 

Two balls later, Hardik Pandya couldn’t resist Mishra. A couple of overs later, Keiron Pollard was all at sea to a googly. It was mesmerising, as if Mishra was bowling in slomo; slowing the world down to his terms. 

Three in the bag, Pant was audacious enough to hand Mishra the ball in the 18th over. Which is when he had Ishan Kishan yorked for dessert. 

It took Amit Mishra’s 4-0-24-4 to break MI’s five match winning spree against Delhi. Ashwin bowled four wicketless overs for 31. Looks like Mishra will play the next game. 

Why won’t he? They won in Chennai after what seems like a hundred years. Though it’s only been a decade or so. 

First published here 

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Why so serious, Vijay Shankar?

by Gaurav Sethi

click on cartoon to enlarge 

 

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