This was Ravichandran Ashwin’s Test match. It belonged to his mischievous mind as it did to his long spinning fingers. Opening the bowling on the second day, he went round the wicket to his latest adversary, Dean Elgar. With two scores in the 30s in the series so far, Elgar appeared far more adept than most of his mates. He had even taken on Ashwin in the series and earned a rare send-off from the bowler. South Africa was 11/2 in the tenth over. Ashwin bowled the perfect off spinner to the left hander – pitching at that dodgy length, ripping past the bat, thudding into Saha’s gloves. Second delivery: Ditto. Third delivery: more of the same. Fourth delivery: On the money, again.
By now, Elgar and South Africa, if they hadn’t already, crumbled collectively; suspect the stinging precision of those first four deliveries, and the perceived futility of any effort to counter Ashwin did the Proteas in. Elgar fell on the fifth delivery, chopping on to the stumps. In the blink of an eye, South Africa folded from 11/2 to 12/5. Ashwin had removed the ground beneath their feet. They were in freefall. Tom Petty was singing. This was Rock ‘n’ Roll cricket. And an off-spinner was on lead guitar.
Ashwin-2015 version is a bowler with loads of smarts. He’s a man with an awareness of his craft. Ashwin knows. Not just what he can do, but what he should do. When. How. To each batsman. There is the enjoyment that comes more with setting up a batsman than knocking him over. Quite often with sameness as opposed to the variations he would succumb to earlier. Ashwin confessed he had not bowled the carom ball to AB de Villiers in the series. He did in the second innings however. He nailed a hopping de Villiers in the crease. Plumb.
Speaking with Anil Kumble after the match, there was a mutual admiration scarcely seen between two Indian spinners before on TV. A straight shooting Kumble, often miserly with his praise, was impressed and didn’t bother hiding it. How could he, Ashwin had 12 wickets in the match, 24 in the series, and way too many this year – 55 in eight Tests. Oh, and that’s the most by any bowler this year.
Now imagine if Ashwin can sort out this batting. He’s back to batting before Amit Mishra for starters, how long before he adds to those two hundreds? It’s still early days but if the bowling form and fitness continue, an even greater role in the team beckons. Already Ashwin has all the answers, be it during the match or after it. Question is, can he like Zaheer Khan before him, become the bowling captain, lead not just the spinners but the seamers too, and help Virat Kohli set fields? Can he be inspirational to the others as he has been to himself – how far does Ashwin want to take this team? Does he know? Chances are, he has some very good clues.
India’s unsung heroes
The flair starts at four when Virat Kohli walks in, followed by Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma. In dodgy conditions at the VCA in Nagpur, it was the top three that made the ugly runs. In the first session of the first day, it’s sometimes easy to overdo either caution or carefree: the Murali Vijay-Shikhar Dhawan partnership added 50 in 14 overs, and Hashim Amla only brought the spinners on in the eighth over. Vijay’s 40 is part of urban legend, the highest score in the match. Dhawan followed his 12 with a 39 in the second dig; looked so comfortable he even attempted a reverse sweep to be dismissed. Vijay’s match tally: 45, Dhawan’s 51.
At three, Cheteshwar Pujara put a few loose ones from Tahir away and trekked to 21. In the second innings, he treated himself to some long hops from Duminy and made it to 31. His match tally of 52 was the second highest after Duminy’s 54.
Along with the top order, the lower order of Saha, Jadeja and Ashwin served as the perfect bookends for India’s glorious middle order – they scrapped from 125/6 in head-spinning conditions to 215/9. Saha stuck it out for over two and a half hours and 106 deliveries for his 32. He is a veteran of 10 Tests.
Did the Hashim Amla-Faf du Plessis partnership overstay its welcome? At 58/4, when AB de Villiers fell, South Africa were still 251 runs behind with over two days and two sessions to go. They had two options in front of them 1) Go for it, self-destruct and wrap up way before tea 2) Defend without a care in the world as you would in the nets (akin to yet the opposite of how tail-enders throw their bats at everything in a lost cause). While the Amla-Faf hermit hut in the centre lasted 46.2 overs, it scored only 72 runs. Even though South Africa lost by 124 runs, they still outscored India in the second innings by 12 runs. They batted nearly 90 overs to India’s 46.
