Cook v Dhoni – Who will ace The BIG Test?

152343

“We got quite close and would love to have got us there, it is just gutting…”

Not often do you see a seasoned cricketer like James Anderson break down after a Test match. He has always been a tough character and perhaps one of the few English cricketers who deserves a bit more praise than most of his hyped countrymen. It’s a tough time to be an English sports fan – with the football team knocked out of the World Cup and the cricket team facing a reality check, Andy Murray (yes, he’s Scottish, so what?) seems to be the only hope for the entire Empire.

That’s the problem with England – high expectations that yield in minimalistic results. Their media normally hype their stars to be world-beaters only to fall flat on their faces. But the world is used to it, means after they declared Graeme Hick as the true heir to Don Bradman’s throne, who would take them seriously anyway!

This time though, they adopted a different approach. They tagged both their cricket and football teams to be “work in progress”. The football team performed (!) as expected but the nation received a major jolt after Alastair Cook’s men faced a surprise loss in both the Test and ODI series against Sri Lanka.

Even with an ‘under construction’  team, they didn’t think that they would be beaten by Sri Lanka in both formats of the game. Sri Lanka landed the initial blows in the ODIs and then fired a combination to the gut in the Test series that rattled Cook and his men. Cook didn’t see it coming, England didn’t see it coming and that’s why a player of Anderson’s calibre broke down.

And now India should take advantage of it!

England is hurt and India should deliver the knock out punch in the upcoming 5-Test series.

This July would be interesting as two of the Big Three in cricket lock horns with each other. Although India and England dominate the cricket empire, in the board rooms, both the teams look shaky and lack experience when the coloured pyajamas give way to white flannels.

As Sourav Ganguly says in the promo –“It will be the test of Pujara’s resilience against Broad’s ferocity, a test of Virat’s class against Anderson’s skill” – it will be and all the players mentioned will impact the upcoming Test series.

However, the series will be decided by two men – Alastair Cook and MS Dhoni. The jury is still out on both of them as Test match captains and this series will be the BIG test for both of them.

187375

England are without a win in the last eight Test matches and their captain is woefully out of form. This has to be the worst phase of Alastair Cook’s life. Once hailed as England’s finest, Cook is now tagged as a weak  and a conservative captain. He is under immense pressure and it’s telling on him. It hurts when your team is tagged as “Captain Cook’s Comedy Circus”. The wound deepens when the ex-cricketers launch assaults by calling you “confused and boring”. Although Cook put up a brave face and refused to quit as a captain, these personal attacks are not easy to deal with.

But then again, the criticisms  are harsh but not wrong.

Cook’s captaincy is bland and blows hot and cold just like his batting. So, when Shane Warne mocks at him, calls him Alastair ‘Cooked’ Cook and questions his frame of mind, one can’t really blame the ‘blonde bamboozler’.

To be fair to Cook, he is leading a team in transition and failures are par for the course but it is his approach that is downright insipid and he gives in too easily. He looks great when things go his way but at crunch moments, loses his bearings. His shoulders drop too fast and he is clueless when his team is under the cosh. He and his team were battered and bruised in Australia and this Sri Lanka series was a perfect platform for him to bounce back but his conservative ways gave the Lankans a respite, every time in both Tests.

What next for Cook? Can he get break out of his conservative approach?

msd

Welcome to my part of the world, Al – that’s exactly what MS Dhoni must be thinking. From being a World Cup winner to being alleged of match fixing – MS Dhoni has seen it all. To top it off, now, just before the most important series of the year, the Andhra Pradesh court has issues an arrest warrant for him, but as usual, Dhoni is on the silent mode.

Indian’s have never been brilliant at verbal battles and Dhoni’s ‘keep calm’ attitude has worked well when situations have been loaded in favour of his side. But there are times when you need to go on the offensive even before the coin has been flipped. The English captain is ailing and India has already missed a trick. The sympathy of Duncan Fletcher towards Cook has marked a boring and defensive beginning.

That’s where Sri Lanka scored the brownie points.  The entire Paul Fabrace fiasco had the islanders fired up and they were in the mood for a knife-fight. They didn’t bother about diplomacy and didn’t care about sportsman’s spirit. They had an answer to everything that England threw at them. They fought hard, showed intent and Mankaded to leave England listless on their own backyard.

Most importantly, their captain led from the front. Yes, Kumar Sangakkara was on a dream run but it was Angelo Mathews who stole the show both on and off the field. He has always been one of those who have flattered to deceive but this time, the captaincy brought the best out of this all-rounder. He batted brilliantly, bowled effectively but most importantly, lead his team with great authority. He seized every big moment and turned the tide in Sri Lanka’s favour.

And to win this series, Dhoni need to take the Mathews route.

During his first press conference in 2007, the long-maned Indian skipper asked for 15 cricketers who would jump in front of a truck if he asked them too. Back then Dhoni was a street fighter. He was intuitive but had a brassiness that made him fearless.

Then he turned suave.

