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Inside India’s World Cup War Room

by Gaurav Sethi

With Generals, Majors, and some minors

It’s late evening, Ravi Shastri has his shades on. He’s sitting by himself in a conference room bathed in artificial light, there are miniature light towers on the periphery of the room. 

Virat Kohli walks in, animated; clapping, repeating, “let’s get this thing started”.

Simultaneously, Rohit Sharma enters from the opposite side, somewhat languidly.

As they take their places at the table, the roof opens up, and MS Dhoni descends in a mini helicopter. 

He gives a half smile, informing the others that the gimmick could work well for a documentary titled, “How we planned to win the World Cup, staying true to ourselves, of course, a catchy name can be decided by these brand guys, long as there is no catch to it, and even if there is we will have to see how it performs in the nets…”

Kohli looks at Dhoni quizzically, and then puts his arm around him and laughs - Mahi bhai, just like that Bhangra track we tested in the nets. 

At the mention of Bhangra, Rishabh Pant walks in all serious, doing Namaste and a faux Pairi Pauna to his elders.

Shastri clears his throat, “right here, right now, is the Core Group that will set the ball rolling for our second World Cup win.”

Dhoni interrupts, “You could say it’s our fourth title but it will be our second T20 title win.”

Shastri concurs, “that’s correct, MS. It’s a numbers game. 4-2, 4-2. As coach, first, I’d like to address who opens with Rohit…Rohit, would you like to come in here, your point.

Rohit deadpan, “I’m ok with anyone, Dhawan…”

Shastri: Er Shikhar is not in the squad, Rohit.

Rohit: Haan, that’s okay, but anyone is cool, KL, Virat, Dhawan also, I know he’s not there but if there is any injury to a regular opener then I’m cool to even open with Dhawan.

Dhoni: the key is to be open.

Everyone nods in seriousness. 

Shastri: Well said, MS, we will make openness the key and theme of our World Cup theme - let’s call it India Open. 

Kohli claps, excitedly, “Yeh hui na baat, Mahi bhai, you’re too cool, that’s why we need you as a mentor – from Captain Cool to Mentor Cool…or Menthol Mentor.” 

Pant is quietly serious through all this. Till he asks - so who will open with Sharmaji? Can I give a suggestion please, sir?

Shastri: Rish, Rish, you can, you will, and you shall overcome.

Pant: I think Left Right combination works well on top, but balance is important also, so we will do good to go with Rahul Bhaiya. Also both are Bhaiyas - Rohit Bhaiya and Rahul Bhaiya, it will be as you say, sir, a brotherhood of man.

Kohli is all cracked up, and whacks Pant on his back hard but affectionately. 

Dhoni deadpan as ever says, “it’s important to approach the opening for the big game versus Pakistan with experience - and I think Rohit and Rahul can soak in the pressure of a big game like this. We can look at other options if need be, but only if required and no need to get ahead of ourselves. Kishan will get his opportunities. 

At that precise moment, Ishan Kishan walks in with refreshments. He leaves after a few minutes. 

Shastri toasts: To the men in blue, to the men who do.

Dhoni: even though I’m not a player anymore, I will say that if I’m a senior, then I would like to be part of this.

Kohli: But you are, MS, you are Mahi Bhai.

At that precise moment, Pant starts a Dhoni! Dhoni! Chant and everyone else joins in. 

Dhoni gives a half smile, “yes, all this hero worship is fine and all but we have to get our heads out of our own asses.” 

Shastri spanks the table: well said, MS. We need to see the bigger picture. That these players are more than superstars, they’re servants of the game, here to serve.” 

The group has now reconvened to the swimming pool, or as Shastri says, Fun and Games.

Shastri: Let the games begin, or better still, let the fun and games begin.

Pant who is quite serious, suggests something that throws everybody a bit: I know we are talking about Rohit Bhaiya and Rahul Bhaiya, but why don’t we also consider another R wallah, even though he is not a Bhaiya?

Kohli is all cracked up, and starts splashing the water hysterically – Tu, tu karega open, open hahahahabhawhaha (You, you will open, open hahahahabhawhaha).

Rohit gets quite serious though – Virat, you were on maternity leave when Rishabh played some solid knocks in Australia, he showed solid Test temperament, don’t think it is that surprising, and we should not dismiss his suggestion lightly…

Dhoni weighs in: Well, Rishabh could bring the X factor as opener and give the Left Right combination also…in T20 we need the X factor on top…and I believe Rishabh can have the X factor…

Suddenly everyone is taking Pant’s suggestion seriously. But they’re all looking and nodding at Dhoni.

Shastri: Once again, MS, you have hit the nail on the head. You nailed it. X factor. On top. Who needs a power point when you have MS who always makes a power point, Rishabh, you need to know yourself better, what you are capable of, you should thank Dhoni for this…

Rishabh Pant starts a Dhoni! Dhoni! chant and everyone joins in. 

KL Rahul enters the pool, asking, “What did I miss?”

Shastri: Pearls of wisdom!

KL Rahul: Oh…what did Mahi bhai say?

Kohli whacks him on the back, all cracked up: He’s given your opening slot to Rishabh…only he could come up with such a genius idea.

Dhoni: Well, if you think about, it was Rishabh who first suggested it…

Shastri: MS, always the modest man, it was you who packaged it brilliantly, it was you who marketed Rishabh Pant, thank you so much.

Rishabh Pant starts the Dhoni! Dhoni! chant, when Sachin Tendulkar walks past…they all start chanting, “Sachin! Sachin!” 

First published here

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