It was that one over from Ashwin which led to a collective South African brain freeze; and a first innings deficit of 136 runs.
Amla has confessed to having a few so far in the series, and du Plessis has outdone himself with his thoughtlessness. When the batsmen best suited to the conditions had given up long before, a pitch that turns from Day 1 can only take so much blame. More than the pitches so far, a clueless AB de Villiers and an overreliance on Hashim Amla cost them the series. Weak opening stands, way too many injuries haven’t helped either, but an unwillingness to bowl Imran Tahir early on has been baffling. When he did come on, he pocketed Dhawan in the 27th over, Kohli in the 29th, Rahane in the 31st and Saha in the 35th. By then however, India was already well over 200 runs ahead and the match was lost.
Regardless of the Feroz Shah Kotla pitch, quite a few things will change for the better; Tahir will bowl earlier, du Plessis will bat higher up, Amla will score runs. Who knows, South Africa could even win a match. But for that they’ll have to go past Ashwin first.PS: Big difference between ODI and Test series: Ashwin's availability.
Much as Sachin Tendulkar has been a cricketing master, the handling of his non-cricketing affairs has been masterful - excuse the comparison, but it has been a study in contrast in every way to the way Vinod Kambli handled them. In the years following Sachin's retirement from cricket, his aura is very much intact, and being carefully embellished; meet "Sachin The Traveller" on his Facebook page. Few cricketers do a selfie with the family better, or for that matter, selfie with us folk better. But it was "Sachin The Traveller" that made me aware of Musafir.com first; he's their brand ambassador, and a Google search for a Dubai visa led me to their website. Whyever not? Sachin endorses them; so I am happy to go with them too.
The visas arrived and my wife and I were at the airport on October 4. At the Indigo Airways' counter, my papers were processed but my wife's were not. There was a small snag - her passport number on the Dubai visa did not match with the number in the passport. What next? It was up to Musafir.com and I was informed by the airline representatives that a fresh visa, as it arrives from Dubai, could take time - maybe a flight for the following day should be scheduled. It was 3pm then, and our flight left in little over two hours, at 5.05pm. SOS - called up Musafir.com. Hold on. Listen to SRT say "Ghoom Musafir Ghoom" repeatedly, quite annoying on a loop. It was a Sunday. Appears Musafir.com was understaffed. After speaking to someone I was on hold again. From 3pm, it was nearly 3.25pm. I had no answers, and neither did my travel agents.
More calls. More holding on. More jingles. I was informed that they would have updates only by 4pm. I didn't expect much. Then it struck me, why not tweet to Sachin Tendulkar - he'd definitely have his handlers on his account 24X7, they're bound to see my tweet, and if anything, get across to Musafir.com faster than me at any rate. At 3.50pm my first tweet to @sachin_rt
At 3.53pm, my second tweet to @sachin_rtDear Sachin @sachin_rt , did our UAE Visas with http://t.co/41ULglXd1V becoz of you. They got my wife's passport number wrong on the Visa.— Gaurav Sethi (@BoredCricket) October 4, 2015
At 3.56pm, my third tweet to @sachin_rtDear @sachin_rt also they kept me on hold for 10 mts, then a person put me on hold for 10 mts, but no solution. Flight leaves at 5:05 pm— Gaurav Sethi (@BoredCricket) October 4, 2015
It was a few minutes past 4pm. No call received. I decided to brave it, and listen to that "Ghoom Musafir Ghoom" jingle on a loop again. By now they were aware of my case but would only know in 15 minutes. The line got disconnected.@sachin_rt so seeing as you are http://t.co/41ULglXd1V 's brand ambassador, and urged me to Ghoom Musafir Ghoom, wadaya suggest now— Gaurav Sethi (@BoredCricket) October 4, 2015
Meanwhile the flight was about to be closed in a few minutes. The counters were closed except for one staffer who had been both quite sane and supportive.
Then my phone rang. They were going to email me the corrected Dubai visa; it would take 15 minutes - couldn't it be done any faster? The flight's closing, man. Need it now. OK, sending. Sent! The visa arrived on my phone. They reopened the flight. We made the flight, we made it to Dubai.