That in turn made him conservative and cost India a few overseas Test wins. The time is ripe for Dhoni to get back to his street fighting days and bring back the unpredictability that made him such a great leader.

But can MS Dhoni do a Mathews?

He can because he has the acumen, the smartness and the experience.

Moreover, this time he has a score to settle, a stain to remove and a legacy to rewrite.

IPL 2014: The KKR fans owe Shah Rukh Khan an apology!

33960

The Kolkata Knight Rider fans owe Shah Rukh Khan an apology – there, I said it! All of us, including yours truly, who ever doubted Shah Rukh Khan’s calibre as an owner to produce a champion team, owe him a heartfelt apology.

KKR has lifted the IPL trophy twice in the last three years now. Only the Chennai Super Kings can boast of such a fabulous record but KKR slowly, but surely, are becoming the “team to beat” in the Indian Premier League.

For a team that made peace with their position at the bottom half of the table for the first four seasons, it’s been quite a turnaround and Shah Rukh Khan deserves all the praise for it.

He does because Shah Rukh Khan stuck by KKR for the last seven years, even when we didn’t.

Shah Rukh Khan is the superstar in India and his ventures seldom fail. In fact, even his worst efforts do better than the best of most. But KKR failed – the first three years were miserable.

Money wasn’t a problem. KKR had all the financial muscle, yet every time, they misused it on out-dated stars, who inflicted nothing but humiliation on his side. He had the best Indian captain leading the side, the best coach in the world formulating the strategies, the most devastating T20 opener, the fastest bowler in the world and even recruited the first mystery spinner; yet it didn’t work. Even the change in jersey couldn’t help his team hit the purple patch!

That’s cricket; if you don’t get the combinations right, you can never forge a team that wins consistently.

Neither did KKR.

For the first three years, KKR was an ensemble of burnt out stars with monster egos. It was dubbed as SRK biggest flop and the anthem of “Korbo, Lorbo, Jeetbo” became a joke. Even the great Rahul Dravid took a dig at King Khan in one of the IPL award ceremonies.

That was it!

The Badshah threw the stick in the wheel. He called in the pest control and wiped his house clean. That was his best move and his biggest mistake. In pursuit of building a new team, he lost his fans – the entire city turned against him. He became the new Greg Chappell!

Leaving out Sourav Ganguly was a massive call, but it was the right one. Dada was way past his prime and to be honest, offered very little to the IPL team, as Pune found out very soon. Then there was Mr. Buchanan – a man with weird theories, who treated KKR as a science lab for performing cricketing experiments.

Shah Rukh Khan had to get rid of the dead wood. He did and like it or not, it bore results. After qualifying for the Champions League in 2011, they won the IPL for the first time in 2012.

However, fans in Kolkata didn’t acknowledge it. They were more concerned about their hero’s fate rather than their city’s success. Effigies were burnt, morchas and michils were held, immense disrespect was hurled at the team and then Eden Gardens shamelessly turned into a sea of blue the day KKR took on Pune Warriors – we, Kolkatans, did our best to pull KKR down.

That’s our problem. The entire city is driven by emotions and somehow logic fails to drive home its point. It’s always us against the world because we love to believe that the entire universe has nothing better to do but plot conspiracies against us.

Even today, most people don’t understand the concept of franchise sport here. They fail to grasp that franchise sport has nothing to do with regionalism. Yes, IPL started with the “icon” concept but it had to fade off because the icons had to move over once the stakes went higher. A Virat Kohli and a Gautam Gambhir became more valuable than a Rahul Dravid and a Sourav Ganguly because it was the how the game evolved.

But as usual, we refused to evolve!

Shah Rukh Khan basking in glory!

Then again, nothing succeeds like success and now, the glory hunters are back. This year we have strained our vocal cords cheering for Robin Uthappa and have flooded the social media with “Abb ki baar….KKR” updates because now we have a problem. We haven’t got a hero to support, we are devoid of a cause to rebel and of course, we all want to be a part of a winning team.

And that’s why, every Kolkatan, who despised KKR should extend an apology to King Khan.

We need to because Shah Rukh Khan didn’t deserve our wrath. He didn’t deserve the severe criticism either. He could have walked away and KKR would have easily become another Kochi Tuskers or a Pune Warriors.

He didn’t.

He didn’t because he was in it for the long haul. He was in it for his pride and so, he stuck his heels in and took whatever we threw at him with immense humility. He cried with the team, danced for them, jumped up and down in stadiums, got roughed up by cops and at times, made snide comments about how he failed as an owner.

It perhaps has been his most difficult journey and he knew that he couldn’t charm his way out of this one. He knew his dimpled smile that melted hearts, won’t win him the IPL and his outstretched arms wouldn’t appease a grieving city.

There was only one way to win Kolkata back – by winning! He needed his team to produce results to conquer the city and last night, apart from winning the IPL again, he might have accomplished his bigger mission!

I offer my sincerest of apologies to Mr. Khan. Will the rest of the city do it?

Even if they didn’t, Shah Rukh Khan won’t leave our side because as he says, “bade bade deshon mein….”