Don't know how far it's true, but both my wife and I believe the tweets to @sachin_rt pulled it off. It was a slow day at the travel agent's; and everyone we spoke to, be it at the airlines or in Dubai, advised us to book for the next day but before that, make the agents confirm a visa for then. Two days after our flight, this tweet came in:
@BoredCricket we sincerely regret the inconvenience caused. Hope our experts have been able to assist you.— musafir.com (@musafirdotcom) October 6, 2015
By now, everyone on Twitter has seen Sachin's tweets to British Airways. If you're in the minority, here goes:
Angry Disappointed and Frustrated.. #BAdserviceBA Family member's Waitlisted ticket not confirmed despite seats being available (1/2)— sachin tendulkar (@sachin_rt) November 13, 2015
If that wasn't bad enough, BA asked SRT for his full name. British Airways is the top Indian trend, and being collectively flogged by every Indian who knows how to abuse in 140 characters.And luggage being tagged by @British_Airways to wrong destination and don't care attitude! #NeveronBA (2/2)— sachin tendulkar (@sachin_rt) November 13, 2015
Anyway Sachin, hope things work out for you, as they did for me. And next time, please don't hesitate to tweet to me. I think I owe you one, pal.
First published here
First published here
After Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma is possibly the most secure Indian batsman in the shortened format. And even though his spot in the Test team isn't secure, it's evident, both Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli would love to see him book his seat in the longer format. Rohit returns home after his Test debut nearly two years ago, during Tendulkar's farewell series.
Since those twin hundreds in consecutive innings, it's been 12 Tests without any; though he has managed four fifties. However, since his Test debut, Rohit has scored 264, 138, 137, 150 in One Day International matches (ODIs); not to forget, a 209 just a few days before his debut. And therein lies the hangup with Rohit.
What if? Appears both Shastri and Kohli do not want to die wondering, they'd rather pick Rohit in a Test in the hope of something magical than stick it out with one of the more plebeian players. Even if India go in with five bowlers and five batsmen plus the wicketkeeper, this first Test in Mohali may only be a one off sans Sharma.
Batsmen on notice are Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara. If one or both the openers have a horror Test, Pujara could open again. Much like Rohit, Dhawan too has been in and out of the Test XI. Not unlike Rohit, Dhawan too is far more secure of his ODI spot. Dhawan also made his Test debut in 2013, and like Rohit, scored a hundred on debut; incidentally, in Mohali. Even though he made two back-to-back hundreds, against Bangladesh and Sri Lanka earlier this year, his limited overs' form leading into this series has been hit and miss. If one of the reasons for picking Rohit for Tests has been his fast scoring, then those in-charge should take a look at Dhawan's strike rate - it's 12 more than Rohit's at 64. He has four Test centuries to Rohit's two, his average is 44.5 to Rohit's 38. Dhawan has played 15 to Rohit's 14 Tests.
Dhawan is the only left handed batsman in the team, and could be a vital counter to Imran Tahir's leg spin. In spite of all this, I suspect, Shikhar Dhawan goes if he fails to make a big score in the first two Tests.
Next, the spotlight is on Murali Vijay, possibly India's batting mainstay over the last two years, before Ajinkya Rahane rocked on to the scene. However, what goes against Vijay is, much like Pujara, he's a Test specialist - often having to cope with those gaps in public and selection memory that are occupied by one-day heroics of their far more illustrious peers. An injured Vijay missed two Tests against Sri Lanka; also opening in the series, KL Rahul scored 108, and Pujara 145*. Much as Vijay's leaving of the ball was acclaimed overseas, it could come back to bite him - amongst the batsmen, his is the lowest strike rate. In Kohli's India, is leaving the ball seen as a scoring opportunity lost?
Going by Kohli's edges to slips, you never know. A surplus of opening options, and an impatience with certain players could cost Vijay a spot if he fails to score big - occupying the crease for hours and taking the shine off the new ball may not be enough anymore. If anything, a change in Vijay's approach and an attempt to score early could do the batting in quite badly.
And what about Pujara? Forgotten, and back only because the two regular openers were injured, he batted the day and batted through the innings for his 145 not out. In case of injury or loss of form to the openers, he's the first choice replacement. Till then at three for the first Test at least. What followed the century was a duck in the second innings - is very much on notice, and will have to do a lot more at three (or opening) if he has to retain his place in the team. In spite of the highest batting average in the team @49.28 (also his strike rate), is on far shakier ground than the openers. Still, the inability of Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma to claim the number three spot makes him less vulnerable. Could turn out to be a definitive series in his career if he scores heavily (and Kohli doesn't) - almost a reverse of the series Down Under. Don't be too surprised to hear calls for Pujara's captaincy then; stranger things have happened in Indian cricket. It's 2015, N Srinivasan and Sundar Raman are well nigh history.
When he's good at five, they put him at three. Meet Ajinkya Rahane. To make it more fun, he even scored a hundred at three. What next, will they make him open if they run out of options there? Where Rahane will bat, will be decided by who India opens with, and how badly they want Rohit in the mix. If Pujara opens, then Rahane's in at three. And even though Rahane is now considered an India regular, it wasn't too long back that MS Dhoni omitted him from his one-day eleven. Often it appears Rahane scores far more quickly in Tests than he does in ODIs, doesn't want to be the next VVS Laxman in that regard.
And what about the other opener, KL Rahul - scored in the warm up against the South Africans; in his five Tests so far, he's already batted at 1, 2, 3 and 6, scoring two centuries and plenty of twos too.
It's a four Test series, against a far fitter side, expect changes to happen when you least expect them to.
Following the fourth one-dayer on Thursday, MS Dhoni called on N Srinivasan at his residence, on Friday morning for a breakfast befitting of the IPL Champions, CSK. Somewhat ironic, as little of either the CSK or IPL remains. But this was a breakfast built on hope, and the possibilities a new IPL team could bring. In hindsight, there were many breakfasts rolled into one, behind closed doors, here's how many an interest unfolded, that too without hardly any conflict.
9.28am: Mahi's superbike announces him even before Srini's butler can. Inside Srini sits at the head of a somewhat dauntingly long dining table. The room is unlit, with its thick curtains undrawn. Light strains of a song, I have but one heart, from a Coppola film, trickle through. Mahi tip-toes into the room, much as he has often done from 0-40 in his many memorable ODI innings, largely unnoticed, mostly singles and twos.
Srini looks up from his filter coffee, nods at Mahi, who approaches him, and kisses his outstretched hand. "Godfather..." he mumbles under his breath. Srini replies - "Mahi, I'm gonna call you, Michael, sit down, Michael..." Srini gestures nowhere in particular, so Mahi (Michael) sits at the far end of the table. Srini speaks softly, so softly, Mahi can barely hear him. He shifts to the next chair. Still can't hear him. Advances yet another chair and another chair and still another chair until he's ultimately sitting under Srini's nose. Mahi asks Srini - "Sorry Godfather, could you repeat yourself, I didn't hear a thing you said?" Srini nods undramatically, mumbles, "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" To which Mahi snaps, "What, you got me a new bike? A new IPL team?" Unmoved, Srini says, "Fresh masala dosa and filter coffee". Dhoni feigns enthusiasm - "Of course, that beats any bike, and yesterday's win has really whetted my appetite."
The masala dosa and filter coffee arrive but are largely untouched as Srini and Mahi have much to talk. Finally Srini dismisses the dosa, "That will be cold, bring Michael a fresh masala dosa..." The butler is baffled, Mahi helps him out, "He means me." Mahi excuses himself to go to the washroom.
Meanwhile, all along, there's a suspicious form hiding behind the curtain.
MS walks in, in a business suit, the butler announces him as the vice-president, India Cements. He greets Srini with a sir, and places his laptop and file next to him as he draws a chair alongside the boss. The curtains have been drawn. Light strains of a song, "Speak softly, love", from a Coppola film, trickle through. Srini draws MS and his laptop closer, a masala dosa appears, goes largely unnoticed, as the two talk of the drop in share prices. "MS, what do you make of this development?" Srini asks largely befuddled by the latest development. Dhoni nods, runs the chairman through a detailed PowerPoint presentation - "Sir, as you can see, it's quite clear, that the economy has taken a beating, but that is unimportant, as the process is what is important to us, and cement is part of the process... So even though construction has taken a beating we must continue working on the process, sir." Srini nods, "Yes, I have employed you as VP for just such answers, long as we live in denial and refuse to let these rumours of conflict of interest affect us, we have a healthy future ahead of us in the building industry, any other suggestions?" MS ponders and then as if hit by a lightning bolt, confesses, "Yes sir, I have been thinking, that vital to the process is diversification, even as we remain true to our core values of building, how about we extend our interests into Lego? Srini is beatific, "Soooper, boy, soooper, your increment will be a fat one... Oh look, your masala dosa will be all soggy, new one for you".
MS excuses himself to go to the washroom. Meanwhile, all along, there's a suspicious form hiding behind the last folds of the drawn curtain.
Dhoni bustles in, in his yellow CSK jersey. Light strains of a song, The pickup, from a Coppola film, trickle through. Part of the room is floodlit and a recreation of the Chepauk VIP box. TVs with CSK's various IPL triumphs are playing. Srini has his sporty shades on, is dressed casually, having just returned from a game of morning golf. Masala dosas arrive, and so do, Raina, Jadeja, Ashwin, Mohit Sharma, Ishwar Pandey. Raina insists on taking a selfie with Srini. Dhoni and his bunch of CSK boys look at Srini expectedly. Srini asks, "Would you like to all join the ICC, we could float a T20 league called the ICC-PL?" Raina and Jadeja sound chuffed by this latest suggestion, however, Dhoni, is far more contemplative when he says, "But what about that old bastard, conflict of interest? Should we not just join a new IPL team for two years?"
Meanwhile, all along, there's a suspicious form hiding behind the curtain. Dhoni looks at the curtain and then at Srini, "All along, I've noticed there's something behind the curtain..."
Srini dismisses it, "Oh that, nothing, just a cricket enthusiast."
(However plausible this might sound, this is largely a work of fiction.)
- As the shadows lengthen on the ground
- And the close in fielders suck the air from all around
- Can hardly breathe, it's the last over of the day
- There's a night watchman at the crease
- And with him is this guy hell-bent on fu*king the living daylights out of everyone around
- What will happen now?
- Will we be alive tomorrow?
- Dodgy single up for grabs
- Virender Sehwag is now on strike
- Five more deliveries to go
- Inside outside field, behold
- Hold your breath, bite your lip, chew your nails
- This will not be a smooth sail
- He who lives by the sword
- He who dies by his word
- A mad man is on strike
- Possessed by the songs running in his head
- Kishore Kumar remix
- There's only one way to go, hit a six
- Ball left outside off with an exaggerated leave and smirk, is he taking the piss
- Can almost hear the serpent hiss
- Four balls to go
- Forward defence, bat in front of pad
- Ball fizzed out into ground
- One too many fielders around
- Extra guy in at leg slip
- Third ball on middle turning into leg
- Turned by Viru past leg slip's crouching hands
- Down to fine leg for four
- For you got to keep adding to the score
- Two to go
- Point comes in from the ropes
- Expect one, turning away
- Hey, flashes fast, in the air
- Hey, flashes past, in the air
- Not Jonty, not AB, not today
- Last ball of the day
- Night watchman runs up to Sehwag
- Who pats him and seems to find something funny
- Short mid wicket comes in
- Deep mid wicket and long on stay
- Are they laying a trap
- Shadows lengthen on the ground
- And the close in fielders suck the air from all around
- Can hardly breathe
- It's the last ball of the day
- Flighted outside leg, Mendis is dragging him out
- And he comes out for the bait
- It's tasty, he cannot wait
- As he hurls his hands, on the ball
- It seems an eternity, from spring to fall,
- The ball is a space cadet
- And we wait
- And we wait some more
- Was it a six
- Or was he out
- It was hardly the outcome
- That mattered
- It was the ride
- It was living
- And knowing we will never be more alive as we were with Viru.
Sehwag & Gambhir (and Dhoni)
That's it, folks, today, not just Viru, but that Viru-Gauti partnership too has retired. It retired almost in stages for altogether baffling reasons. First, Viru-Gauti gave their opening a break at DD (Delhi Daredevils) to promote David Warner up the order. Next, DD did not retain Gambhir. Before they knew it, neither player was opening for India. And when one returned, the other did not. Still there was the Delhi state team. That too changed this season. Sehwag, who had been threatening to for a while, finally got away to Haryana. Haryana played Delhi at the Kotla; Viru scored a 50, raised his bat, and was caught yet again by his buddy, Gauti.
Why India's best gelled opening pair did not last longer is a question that will always haunt me - suspect it has much more to do than a mere loss of form. If loss of form and not scoring runs were the sole criteria for selection to the Indian team, then someone like Suresh Raina wouldn't get an opportunity to score back-to-back ducks in Tests in Australia in 2014 and back-to-back ducks in ODIs vs South Africa this series. And on top of that, be defended by his captain and friend, MS Dhoni, repeatedly match after match. When did either Sehwag or Gambhir have this luxury? For whatever reason, Sehwag did not play in the World T20 Finals in 2007. For India, he has only played 19 T20 Internationals. Those were the Srini-Dhoni years, when their powers were absolute in all matters cricket.
Sehwag and me
Sehwag was born 37 years back. Jatman, the headless superhero, was born much later. The thinking: who needs a head when you can play with your heart. It's hard to tell when exactly it happened, but such was our cosmic connection, I could often tell when he was about to be dismissed. If not watching him bat, listening to him post-match or reading his interviews became the most sinful of pleasures. It wasn't just Viru the batsman, I wondered why he didn't bowl much more - I rated his part-time off-spin much higher than that of the regulars. Surely his not bowling more was part of some other conspiracy. Grudgingly I accepted Sehwag is many things but he's not a great captain. Maybe the cricket world wasn't ready for him. So what, even his guru, Sachin wasn't a great captain. If anything, his shortcomings as captain firmed my beliefs that he indeed is the Jatman.
The only presser I've attended had Sehwag in the spotlight, this was soon after the Ajanta Mendis Mystery series in Sri Lanka where only he and Gambhir scored runs for India.
A few years back when Sehwag was still with DD, and his powers were very much on the wane, I saw him score a hundred. It was an IPL 100. But it did for me, much more than many India hundreds had in a long time. It made me feel connected to a hope again. A hope that I knew, however faint, or unrealistic, was there - while I watched and he played. What happened from then did not matter. Sehwag had done it one more time for me, and I was grateful. As I am today, for being able to watch him play cricket all these years.
- From the back of beyond
- Played his cricket off a pond
- Walked on water when the ball went in
- Hit you hard and unearthed that teethy grin
- Started off as a clone
- Then shaved his head like a dome
- You will never mistake him for another
- Not his sister nor his brother
- He's original, he's authentic
- He will hit you till you feel sick
- He's honest, he's happy
- He will hit you till you feel crappy
Let me take you back in time, almost 10 years ago...
The Kumar-Mahela show has ended, and Sri Lanka have posted a rather daunting 298
It is all the more daunting when Sachin is dismissed by Chaminda Vaas, the score is 7
In walks a slightly different kind of Indian cricketer,
Shoulder length hair, but powerfully built, and he likes to run hard
He has a casual air about him, unflappable and assured, almost happy-go-lucky
He's shown glimpses of his talent in international cricket, especially at the finish
A brilliant hundred to propel India to 350 against Pakistan
A quickfire 37* to take India home against New Zealand chasing 279 in Harare
A sparkling 67* when India were reduced to 91/5 after 24 overs chasing 250+ 2 days later
And he likes to finish things off in style...
He's already turning heads, in a team that has Sehwag, Sachin, Ganguly, Dravid and Yuvraj at their peak
And now his skipper has thrust him into the spotlight...
And he does what he does best... delivers with no fuss...
Its almost anticlimactic, its raining sixes in Jaipur, but you feel like you're always in the eye of a hurricane
177 insane runs later, the match is won, but there's one thing left... finishing with a flourish...
A heave over mid-wicket, the only real way that match could've ended, 23 balls unbowled...
And Indian cricket knew right then, they had found somebody special... really special!
Lets turn back the clock again, this time not so long ago...
Its 2011, and all of India are on edge
its the same opposition but on the grandest stage of them all
Its a tricky target, and Sachin and Sehwag have already departed...
But this time our man is the captain and promotes himself...
You of course, remember the rest... and that finish... you will never forget that finish!
Its happened so many times, that people no longer just took it for granted
They demanded it every single time
And now they demand his head on a platter...
even though they must know there will never be another like him
and what he has done for Indian cricket can never be understated
But I know our captain... His career will finish, as all must, but he will do it in style